Longhorns look to grab hold of Big 12 against Mountaineers

Michael Shapiro

The No. 5 Longhorns entered the season as the Big 12 favorites and expected to roll through the competition en route to their fifth straight conference title. But an unexpected loss to TCU on Oct. 28 placed Texas on the ropes. Now, the Longhorns are in jeopardy of not winning the Big 12, and the stakes are high for each of the six games left.

 “There’s definitely some pressure,” senior middle blocker Molly McCage said. “But I try not to think too much about that or exude that in any way. I don’t want to put too much pressure on the team.” 

Texas (19-2, 9-1 Big 12) plays West Virginia on Thursday. The Longhorns currently sit second in the Big 12 behind No. 8 Kansas (21-1, 9-1 Big 12), despite sweeping the Jayhawks 3-0 on Oct. 23 in Austin.

Luckily for the Longhorns, Thursday’s match at Gregory Gym shouldn’t provide many hurdles in Texas’ Big 12 title hopes. The Mountaineers come into the match in the conference cellar with a 5-16 overall record and 0-8 in Big 12 play. But McCage said Texas still can’t take West Virginia lightly.

 “There are a lot of things we need to work on,” McCage said. “So if we don’t execute at the net, that’s a problem. No matter the opponent we play, we need to get better ourselves and then compete against our opponent.” 

 Thursday night Texas will have another opportunity to refine its defense, a cornerstone of head coach Jerritt Elliott’s program. Led by McCage and junior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, the Longhorns pride themselves on their defense. Both in practice and in matches, they dedicate a multitude of drills to blocking at the net and defending the back half of the court.

 “We really stress being strong defensively,” Ogbogu said. “We have a lot of talent in that area, and we need to be focused on not giving up easy points.”

 Texas’ next chance to implement that defense will be against West Virginia. First serve is 7 p.m. Thursday.