Horns claim stake in Big 12 title

Clark Dalton

For the past two years, the Texas volleyball team has finished in first place or tied for first place in the Big 12, but has lost in the NCAA Regional Final. This year, the team has accomplished the former, while hoping to avoid the latter. 

The team clinched a share of the Big 12 Title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a win over Iowa State on Saturday in Ames. While the Longhorns were most likely going to receive an at-large bid should they have failed to win the Big 12, the win allowed the Longhorns to lock up a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Texas’ top four seed means it will have the luxury of playing in Austin until the Final Four, a huge advantage for a team looking to win its first title since 2012.

The Longhorns earned their 21st victory of the season in four sets. Senior outside hitter Micaya White and sophomore middle blocker Brionne Butler powered the Texas offense, earning 29 kills between the two of them across the four sets. While the offense performed at a high level, the Cyclones weren’t going to give up without a fight. 

Iowa State pushed the Longhorns with nine ties during the first set. Every time Texas would take a lead the Cyclones would have an answer. The turning point came when both teams were tied at 20. The Cyclones went on a quick run, employing an effective defensive strategy that forced two attack errors and a service error.

Iowa State held on 25-23, as freshman outside hitter Michal Schuler slammed a kill over the Texas front line to end the set. All season, the Longhorns have thrived when forced to respond to adversity, and this match was no different. 

The beginning of the second set looked to be the start of another back and forth battle. After the set was tied at three points a piece, Texas grabbed 12 straight points during this stretch. White contributed with two kills in the 12-point stretch, and freshman middle blocker Asjia O’Neal chipped in with two kills of her own.

Texas’ defense played a key role, as the Cyclones committed 14 errors. White was at the center of the attack errors, disrupting the Cyclones flow with two blocks. Texas was now up 15-3.

Iowa State tried to come back from the 15-3 deficit, but proved unable to overcome the Longhorns’ early lead. Texas won the second set 25-9 in a show of dominance. 

In the third set, Butler continued to contribute for the Longhorns. She came up clutch when Texas was trailing 8-9, hammering a kill to tie the set. She would also execute a block that gave the Longhorns an early 11-9 lead. 

Despite multiple attempts to rally, Iowa State would never lead again. Six kills from White combined with a strong defensive effort helped the Longhorns to a 25-19 third set victory.

The Cyclones, with their backs against the wall, jumped out to an early lead in the fourth set. Catching Texas off guard would be the only chance the team had, but Butler and freshman opposite hitter Skylar Fields both notched kills to stop the bleeding for Texas.

The final lead change tipped the match toward Texas. With the Longhorns trailing 14-17, White earned a kill. In the following play, Iowa State made an attack error and O’Neal capitalized with a kill of her own, tying the game at 17. 

Schuler responded with a kill for Iowa State to momentarily regain the lead, but a White kill tied the game once more. White then recorded a service ace, giving the Longhorns to lead for good, eventually winning the set 25-19. 

The win earned Texas its third consecutive Big 12 championship. The Longhorns’ quest for a national title begins at Gregory Gym on Thursday when No. 2 Texas hosts Albany.