Dalton emerging as leader as conference play heats up

Steve Helwick

The No. 5 Longhorns were short-handed heading into Tuesday’s match at West Virginia. 

Texas (9–2, 1–0 Big 12) needed a new setter to boost its offense with senior setter Chloe Collins sidelined with an illness. And the team looked no further than senior Nicole Dalton — the longest-tenured Texas player.

“Nicole’s our last player that’s been here since 2012,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She’s a fifth-year senior and she has gone through a ton of adversity.”

In the 3-1 victory over West Virginia, she recorded 41 assists, five kills, nine digs and three blocks, displaying her versatility in the match. The assist, kill and block totals serve as season-highs for Dalton, who has recently overcome injuries to return to the court.

“She’s been knocked down a few times and had to get back up,” said Elliott. “She’s just an amazing young woman. She’s super solid and committed to the team.”

Dalton’s standout play in the absence of Collins and freshman libero Autumn Rounsaville propelled Texas to its first conference victory of the season. The Longhorns dropped the first set to the Mountaineers, but Dalton and the newly assembled squad adjusted to conclude the match in four sets.

This match was the first time this season the multipurpose Dalton returned to the setter position. She has been used as a defensive specialist for the majority of the 2016 season, posting 57 digs from that position.

“She’s played a variety of roles,” Elliott said. “She’s hit in this program, was one of the premier setters in this program, but because of the injuries, she hasn’t been able to develop in that area and move the way she wants to. Now, she’s in more of a [defensive specialist] role, and has provided a stable force in that area.”

The 2015 All-Academic Big 12 honoree excels both on and off the court. As a member of the Longhorns since 2012, she has helped the program make history with a national title and four Final Four appearances.

Big 12 play is crucial for Texas’ season with its sixth-straight conference title on the line. And Dalton and the Longhorns get a chance to start 2–0 in conference play as No. 8 Kansas heads to Austin for a 7 p.m. match at Gregory Gym on Saturday. 

Dalton’s experience helps her stand out as one of the strongest leaders of the young Longhorns’ roster, which features a bevy of talented freshmen. Elliott said the team will count on her to continue providing leadership throughout conference play.

“Emotionally, she brings a ton of confidence, she brings experience and she brings wisdom by her age,” Elliott said. “She’s one of our mother hens. She can help these young players that are freshmen and learn to develop them in that position.”