California dreamin’: Texas downs NC State, advances to Sweet 16

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Senior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu finished off Saturday’s second round match with a kill down the middle, splitting three NC State players before the ball hit the ground.

Madness ensued.

It was a fitting end to not only the Longhorns home season but also the seniors’ last sets in Gregory Gym, as the No. 6 Longhorns took care of business, sweeping the Wolfpack to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

“Tonight was a good match for us,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought it was one of our most complete matches from start to finish.”

Both teams were locked in early, playing to a 15-13 lead in Texas’ favor at the timeout. The Longhorns took over from there, closing out the set on a 10-5 run to take an early one-set lead in the match.

Ogbogu and senior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu both made their presence known early on. They took over the first set, adding three kills each and finishing the set off with a combination block.

“A block kicks in a couple times and is able to get (us) some great separation,” Elliott said. “Good teams are able to sustain levels of consistency and put pressure on teams in a variety of ways.”

The second set saw more of the same, as the Longhorns again used a media timeout to their advantage. They put up a 10-3 run to close out the set and take a commanding 2-0 lead.

NC State was in front for the majority of the third set before Texas swung the momentum back in its favor. A combination of capable attacking and solid protection at the net propelled the Longhorns through a 9-4 run to seal the victory.

As with any tournament match, the result saw jubilation for one side and dejection for the other. For N.C. State seniors Julia Brown and Emily Harris, who played their last game with NC State on Saturday, the defeat meant a little bit of both.

“Tonight was a lot of fun. We enjoyed every single moment of it,” Brown said. “We laid the foundation, and we’re only going up from here.”

Saturday marked the Wolfpack’s first appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in school history. While it ended in a loss, it seems to show that the program is headed in the right direction.

On the other side of the net, senior libero Cat McCoy couldn’t help but feel the same way.

Despite helping Texas to the win with a 17-dig effort, it was the past four years that loomed larger for her in the moment. Sitting behind the podium, McCoy held back tears while reflecting on her time at Gregory Gym.

“Yeah, I definitely got a little teary,” McCoy said. “Just looking around at the last couple points, I really got goosebumps. Our fans have been truly loyal to this team, and we are really blessed.”

This will be Texas’ 12th consecutive year advancing to the Sweet 16, and with it comes another challenge.

The Longhorns’ underclassmen core, although experienced in regular-season competition, are playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. With the postseason comes a new dynamic of play, and this weekend should prove their mettle.

“I obviously didn’t know what to expect (going into the tournament),” Shook said. “But I think everyone has my back, and that’s awesome to know.”

The Longhorns will have the week off before traveling to a Dec. 8 contest against the Utah Utes in Palo Alto, California. The winner of that Sweet 16 matchup will then face either Stanford or Wisconsin on Dec. 9.