No. 2 Texas volleyball celebrates Nalani Iosia’s birthday in sweep of Kansas State

Jordan Mitchell, Sports Reporter

Nalani Iosia had herself one special birthday party at Gregory Gym during Texas volleyball’s last regular season home game.

The libero, who turned 19 Friday, played a pivotal role in tackling Kansas State’s tough defense throughout the first portion of the match. In the first set, Iosia sank two service aces, one of which yielded a five-point scoring run for No. 2 Texas to take control of the match in an eventual 3-0 sweep.

Iosia’s involvement in head coach Jerritt Elliott’s serve-and-pass game is critical. Since Texas’ first loss of the season at Baylor, the team has been looking to make more digs and show greater defensive prowess, which falls heavily on the sophomore.

As a libero, Iosia is primarily tasked with passing and receiving the ball and saving potential scores from the opposition. Friday night, she was used as a Swiss Army knife, serving often and recording eight digs and an assist.

When paired with defensive specialist Sydney Peterson in tonight’s sweep versus Kansas State, the duo dove all over the court, providing momentum for the Longhorns.

“I think Nalani is getting a lot better,” Elliott said. “Her and Sydney had a really good weekend.”

Texas has made other improvements in the previous weeks. In their loss at Baylor, the Longhorns recognized how serving can make or break their matches when they recorded four aces and a staggering 20 service errors. Tonight, Texas played clean from the service line, sinking nine aces and four service errors.

The tough serving kept an energetic Kansas State squad at bay. Early in the match, the Wildcats were efficient in their attacks, hitting at an astounding 0.429 and digging at twice the rate the Longhorns were. With the aces contributed by Iosia and Peterson, Texas forced its opposition out of system and scrambling after attacks by Brionne Butler and Skylar Fields, resulting in a 25-19 victory in the first set.

While the first set was won at the service line, the second set was dominated at the net. The middle blocking tandem of Butler, Asjia O’Neal and Molly Phillips had a commanding performance, combining for eight kills and applying pressure on the Wildcats to force attack errors.

The lead in the second set allowed bench players such as Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres to get valuable playtime. When replacing Jhenna Gabriel as setter, the transfer junior from Utah  recorded three blocks and one dig to widen Texas’ lead. During the set point, Logan Eggleston handed the ball over for libero Reilly Heinrich to take her place as a serve, contributing to a 25-16 Longhorn victory.

In the third set, Texas had the opportunity to further experiment with bench players. Toward the end of the set, serving specialist Melanie Parra was substituted for Fields to play in the front row for one of the first times this season. While playing outside hitter, Parra contributed the final two points for the Longhorns to take the set 25-13 and sweep the match.

Following two weeks of matches at home, Texas will travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech in its  final regular season games before playoffs. If the Longhorns win both matches, they are expected to remain the No. 2 team in the nation and host NCAA tournament games at Gregory Gym.