Longhorns will play Nebraska in Saturday's national final
Posted December 18th, 2015
OMAHA — A trainer for the Texas volleyball team took off on a dead sprint to the locker room at CenturyLink Center, an orange sports drink in hand.
Chiaka Ogbogu needed electrolytes, which was concerning because the Longhorns needed their All-American middle blocker.
Well, actually they proved to be OK without her, regrouping to withstand Minnesota’s comeback surge in game four of Thursday’s NCAA semifinal.
The resourceful manner of this win — 26-24, 27-25, 23-25, 25-21 — shouldn’t register as a big shocker, as Texas has consistently found ways to weather whatever storms have threatened to rock their season, be it a couple of season-ending injuries early in the year, a bad matchup against Florida in the regional final, and now some ill-timed cramping to a first-team All-American.
With a day to rest and hydrate, Ogbogu figures to recover for Saturday’s final against No. 4 Nebraska when Texas will be seeking its second national title in four years. Nebraska advanced with a four-set win over Kansas.
“She will be fine,” Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott said. “It had nothing to do with conditioning, she was just cramping. I think some of it was nerves.”
Throughout the night, trainers worked on Ogbogu’s calf during timeouts and she always was able to return. However, the discomfort apparently got to be too much early in game four, forcing Ogbogu to the locker room. Naturally, Minnesota went right after her replacement, freshman Morgan Johnson, ripping off four straight points and forcing Elliott into a timeout at 7-7.
Following a brief reprieve, the attack on Johnson continued, and the Gophers seized momentum, taking a 15-14 lead.
“We were just looking for another weakness to try to exploit,” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
The momentum shift was short-lived.
Amy Neal scored from the back row. Then freshman Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani, who was the best player on the court all night long, stuffed Big Ten player of the year Daly Santana and followed it up with a kill. A service ace by Chloe Collins capped a pivotal 4-0 run, giving Texas an 18-15 lead.
“We were able to step up our game and play well,” Elliott said.
The Longhorns never trailed again, riding an ace by Kat Brooks and three kills by Neal to clinch the win and head to a NCAA final for the third time in seven years.
Texas’ three seniors, Neal, Brooks and Molly McCage will try to bookend their careers with national titles. Redshirt junior Nicole Dalton was also around in 2012 when the Longhorns beat Oregon in Louisville for the program’s first title.
Thursday marked the first time in a NCAA semifinal or final that the first two games went to extra points. Game two featured 17 ties, emblematic of times that had similar numbers hitting — Texas .296, Minnesota .271 — and siding out — Texas 70 percent, Minnesota 67 percent.
“It was a big-time semifinal match,” Elliott said.
Neal tallied 25 kills, a career-high, and Paulina Prieto Cerame had 19 kills, including three big ones at the end of game one. Ogbogu was effective when she was on the court, posting nine kills on just 18 swings with five blocks. Setter Chloe Collins had 64 assists and added a couple of dump scores, including one for a 26-25 lead in game two.
But the biggest star was a rookie who has taken her game to new heights this postseason. Bedart-Ghani finished with a .583 hitting percentage, a ridiculous number for a non-middle, and posted a career-high 15 kills, including one for a 25-24 lead in game two.
“She was phenomenal,” McCutcheon said. “We thought, at least on paper, we knew a lot of what was going to happen … So obviously it’s one thing to talk about it. It’s a whole different thing to do it.”
As the higher seed, No. 3 Texas will be the home team on Saturday, but that’s something of a misnomer as No. 4 Nebraska will have the luxury of playing an hour from Lincoln and in front of a sea of red. The teams met on Sept. 4 when the Horns prevailed in five-sets in Austin. The rematch figures to take on a different tone, as much of Texas’ production that day came from Ebony Nwanebu, who is out with an injury.