The last two sets were hardly pretty, but Texas Longhorns volleyball survived the late loss of All-American middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu to a leg injury to beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-1 in Omaha on Thursday evening.
Texas will play the winner of the contest between No. 4 Nebraska and No. 9 Kansas on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2 for the national title. If the championship game comes down to the Longhorns and Jayhawks, it might well favor the burnt orange after a 3-0 victory in Austin this year. In fact, the women have lost only four of 43 matches against Kansas in the history of the head-to-head series.
The match was tightly contested throughout, as Texas prevailed 26-24 in the first set, 27-25 in the second, and 25-21 in the fourth after dropping the third set, 25-23. In a match where there wasn't much separation between the two squads, the championship experience of the Longhorns helped make the difference.
Big 12 Player of the Year Amy Neal set a career high with 25 kills, but it wasn't always easy for the 5'9 outside hitter, as she also made 12 errors and struggled some with the size of the Minnesota players. Still, she was able to find success by working from different angles and changing speeds to find holes in the defense. And she received plenty of help from freshman Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani, who contributed 15 straight kills without a mistake until she made her first error late in the match.
Fellow freshman Morgan Johnson also helped fill in for Ogbogu with a solid performance doing the dirty work every team needs.
After Obgogu went down, the Horns began to struggle some in the fourth set as the Golden Gophers were able to find seams in the defense and put down a number of spikes. But an 8-2 run down 15-14 helped Texas take control of the match and hang out late for the most comfortable set of the contest.
This isn't the tallest or the most talented Texas volleyball team, but they play together, step up to help each other out, and ultimately form more than the sum of their parts on most occasions.