Texas kicks off NCAA tournament with sweep of Fairleigh Dickinson


Julius Shieh

Senior Asjia O’Neal jumps to hit the ball during a game against Kansas on Nov. 16, 2022. Texas won 3-0.

Katie Borchetta, Sports writer

Top-seeded Texas swept Fairleigh Dickinson 3-0 to start out its playoff journey at Gregory Gym on Thursday.

With a sold-out student section and plenty of burnt orange in the building, Gregory Gym hosted the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“The home court advantage at Gregory, it just feels like … the whole crowd is into it,” senior libero Zoe Fleck said Sunday. “It feels like you’re yourself.”

With six Longhorns placed on the All-Big 12 first team, Fairleigh Dickinson simply could not match up to the No. 1 seed.

“They got the number one seed for a reason. They have size, they have skill, they have athleticism,” Fairleigh Dickinson head coach David Nguyen said. “Sky’s the limit for them, honestly.”

The Longhorns dominated in kills, with junior outside hitter Madisen Skinner, senior outside hitter Logan Eggleston and redshirt senior middle blocker Asjia O’Neal all with 10, nine and nine kills, respectively.

Texas also had a strong overall hitting percentage of .535 in comparison to the Knights’ .108. Texas leads the country in hitting percentage, and O’Neal led the Longhorns with her hitting percentage of .615.

The first set began with a kill from redshirt senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey. It was smooth sailing for the Longhorns for a majority of the set. The Knights knew they were in trouble when they had to use both of their timeouts withintin the first 11 points of the set. The set saw even more kills from Eggleston, junior opposite hitter Molly Phillips and a number of aces from sophomore libero Keonilei Akana. The Longhorns took the first set 25-6.

The Knights fought harder in the second set but ultimately lost the frame to Texas 13-25. The Knights found a little more consistency and recorded a few more kills. While there was some sloppiness on Texas’ end, Akana’s service ace brought home the final point for the Longhorns.

The third and final set began a little bumpy for Texas with the score going back and forth. As the Longhorns caught a bigger lead later in the set, head coach Jerritt Elliott put in bench players to get them some time on the court, leaving the whole gym cheering. Texas won the final set and claimed their first victory of the tournament 25-13 with sophomore outside hitter Melanie Parra recording the final point.

“We’re a deep team; we’ve relied on different players,” Elliott said. “I think Kayla is our starter right now, but Bella has been playing some of the best volleyball that she has. And we’re gonna need her in the tournament.”

Thursday was the first time in history Texas and Fairleigh Dickinson have played each other. After Georgia took down Towson earlier on Thursday, the Longhorns will face the Bulldogs on Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for Georgia. We know what they can do,” Elliott said. “They’ve been in some absolute battles, and this is a one-and-done tournament, so you’ve got to show up every single night and execute at a high level. Tonight, we did that.”