Despite sloppy start, Texas sweeps Fairfield in first-round of NCAA Tournament

Claire Cruz

No. 3 Texas defeated Fairfield 3–0 on Thursday at Gregory Gym. The Longhorns are now 29–0 all-time in NCAA Tournament first-round matches. 

“We’d like to congratulate Fairfield on a great season,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought they played with a lot of heart. We were sloppy in a lot of areas, but we were able to stay together enough to get the victory.” 

Texas led set one from the beginning en route to a 25–18 win. Junior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame was Texas’ go-to hitter early and finished the set with six kills. 

Fairfield put together a 4–0 scoring run behind big swings from sophomore outside hitter Skyler Day. Senior outside hitter Amy Neal’s serving prowess showed late in the set, leading to a set-clinching scoring run. 

The Stags showed why they made the tournament in set two, challenging Texas before the Longhorns pulled away to win 25–18. The Fairfield defenders tallied 12 digs and three blocks to hold Texas to a .133 hitting percentage. 

“We had some quality digs in that second set,” Fairfield head coach Todd Kress said. “But I thought we left some points out there. If we’d picked up a couple digs here and there we have the opportunity to take the set.”

Texas’ defense, however, struggled in transition and left holes open that Fairfield’s hitters took advantage of. But, Neal came up to serve late in the set and her two service aces along with several errors from Fairfield helped Texas take the win. 

“I have a lot of confidence,” Neal said about her serve. “I know getting the team out of system is important so I’m just trying to get us an easier ball back.” 

The Longhorns came out of intermission looking more focused. Senior middle blocker Molly McCage and junior setter Chloe Collins combined for two blocks to put Texas up early. Fairfield’s missed serves and attack errors helped Texas build its lead. McCage and Neal led Texas’ offensive attack with five and four kills, respectively. 

Texas will face off against No. 17 Purdue in a second-round match on Friday at 6 p.m. in Gregory Gym. Elliott said he wasn’t pleased with the energy his team displayed on Thursday, but doesn’t anticipate that being a problem in the next match.

“[Purdue has] been battle tested and is very capable of playing at a high level,” Elliott said. “I’m looking forward to it, I welcome the toughness. It’s going to be an exciting match and we have a lot of confidence in what our team can do.”