Arizona, New Mexico State will challenge Texas

Claire Cruz

No. 2 Texas will hit the road for the first time this season to compete in the Wildcat Classic in Tucson, Arizona.

The Longhorns (7-1) will face Savannah State and No. 16 Arizona on Friday followed by New Mexico State on Saturday afternoon. Texas is going into its final tournament before Big 12 Conference play with its highest ranking this season, after going 3-0 without dropping a set in the Texas Classic last weekend.

“These tournaments can be tough,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Three matches within 24 hours, so we’ll have to be both physically and mentally prepared to play at a high level.”

Savannah State hasn’t won a set through 12 games this season. Junior setter Caitlynn Masoe is the focal point of the Lady Tigers, leading her team with 44 kills, 110 assists and nine service aces. Junior libero Alexis Washington and senior middle blocker Christian Lyle anchor the defense. Washington controls the back row with 108 digs while Lyle’s 13 blocks lead Savannah State’s front line.

No. 16 Arizona (8-1) will be the fourth ranked opponent Texas faces this season. The Wildcats have a team hitting percentage of .266, just behind Texas’ hitting percentage of .293. Junior outside hitter Kalei Mau leads the Wildcat offense with 107 kills, and junior setter Penina Snuka boasts 341 assists. Snuka is a big part of Arizona’s defense as well, tallying 103 digs and 17 blocks. Senior libero Mackenzie Kleespies’ 116 digs and senior middle blocker Halli Amaro’s 31 blocks will help Snuka try to contain Texas’ efficient offense.

“Arizona is a Pac-12 team that’s very strong,” Elliott said. “It’ll be a good match for us. Luckily, we have a match to kind of warm up with against Savannah State.”

New Mexico State (8-3) will also challenge Texas. Senior outside hitter Gwen Murphy, a two-time WAC Player of the Week honoree, is New Mexico State’s main offensive threat with 149 kills, eight aces and 27 blocks. Freshman outside hitter Tatyana Battle and sophomores outside hitter Jordan Abalos and middle blocker Sasha-Lee Thomas are young but important Aggies. Battle trails only Murphy with 130 kills, Abalos leads the team with 16 aces and 131 digs, and Thomas has a team-high 44 blocks. Senior setter Taylor Livoti contributes a team-high 242 assists to the offense.

Texas will rely on senior outside hitter Amy Neal and junior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, for solid performances this weekend. Ogbogu hit .500 with 37 kills and two service aces in the Texas Classic, improving her season total to 78 kills and a .441 hitting percentage. She also has a team-high 35 blocks. Neal leads Texas with 103 kills and 16 aces. Junior setter Chloe Collins has 286 assists while sophomore libero Cat McCoy has 117 digs.

“We’ve been in our gym for the past couple of weeks, so it’s going to be exciting to play in a new gym with a new atmosphere and new fans,” Ogbogu said.