Freshman Chiaka Ogbogu is a middle blocker. She has played the position her whole life and was recruited to man the middle at Texas.
“Chiaka will continue the great tradition of middle blockers we have had in this program,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said after Ogbogu committed to his program. “She is a smooth athlete that has the potential to develop into one of the premier players in the nation.”
But when she arrived, two huge road blocks stood in her way: sophomore Molly McCage and junior Khat Bell.
With the two of them at middle, Texas won a national championship. And they didn’t get worse in the offseason — the pair only improved.
“It was intimidating coming in, because they just won it all and only graduated one player,” Ogbogu said. “It was competitive to fight for that one open spot, but that competitiveness is one of the reasons I came here.”
Instead of having the 6-foot-2-inch freshman ride the bench her freshman, and maybe even sophomore year, Elliott decided to move Ogbogu to opposite, a position she is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.
“I played middle my whole life,” Ogbogu said. “The only time I ever played a different position was in practice.”
Ogbogu had not played a position other than middle blocker in a game since her sophomore year of high school.
And why would she have to play any other position? She was the 2012 Gatorade Texas Volleyball Player of the Year at middle blocker as a high school senior.
But the freshman is starting to adjust to the different angles and skills needed at her new spot on the court.
“The blocking is different,” Ogbogu said. “I have to be patient, wait more and get the high balls.”
The slow transition from the middle to opposite on defense has not slowed her potent offensive game.
She leads No. 3 Texas (12-2, 5-0 Big 12) in hitting percentage, swinging at a ridiculous rate of .442 — double the rate of All-American Haley Eckerman. Ogbogu’s .442 not only leads the team but ranks her 12th in the nation.
“I think a lot of teams are caught off guard when I get the set,” Ogbogu said. “Getting the extra reps has helped with the switch and boosts my confidence also.”
Bell, who experienced a similar shift from the outside to middle blocker her freshman year, took Ogbogu under her wing, helping to ease her transition.
“She went through the same switch as me,” Ogbogu said. “In my first game at Illinois she boosted me up and told me she knew I was ready.”
When Iowa State (10-5, 4-1 Big 12) comes to Austin on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., don’t look for Ogbogu in the middle.
“I had been playing middle my whole life — one position the whole time,” Ogbogu said. “Now I think I got the hang of it.”