VOL­LEY­BALL ALL-AMER­I­CAN RE­TURNS FOR NO. 1 HORNS

Af­ter hav­ing to sit out last sea­son, mid­dle blocker Og­bogu re­turns to the team fo­cused on win­ning a na­tional ti­tle.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Danny Davis daniel­d­avis@states­man.com

At the end of the col­le­giate vol­ley­ball sea

son in De­cem­ber, Chi­aka Og­bogu got on her phone.

Texas had just lost to Stan­ford in the NCAA cham­pi­onship match, a de­feat that sent UT into a sec­ond straight off­sea­son as the na­tional run­ner-up. Watch­ing the match — al­beit miles

and miles away from the court in­side Na­tion­wide Arena in Colum­bus, Ohio — was Og­bogu, a three-time All-Amer­i­can side­lined by aca­demic is­sues dur­ing what should have been her se­nior year.

Af­ter the loss, she texted some team­mates and con­grat­u­lated them on the sea­son. She also made a procla­ma­tion.

“She was, like, when­ever I get back, we are win­ning this up­com­ing year,” UT libero Cat McCoy said. “She just made it known that noth­ing was go­ing to stop us.”

Be­gin­ning Aug. 25, Og­bogu will re­turn to the court with a chance to back up those words. Texas’ sea­son opener comes a year af­ter the sur­pris­ing an­nounce­ment that Og­bogu, a 6-foot-2 mid­dle blocker, would miss the 2016 sea­son.

In an in­ter­view with the Amer­i­can-States­man this week, Og­bogu did not elab­o­rate on her aca­demic is­sues. Og­bogu was not en­rolled in classes last fall so she in­terned with a sports mar­ket­ing com­pany and vol­un­teered with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist. She stud­ied Texas’ matches on TV and kept in shape by fol­low­ing one of the team’s work­out plans.

Dur­ing her elon­gated off­sea­son, Og­bogu

did not con­sider giv­ing up a sport she be­gan play­ing in mid­dle school.

“I came into this pro­gram want­ing to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship so I feel like if I would not have fin­ished that, I would have re­gret­ted that for the rest of my life,” said Og­bogu, a twotime state cham­pion at Cop­pell High. “I still wanted to come back and fin­ish what I started.”

Og­bogu earned AVCA All-Amer­ica hon­ors in each of her first three years at Texas. A force on of­fense, Og­bogu av­er­aged 2.25 kills per set with a .405 hit­ting per­cent­age. Those three years, Og­bogu also ranked eighth, fifth and fourth in the Big 12 in blocks.

The re­turn of Og­bogu al­lows Texas to shift its lineup. Mid­dle blocker Mor­gan John­son av­er­aged 1.28 blocks per set while she moon­lighted as a “M1” last sea­son. Longhorns coach Jerritt El­liott, how­ever, would pre­fer to use the DeSoto-raised ju­nior as a M2.

“(Og­bogu will) be ar­guably one of top two, maybe three mid­dle block­ers in the coun­try and can take over any kind of match,” El­liott said. “It also gives us a true M1.”

Og­bogu re­joined the Longhorns in Jan­uary. In May, she played along­side John­son and team­mates Yaazie Bedart-Ghani and Micaya White with USA Vol­ley­ball’s col­le­giate na­tional team that trav­eled to Thai­land. Og­bogu did not ap­pear in any of UT’s spring matches so her next game in a Longhorns uni­form will come this month at No. 12 Florida.

A Fi­nal Four qual­i­fier in each of the past five years, Texas opens this sea­son as the top-ranked team in the AVCA poll. Og­bogu, White and se­nior Ebony Nwanebu have all earned All-Amer­ica ac­co­lades in their ca­reers, and Texas signed the na­tion’s top re­cruit­ing class.

“Our coaches re­ally stress how this team is the most tal­ented and deep­est team we’ve had in a while,” Og­bogu said. “... It’s go­ing to be crazy com­pet­i­tive, but in my opin­ion, that’s what makes prac­tices more fun.”

Og­bogu said her team­mates did “a re­ally good job of not re­ally be­ing weird or judg­men­tal,” and she quickly fit back in upon her re­turn. In fact, she will serve as one of UT’s cap­tains. Nwanebu, a long­time friend who lives with Og­bogu, de­scribed her room­mate as a quick-wit­ted master of the side-eye who brings a “calm ur­gency ev­ery­where she goes.”

Off the court, Og­bogu en­joys trav­el­ing. She has re­cently jour­neyed to Italy, Paris, Lon­don and Turks and Caicos, and she ven­tured to Los An­ge­les to visit Nwanebu while her former club team­mate was play­ing at USC. The daugh­ter of Nige­rian im­mi­grants, Og­bogu has been to her par­ents’ home­land twice.

Og­bogu is look­ing to book one ad­di­tional trip in De­cem­ber ... this year’s Fi­nal Four in Kansas City, Mo.

RODOLFO GON­ZA­LEZ / AUSTIN AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN FILE

“I came into this pro­gram want­ing to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship so I feel like if I would not have fin­ished that, I would have re­gret­ted that for the rest of my life,” says Chi­aka Og­bogu (11).

TOM MCCARTHY JR. / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN FILE

Three-time All-Amer­i­can Chi­aka Og­bogu, who will be a se­nior this sea­son, will be one of the Longhorns’ cap­tains.

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