UT's Amy Neal had 20 kills on Sunday. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN)

Volleyball

Texas beats K-State, caps senior night with Big 12 title

Posted November 22nd, 2015

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Every day for the past four years, three Texas volleyball players have more or less been connected at the hip.

Seniors Amy Neal, Kat Brooks and Molly McCage have lived together, practiced together, played together, laughed together, and more times than not, won together.

On Saturday, they played their final regular season home match together, a four-set win over Kansas State — 31-33, 25-12, 25-19, 25-12 — to clinch a share of the Big 12 title. Neal and McCage had 18 and 13 kills, respectively, and Brooks recorded five digs.

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They’ll probably go down as the winningest class in program history, so far notching victory in about 90 percent of their matches. Saturday’s win upped the seniors’ mark at Gregory Gymnasium to a sparking 31-1.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Brooks said. “Everyone knows these are two of my best friends.”

Technically, senior day was not a farewell sendoff. After closing the regular season at Oklahoma next Saturday, the fifth-ranked Longhorns will settle in at home for the first two steps of the postseason. So that means Texas fans — and there were more than 4,000 of them who showed up Saturday — will get up to four more looks at a class that will be remember not only for their trophies but also their leadership.

Many observers assumed Texas would suffer some growing pains after losing standouts Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell from last year’s Final Four squad. Further concerns set in after top newcomers Micaya White and Ebony Nwanebu suffered season-ending injuries

But Texas (24-2, 14-1 Big 12) never stopped winning. There was no drop off. Neal progressed into a player of the year candidate, and McCage, whose name is splattered all over the career blocking charts, continued to control the net on the defensive end. Brooks did a libero’s grunt work.

“I think they’ve done one of the best jobs we’ve ever had here in terms of keeping the team together,” Elliott said.

Texas’ .386 hitting percentage was its second-highest of the season, trailing only the .565 the Horns registered against Savannah State. Chiaka Ogbogu matched Neal’s 18 kills and posted an eye-raising .643 hitting percentage. After opening the day with its seventh set loss at home, Texas appeared to shift its strategy in set two and focused on feeding Ogbogu in the middle. She responded with four kills on six attacks, helping the team hit .583 for the set. Ogbogu added six more kills in set three, and two more in set four, as the Longhorns shook off the early K-State’s early punch.

The Wildcats (17-9, 9-5) were sharp to open the match, while Texas got off to a shaky start. Brooks led off the day with a service error, which she would not chalk up to senior day jitters.

“I didn’t hit it well,” she said.

A couple of points later, Neal had a blocking error.

The match was tied at 25-25, 26-26, 27-27, 28-28, and 29-29. Ogobgu had a kill to tie it at 30-30, and a Neal kill tied it at 31-31. Errors by Yaazie Bedart-Ghani (service) and Neal gave K-State the match.

“I thought we were a little soft on the service line,” Elliott said.

Elliott arranged the senior day ceremony for after the match to avoid distractions. Neal, of Lake Travis, had the biggest contingent of family and friends. Brooks’ mom draped a lei around all three of the seniors. The family is originally from Hawaii but moved to Austin in recent years.

So do the seniors ever get tired of each other?

“Actually, no,” McCage said.

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