The spotlight shined brightly on Gregory Gym as the NCAA tournament rolled into Austin. The Longhorns excelled under these lights, sweeping Albany 25-9, 25-16, 25-15.
The Longhorns were the No. 2 seed overall, meaning they have home court advantage throughout the regional final. The Longhorns plan to use Gregory Gym to their advantage, forging a path to the Final Four en route to their first national championship since 2012. Even though Texas was heavily favored, they viewed the game with the utmost importance.
“Our goal today was to try and find some rhythm and comfort in this NCAA tournament,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought it was really good, and we executed at a high level, and our blocking and transition game was really good.”
Texas blew the doors off the the Great Danes in set one. The Longhorn offense was outstanding, tallying 15 kills on a hitting percentage of .636. Freshman outside hitter and Big 12 Rookie of the Year Skylar Fields added several big kills.
Fields finished the first set with six kills on a hitting percentage of .625 and added a block in for good measure, a strong start in her tournament debut.
“I get a little nervous for every game,” Fields said. “I just kept saying to myself, ‘One game at a time, and play your hardest.’”
Texas didn’t give the Great Danes any breathing room. It unleashed a full-fledged offensive attack as it breezed to a 25-9 win.
The Longhorns continued to protect their house in set two. Midway through, senior outside hitter Micaya White unleashed a serve at full speed. Albany quickly returned, hoping to catch the Longhorns off guard.
Freshman middle blocker Asjia O’Neal rushed to the net, slamming a spike and landing a kill that put the Longhorns up 10-3.
The Great Danes witnessed firsthand how strong this Texas team is when at full strength. It seemed like they were constantly met by sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston or O’Neal.The Longhorns finished set two with five blocks.
“We played a really big team who blocked really well,” Albany head coach Josh Pickard said. “They are a fantastic team, and I think they’re going to go deep into the tournament. They have size, speed and a lot of nice things that I saw.”
Through two sets, Albany failed to register a hitting percentage above zero. In spite of this, the Great Danes would find a semblance of groove and have their best set in the third.
Albany led at the beginning of the set and only trailed 9-7. However, its momentum quickly deflated when Fields, White and sophomore middle blocker Brionne Butler landed three consecutive kills. The Longhorns ran away with the set.
Texas dominated the match, but they are trying to maintain a sharp focus as they prepare for the University of California, Santa Barbara. Each game could be the last for seniors such as Micaya White, who emphasized the message in the team huddle.
“Don’t look around,” White said. “There are going to be a lot of upsets, a lot of this team lost, that team lost, but don’t focus on that. Focus on who we play.”