In just three weeks, freshman Chiaka Ogbogu has gone from a question mark to a star for the Texas volleyball team.
Thanks to her varied talents, a higher-than-normal volleyball IQ and growing confidence, Ogbogu will be introduced with the Longhorns’ starters Wednesday night, when No. 3-ranked Texas faces Texas Tech at Gregory Gym.
While watching from the bench as the Horns beat Penn State and Stanford a month ago, Ogbogu, a 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker from Coppell, realized for the first time just how hard she needed to compete if she was going to contribute for Texas during the 2013 season.
Ogbogu went to work, and her steady improvement during practice earned her time on the court. She was inserted into the Horns’ starting lineup against Illinois on Sept. 14, a match that Texas (10-3) ultimately won in five sets.
“I knew coming in that earning a starting role would not be easy or given to me, which was proven,” Ogbogu said. “After I realized my role, I was able to let go and perform my best every day in practice.”
On Monday, Ogbogu garnered her second straight Big 12 rookie of the week award. She recorded double-digit kills in both of UT’s matches last week, hitting .471 at Baylor on Wednesday and .556 at LSU on Saturday. Her two-match mark was .514, which led the league for the week.
In three Big 12 matches, Ogbogu’s hitting percentage is .375, which ranks fifth in the league. She also has tallied eight blocks, including six against the Lady Bears, and averaged 3.6 points in last week’s matches.
“Being honored for two straight weeks just solidifies how hard I’ve been working these past few months, even the time prior to entering college,” Ogbogu said. “It’s an amazing honor, and I was surprised last week when I got it, but to be recognized two weeks in a row reassures me that I need to keep doing whatever I can to help the team out.”
Texas coach Jerritt Elliott was cautious with Ogbogu in the early part of the season, balancing the team’s need for her to play so soon with Ogbogu’s need to develop consistency. Elliott also considered all that comes with putting a freshman into the fire so quickly. Any doubt was erased when Texas’ hitting percentages began to rise with the Ogbogu on the court.
“We took a little longer establishing her role because we were looking for some consistency and because we have so much talent and we wanted to make sure we didn’t burn her (eligibility) if she wasn’t going to play a lot,” Elliott said. “Chiaka is showing us that we made the right decision. She’s added size and physicality and helped increase our numbers.
“She has a right demeanor and has a high volleyball IQ and is super competitive,” Elliott added. “Even though Chiaka is a freshman, she’s been playing at an elite level. We feel comfortable with her in the lineup.”
Texas is expected to cruise through Big 12 play, but wants to stay hungry and keep a successful defense of its national title in mind.
“It’s important to focus on the next game, but our captains and coaches do a really good job of stressing how each game is one less game until we start postseason,” Ogbogu said. “We want to keep our eye on what’s important later down the road; every day we are working towards something big. In practice, it’s super-competitive, and you can feel that everyone is on the same page for one goal.”
TEXAS VS. TEXAS TECH
6 p.m. Wednesday, Gregory Gym, LHN