Texas' Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani(27) and Morgan Johnson(12) celebrate a win over TCU during a Big 12 Conference match at Gregory Gym Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Volleyball

Texas sports notebook: Johnson, Bedart-Ghani step up in the middle

Posted October 20th, 2016

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Texas, the second-ranked volleyball team in the country, improved to 7-0 in Big 12 play with a sweep of TCU on Wednesday.

The Longhorns rank near the bottom of the Big 12 in opposing hitting percentages, but turned in a second straight solid showing, limiting TCU to a .116 percentage. Last week, Baylor hit .136 against Texas. Libero Cat McCoy, who’s averaging 3.77 digs per set, last failed to record double-digit digs in the third match of the season.

Texas, though, has received a recent boost from Morgan Johnson and Yaazie Bedard-Ghani, two sophomore middle blockes who have stepped up in the absence of Chiaka Ogbogu, an All-American who’s sidelined by academic issues this season. The other two middle blockers — freshmen Orie Agbaji and Blair Westerlund and junior Mirta Baselovic — have combined for 15 starts.

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On Wednesday, Johnson registered a career-high 10 kills on a .533 hitting percentage. Johnson said a challenge from head coach Jerritt Elliott “really lit a fire under me” on the offensive end. Defensively, the 6-3 DeSoto product contributed six blocks.

“I’ve been probably riding her more than any player in practice, just making sure that she’s grinding and going and getting herself ready,” Elliott said. “I’m not always well-liked, but I think these kind of results are worth it for her and for our team.”

Last week was Bedart-Ghani’s turn in the spotlight; the 6-4 Los Angeles native recorded career bests in blocks (nine) and hitting percentage (.833) in a 3-1 win over Baylor. Bedart-Ghani, who made last year’s Big 12 all-freshmen team, moved from outside hitter to the middle just before the Iowa State match on Oct. 8.

“I was excited (about the position change),” said Bedart-Ghani, who guessed she last played middle blocker in the eighth grade. “As long as I’m playing volleyball and getting after it, I don’t mind what part of the court I’m on.”

Mirta for president: Wednesday’s match was held on the same night of the final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. When asked on Tuesday about which one of her teammates would make the best politician, senior setter Chloe Collins endorsed Baselovic, who hails from Croatia.

“She’s not a U.S. citizen, but she likes to think she is at times,” Collins said. “She finds great joy in making comments about our political debates that we have going on, especially with the presidential election going on. She’s a very stubborn and straight-forward person, so I think that she would make a great person for that.”

Soccer sendoff: With three matches left in the regular season, Texas is tied with TCU for eighth place in a nine-team league. Only eight schools make the Big 12’s tournament, and Texas (7-7-1, 0-4-1 Big 12) and TCU (8-4-2, 0-4-1) play in Fort Worth next week.

Texas hosts Texas Tech on Friday, then West Virginia on Sunday. West Virginia is the top-ranked team in the nation, which means that Texas’ five seniors will face a formidable foe in their last match at home.

“You come to Texas because you want to play the best,” senior defender Isabelle Kerr said. “Obviously, I want to go out on my senior night with a win, and I know everyone on our team looks at it as a great opportunity. We’re really excited.”

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