Nalls, Nichols have career nights as TCU falls in straight sets to sixth-ranked Longhorns

TCU junior defensive specialist Dani Dennison.
TCU junior defensive specialist Dani Dennison. Special to the Star-Telegram

With Texas coming to town and sweeping TCU, you could turn the page.

But the Horned Frogs and head coach Jill Kramer have nothing but positive takeaways following Wednesday night’s loss to one of the best teams in the nation.

TCU stayed close during a third set that saw seven ties, but ultimately dropped its third Big 12 contest in as many games, 25-19, 25-20, 25-21 to No. 6 Texas in front of a soldout crowd at The Rickel.

“Tonight is the hardest I’ve seen our team compete in a long time. Lineup was different. We were in the 5-1,” Kramer said. “We had some different things going on. I thought there were a lot of positives from it. Playing in that lineup for the first time, I thought they competed at a really high level. It was close.”

TCU (5-8, 0-3 Big 12) scored the first two points in the third set off a Texas service error and double block from Sarah Langs and Ashley Waggle, and led 3-1 when Waxahachie’s Audrey Nalls picked up one of her game-high-tying 13 kills.

Texas (9-2, 3-0) scored the next three points until Southlake’s McKenzie Nichols tied it at 4 with a setter dump.

The Horned Frogs led 8-7 and 9-8 before the Longhorns went back in front 11-9 to force a TCU timeout. Trailing 15-13, TCU tied it with a kill from Sarah Swanson and a Texas error to force a timeout from head coach Jerritt Elliott.

Big 12 preseason player of the year and three-time All-American Micaya White, from Frisco, sent back-to-back kills down to give Texas a 17-15 lead. Another kill from White and a TCU error gave the Longhorns the largest lead of the set at 22-19 which forced Kramer to call her final timeout.

A kill from Plano’s Julia Adams got TCU within 23-21, but Texas won on two straight points from Logan Eggleston and White, who recorded her 13th and final kill of the match.

“I thought we had some of the best defense we’ve ever played and I’m proud of the effort,” Kramer said. “If we flip a few things and get a few points back, we’re in a better spot. It looked much better tonight.”

The Frogs never led during the first two games and found themselves trailing by as much as six in the second set, but managed to get within 18-16 and 22-20, the latter off a Nalls’ kill, which was set by Nichols, who had a career-high 32 assists.

Kramer went with Nichols in the 5-1.

It presented a better matchup rather than their traditional 6-2 lineup with fellow freshman setter Irem Ucar.

“I thought she managed the court well and there was a lot thrown at her,” said Kramer of Nichols, who had 10 assists during the opening game. “I ask a lot of her. I’m tough on her, but she can take it. She did a great job of managing the full match from start to finish.”

Nalls, who leads the team in kills this season, finished with a career-high .391 hitting percentage, which broke her previous mark of .245 on Sept. 15 against Auburn.

“I’ve struggled the past two games, hitting wise, but this game was about finding hands and opening spots and that was a big factor tonight,” said Nalls, whose had at least eight kills in every match this season. “The environment was so much fun and you can really start playing at a high level just off your fans.”

A total of 2,171 attended the match, the sixth highest mark in program history.

“This game has been sold out for a couple months now. Everyone comes out early and the stands are packed even during warmups which is a cool thing,” Kramer said. “And both teams have players from the Metroplex, and that’s another cool thing, a lot of them have played with or against each other since grade school.”

Texas hit .365 as a unit and outblocked TCU 14-4. Southlake’s Asjia O’Neal had three kills and two blocks, and Mansfield’s Molly Phillips added three blocks in the third set. Eggleston recorded 11 kills and Jhenna Gabriel posted a game-high 36 assists.

Waggle was second on TCU with nine kills and Adams added seven. Nalls led TCU with eight digs.

TCU will visit Texas Tech on Sunday and host No. 1 Baylor on Oct. 12. Texas visits Kansas State on Oct. 9.

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Born and raised in Hawaii, Brian Gosset graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in journalism before coming to Texas in 2014. He’s covered high school sports — yes, pretty much every high school sport — for the Star-Telegram ever since.