Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

No. 5 Texas Volleyball to play Texas A&M in NCAA Championship first round

Skyler Sharp
Senior middle blocker Asjia O’Neal jumps up to spike the ball on Nov. 11, 2023 against Cincinnati. O’Neal had a total of 9 kills at this game.

The first round of the NCAA Championship will start at home for defending national champion No. 5 Texas volleyball with a challenging first game against a Southeastern Conference opponent. 

Not just any SEC opponent: Texas A&M. The Longhorn’s formal rivals are traveling from College Station to play at Gregory Gymnasium, bringing along its yell leaders and fans. 

“We need our fan base to come in and be loud and let them feel what it’s like to be a Longhorn,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I think this rivalry needs to be back in place, and it can start with this.”

The two head coaches are familiar with each other’s style of play. Aggie head coach Jamie Morrison was a volunteer coach for Texas when it played in the 2020-21 NCAA Championship match. 

“It’s a really challenging first round, probably the toughest one we’ve had in some time,” Elliott said. “They’re super fast, one of the best blocking teams in the SEC, and they can play at a really high clip. So, we’ve got to be ready to go.”

The Aggies have improved their team over the past year, making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019. 

“I think it’d be good for us to have this test in the first round,” senior middle blocker Asjia O’Neal said. “You want to have something that’s gonna challenge you throughout the whole tournament.”

O’Neal has won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week four times this season and made First Team All-Big 12 alongside junior outside hitter Madisen Skinner. 

Skinner, the Big 12 Player of the Year, will be a vital part of the team on Thursday, bringing in her history with Texas A&M. Not only did she play against Texas A&M in her time at Kentucky, but Skinner also knows some of the team from her former club team, the Houston Skyline. 

“I just remember they have heavy pins, and some of the girls that play there now played at my club, so I know they have great training,” Skinner said. “I’m excited just to see the matchups and hopefully beat them.”

As defending national champions, Texas is in a familiar but uncomfortable spot. This year, the Longhorns have a young team with freshman setter Ella Swindle taking the reins, which has come with a few difficulties as the team has tried to figure out their chemistry. 

“We had a lot of new people and new roles, and we’re still trying to find our way and try to get things to play,” O’Neal said. “I still think we haven’t even played our best volleyball yet. We’re continuing to grow every day, and the practice gym has gotten way more competitive.”

The Longhorns’ first loss came against Long Beach State, then against Stanford several weeks later. The Longhorns may have a chance at a rematch with Stanford as the two teams are on the same side of the NCAA Tournament bracket. The teams can potentially meet again in the Final Four.

“It’s really hard to sustain and be great for long periods of time,” Elliott said. “For us to be able to do it in seven years in a row, and most importantly, (to) do it in our last year in the Big 12 is super special.”

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