Longhorns Fall to Stanford in Elite Eight

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Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

It first happened last year in Columbus, Ohio but last night it happened right at the doorstep of the Final Four in Palo Alto, California.

As redshirt senior Merete Lutz elevated for the game clinching kill, it felt like deja vu all over again for the Longhorns.

Stanford dispatched Texas from the NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 sweep on Saturday night, advancing to the Final Four for the second straight year. For the Longhorns, this is the second consecutive year in which their season was ended at the hands of the Cardinal.

“Tonight was a very challenging night for us,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We grew, but sometimes you can trip up, and that was our match tonight.”

The Longhorns opened the match with a 5-0 lead, quickly taking advantage of Stanford’s mistakes. But as the set went on, Stanford slowly chipped away at the lead, and eventually retook it towards the end of the first set. The Cardinal took care of business 25-21 to grab the early 1-0 lead in the match.

The second set saw more of the same from the Cardinal. They grabbed the lead early and never looked back, eventually taking the set 25-21. Despite a spirited Longhorn effort to hold off four set points, they fell into the 2-0 hole.

“We could never get our serve and pass game going at a high level,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t do it for prolonged periods of time.”

Freshman outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, caused all sorts of problems for the Longhorns, tallying 16 kills through the first two sets to propel Stanford to the early advantage.

Stanford’s attacking game proved to be one that Texas was not ready to handle.

The Cardinal consistently created chances from both at and behind the attack line, forcing the Longhorns to play defensively for most of the game. Texas’ defense could only hold its own for so long before the Cardinal broke through time and time again.

“Our inability to control the ball (really hurt us),” Elliott said. “It was the reason the wheels came falling off.”

The third set was heavily contested, with both teams playing to a tie at 17. But the Cardinal closed out the third set on a 9-4 run to take the set and match.

Saturday night was the last time seniors Chiaka Ogbogu, Cat McCoy, and Ebony Nwanebu donned the burnt orange. While a crushing defeat to go out with, this senior core showed the leadership needed of a team to stay afloat.

Ogbogu delivered seven kills throughout the match, even until the last point, showcasing why she earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Her partner Ebony Nwanebu also turned in a team high eight kills, finding any gap she could in the Cardinal defense.

Despite their efforts, they fell short of the win.

“Tonight we didn’t play out best volleyball, which was unfortunate,” McCoy said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

It was a bitter end to their careers, and not the way any of them had envisioned it. But their growth in a Texas uniform for the past four years turned out just the way they thought it would.

“We grew up a lot as young women,” Ogbogu said. “Just being able to grow and learn (from the coaching staff) has really been rewarding.”

Despite Saturday’s defeat, the future of Texas Volleyball is in good hands. With freshmen Lexi Sun and Ashley Shook looking to take the reins along with seniors Yaazie Bedart-Ghani and Morgan Johnson, there’s a lot to look forward to for the 2018 season.

“We have a very talented team,” Elliott said. “Probably the most talented team, physically, that we’ve had at Texas from top to bottom.”

With a lineup like this in place for next season, the Eyes of Texas will surely be upon them. Until then, it’s going to be a long plane ride back to Austin.