No. 1 volleyball advances to Final Four after 4 set battle against Ohio State in final home game

Tori Garcia, General Sports Reporter

For the third time this season, the top-seeded Longhorns toppled No. 3 seed Ohio State in a four-set battle on Saturday in Gregory Gym to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

The win against the Buckeyes was the final game in Gregory Gym this season before the Longhorns will travel to Omaha, Nebraska for the national semifinals next weekend. For Texas’ graduating seniors that stepped onto the home court one final time in their college careers, the win proved to be a rollercoaster of emotions.

“I didn’t want this to be the last day with this team,” senior outside hitter Logan Eggletson said.  “I am so grateful for all the hard work that we put in, both coaches and all the staff and all the players … and I want to keep going forever, even if we win it all, I want it to keep going.”

The record 5,344 fans in Gregory Gym were nothing short of a solid salute to Eggleston and the remaining seniors for their contributions to the volleyball program over the years.  

With the win, Texas advanced deeper into the NCAA Tournament than in the 2021 season, where the Longhorns were eliminated in the Elite Eight against Nebraska.

The Longhorns defeated the Buckeyes in the first two games of Texas’ regular season, only dropping one set between both matchups. Ohio State needed to alter some of its tactics in hope of taking control of the game this time around.

“They are just a more put together team (than before),” Eggleston said. “I think their defense has improved, their serving has improved, every aspect has gotten a lot better, and they definitely scouted us really well.”

A battle of consistency set the tone for the first set. Mid-set was neck and neck until a block from sophomore outside hitter Madisen Skinner ramped up Texas’ momentum and allowed the Longhorns to grasp a larger lead with another crucial block and a service ace from junior middle blocker Asjia O’Neal. With an ace from senior libero Zoe Fleck, the Longhorns took set one 25-18.  

Ohio State struggled to find its rhythm at the start of the second set, which allowed the Longhorns to clench an early lead. The Buckeyes’ slowed down offense became more predictable to the Longhorns. Texas lost its dominant run towards the end of the set with careless communication and first touch errors. Uncharacteristic tips and out of system play proved to be problematic and caused the Longhorns to drop the second set 25-21.

“Our serving went south and our passing went south,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We let them back in it … I don’t think we responded very well. After game two, I challenged them … There was no panic, just a lot of confidence in one another.”

Back-to-back crucial blocks from the Longhorns provided an energetic start to the third set and an early lead for Texas. With strong first touches and consistent in-system play, Texas went on scoring runs and took the set 25-13 with a block from redshirt junior middle blocker Bella Bergmark.  

In its last chance to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes put up a strong fight. Ohio State relied on its blocking to slow Texas’ offense. After a lengthy rally, a critical block from O’Neal led to a standing ovation from the crowd, changing the momentum of the set. A series of lead changes was quickly halted by Eggleston’s dominant swings at the net, which gave the Longhorns an extra edge. Texas took the set and the match 25-21.  

With tears in her eyes, senior setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres was emotional thinking about the end of the season and described the family-like connections the players bring to the table that make the team so special.

“These relationships are second to none,” Ka’aha’aina-Torres said. “I hold my relationships with every single one of my teammates super close to my heart, and I’m super thankful to have such amazing women on the court around me every single day.”