Texas volleyball’s ‘super powers’ help to sweep Wright State, advance to next round in NCAA tournament

Maya Martinez

Until Thursday night’s 3-0 victory, Texas had never once met Wright State.

But you probably wouldn’t know that just from watching the second-round matchup in the NCAA tournament. It was almost as if Texas was facing a familiar foe — the Longhorns had answers for essentially every play the Raiders drew up.

The No. 4-seeded Texas team is defined by its regular season stuffed to the brim with sweeps. The Longhorns just had a way of always finding the right tools to put the nail in their opponent’s coffin when given an early lead. Their first postseason match was no exception as Texas swept Wright State 25-12, 25-16, 25-16.

In the first few moments of the third set, the Longhorns, already up two sets to none, put their foot on the gas pedal and refused to stop until the battle was won.

It started with a kill by junior middle blocker Brionne Butler.

“I think we started off really strong, something that we’ve been wanting to work on throughout the whole season, and I think once we got started, it just felt like any other match,” Butler said.

Despite it feeling like “any other match,” Butler put up eight kills, six block assists and notched a near-perfect hitting percentage.

“I can’t believe she didn’t hit .900. She only hit .890,” head coach Jerritt Elliott joked. “She’s able to tackle a lot of different key positions, and I’m really proud of her,”

Excellent serving by graduate libero Morgan O’Brien left Wright State scrambling to keep the ball alive, and Texas capitalized, maintaining composure. Before anyone realized it, Texas was up 6-0.

Wright State, not eager to be outperformed, had to prove its status as one of the top defenses in its conference and in the country. An attack from the right side by sophomore middle blocker Molly Phillips didn’t have the right angle, and the Raiders swiftly blocked it to get on the board.

Texas shook it off like nothing happened. Junior setter Jhenna Gabriel put the ball back into Phillips’ hands, who delivered a slam dunk to give Texas the possession and the momentum to take the set 25-16.

“We had a huge physical matchup on them, and we executed at a high level, and we just kind of kept plugging away at them,” Elliott said.

The first victory comes in strange circumstances — strict COVID-19 protocols left players and staff staying in isolation in a hotel between games throughout the tournament.

“It’s very taxing mentally and emotionally, and for what they’ve been able to do and to be able to stay positive has been very impressive,” Elliott said.

The silver lining of life in ‘the bubble’ is the undeniable camaraderie developing within the team. It’s clear to see the close proximity has brought the Longhorns together on and off the court.

“We get to go on team walks, which is a way to just get out the room, so that’s pretty fun. Just interacting with my teammates has been the only way that I’ve been not going crazy,” Butler said.

The team’s main priority going forward in the tournament, according to Elliott, is to capitalize on that camaraderie and distribute the touches throughout the offense.

“We’ve got obviously some super powers with Brionne Butler and Logan (Eggleston) and Skylar (Fields), but you have to pay attention to our other players as well, because they’ll put up big numbers like they did tonight.” Elliott said.

Texas will face off against the winner of Thursday’s Penn State/North Carolina A&T matchup on Sunday in the regional semifinal of the NCAA championships.