In front of a record crowd of 5,344 at Gregory Gym, the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes battled for four sets, but came up short against the No. 1 Texas Longhorns in a 3-1 victory in the regional final to send the Longhorns to Omaha for the Final Four.
Texas set a season high with 16.5 blocks, including eight in lopsided third set, as Ohio State only hit .135 with middle blocker Asjia O’Neal leading the way with eight. In the attack, outside hitter Logan Eggleston had a game-high 20 kills, including two straight to seal the match in the fourth set, while hitting .341. As usual, libero Zoe Fleck was all over the court with a game-high 18 digs while adding two service aces.
Early on, Ohio State dealt better with the environment than Marquette on Thursday and didn’t allow the top three Texas servers to get going with the Buckeyes honing in on Longhorns tendencies while hitting and blocking well. Texas did lead by three at two different points early in the first set, but wasn’t able to create any more separation than that as the score narrowed.
Eggleston set the Big 12 record with her 206th career ace to take a 14-13 lead, the first ace for the Horns in the match to key a short 3-0 run. A patented kill on the slide by O’Neal and a block by outside hitter Madisen Skinner gave Texas a 17-14 lead as the Longhorns gained some separation. The lead stretched to 19-14 with an ace by O’Neal, forcing a timeout by the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, the hitting percentage of Ohio State dropped to .095 while Texas increased its hitting percentage to .368.
But the Horns stayed hot with a kill by Skinner before the Buckeyes finally ended the 5-0 run with two consecutive points, but couldn’t consolidate any further momentum thanks to a service error. A diving dig by Fleck set up another kill by Skinner to make it 22-16. From the right instead of the left, Skinner had her fourth kill, but sent his subsequent serve long. Eggleston matched Skinner with her own fourth kill and Fleck stepped to the service line with a chance to win the first set and did so with an ace for a 25-18 win.
Another big dig by Fleck, her sixth of the match, opened the second set, leading to a kill by Eggleston. On the service line, Fleck got Ohio State out of system with a strong serve before a double hit made it 4-1 Texas, then 5-1 when a Fleck dig led to a swing wide by the Buckeyes. A second ace from Eggleston made the score 8-4 and forced a timeout by Ohio State.
A sharp-angled kill by Skinner, a hit off the block, and a tip made it 11-5 and helped O’Neal find some rhythm at the service line until Ohio State killed the run. The Buckeyes couldn’t start their own, though, until scoring four of five points to cut the Longhorns lead to 14-11 and force a timeout by Texas.
Eggleston came out of the timeout with a booming kill from the left between two blockers, then sent another off the block to keep Fleck at the service line, a brief surge stopped when Eggleston was blocked, the sixth of the match for Ohio State. Texas stuck with Eggleston on the left with a kill down the line to make it 17-13 and a strong serve by Keonilei Akana produced an overpass killed by setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres. Two service errors by Texas benefitted Ohio State and an ace by the Buckeyes made it 19-16, then 19-17 as the Longhorns called another timeout.
Texas was out of system on the ensuing point, but weren’t made to pay for it on a miscommunication by Ohio State. Inserting setter Jenna Ewert to serve didn’t pay off with a service error and a swing by middle blocker Kayla Caffey on an overset was blocked by the Buckeyes to make it 20-19. A free ball produced a kill by Ohio State for a 6-1 run extended on a long rally as the Buckeyes took the lead for the first time in the second set. An attack error by Skinner resulted in her taking a seat before Caffey responded with a huge block to finally stop the Ohio State momentum, albeit only temporarily, as the Buckeyes won the next point to make it 23-21. A double contact by Ka’aha’aina-Torres tripping over Fleck put Ohio State on the brink and a swing off the Texas block gave the Buckeyes the second set, 25-21 thanks to an 11-2 run to end it.
In better rhythm to start the third set, the Horns reeled off seven straight points to take an 8-2 lead, but the Buckeyes responded by scoring four of the next five points before Texas won four of five points themselves to lead 13-7. A kill from Eggleston in the middle in transition made it 16-9 as the Buckeyes called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, O’Neal picked up a block, Fleck had a service ace, and a wall of three Longhorns blocked another hit for a 19-9 lead thanks to a 5-0 run. A rare middle attack produced a kill for O’Neal and a 20-10 margin, then her slide led to another. Texas got the serve back at 23-13 following a service error and middle blocker Bella Bergmark came out with a block with Ohio State out of system. Another block by Bergmark won the third set, 25-13. Texas was dominant defensively in the third set with eight blocks after only six blocks combined in the first two sets as Ohio State hit -.105.
A kill by Eggleston and a service ace by Akana tied it 4-4 early in the fourth set, the first two points in a 6-0 run as Akana’s line-to-line serving put heavy pressure on Ohio State and eventually forced a timeout at 8-4.
The Buckeyes finally ended the run after the break with a kill. A service error by Eggleston and a service ace by Ohio State made it 9-7 before a net violation stopped the mini surge by the Buckeyes. Despite some struggles, Texas kept going to Skinner on the left, who terminated to make it 12-10, then switched it up with a kill by Bergmark from the middle. The fourth set remained close, however, with Ohio State keeping pace and then taking the lead thanks to a 8-2 run. Texas called a timeout trailing 15-13 as the Longhorns were struggling in attack and unable to disrupt the offensive rhythm by the Buckeyes.
Bergmark had a kill on a free ball to end the 4-0 run and Eggleston thundered her 16th kill to tie the set with Fleck serving. O’Neal’s subsequent block gave Texas 15.5 in the match, a season high, extended by another block by O’Neal on a lengthy rally to make it 18-16 Longhorns.
A double contact by Ohio State pushed the Texas run to 6-1 since the timeout and made the Buckeyes use one of their own at 19-16.
The Longhorns were the first to 20 thanks to a big swing from Eggleston down the line that sent her to the service line, although only for one point. An attacking error by Ohio State made it 21-19 prior to a controversial net violation call on the Buckeyes that was challenged and overturned on review. From the back row, Eggleston flew in for a hugely important kill, but Ohio State responded with a hit off the Texas block.
In a nervy moment, a service error by the Buckeyes put the Horns within two points of Omaha. Eggleston’s hit off the block put Texas on the doorstep and another swing by Eggleston landed in the stands off the hands an Ohio State player to send the Horns to the Final Four for the 10th time in the last 15 seasons.