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  • Writer's pictureTone Rasmussen

Texas Sweeps Nebraska to become Back-to-Back National Champions

Reigning national champions Texas Longhorns defeated the No. 1 ranked team in the country, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, to take home their second consecutive NCAA national title. There have been two previous meetings between the two teams, with Nebraska victorious on both occasions. However, the third time was the charm for the Longhorns as they join a very exclusive club of winning back-to-back championships with schools including Stanford, Penn State, UCLA and USC.


 

Texas had several returning players that won the national championship in 2022, but replaced the two first contacts. Emma Halter became libero after Zoe Fleck and Ella Swindle took over the setting duties. Many people doubted Texas this season after a slow start, but they found their rhythm right at the start of the tournament and battled to get to the final.

 

Texas got off to a 4-0 start in the first set after some hesitant Nebraska defense and offense, but Nebraska quickly caught up. The teams were trading points back and forth until Texas pulled ahead late in the set and won 25-21. Madisen Skinner, who many thought deserved to win National Player of The Year, has not let her foot off the gas once during the tournament and stood out for the Longhorns early on, with six kills and one ace in that first set.


The Longhorns also played some fantastic defense and got the Cornhuskers out of rotation more often than not with their serving. Keonilei Akana, who transferred from Nebraska to Texas ahead of the 2022 season, delivered an ace on match point in the championship game last year and ended the first set by acing former teammate Ally Batenhorst. Jenna Wenaas had had some struggles early in the season and her hitting percentage and confidence was visibly down, but was a big presence in the match, delivering when it mattered most.

 

 Nebraska had four new players in the starting lineup, and although they have been a top ranked team all season, it seemed like the occasion got the best of them. The Huskers pride themselves on being a defensive team but struggled in serve receive all night long and ended the set getting aced.The first set was the best Nebraska played all night and was also the only set they got over the 15-point mark. They hit .065 as a team, had four service errors and three receive errors. The Cornhuskers were unable to handle the serve of the Longhorns and were struggling to put balls to the ground, mostly due to outstanding defense by Texas and only having nine kills in the first set.



In the second and third set, Texas was ruthless and never let Nebraska back into the game, winning the second set with a convincing 25-14. With Nebraska leading 10-9 in the third, Asjia O´Neal stepped back to the service line and delivered four aces in a row, effectively killing Nebraska’s momentum. Just like last year's Texas when Akana had an ace on match point, O´Neal got the honors to end this year's game on the same note. She had a dream ending to her collegiate career at Texas, winning her second national championship trophy. Hitting .350% and racking up five aces, there was never any doubt where the trophy would end up for her.


Skinner had 11 kills over set two and three and ended the game with 16 kills and hitting .273%. She also was named Most Valuable Player and won her third national championship. Freshman setter Ella Swindle proved to be an offensive threat in sets two and three. She had five kills, with three coming in the third set for the Longhorns. Wenaas also had herself a good night after finishing off the season with nine kills and a renewed confidence in herself.


 

Nebraska kept themselves out of the game by faling to deliver when it counted and not getting their best players going. Junior opposite and captain Merritt Beason had three kills and four errors, hitting negative. When she faltered on the court, no one stepped up for the Huskers. Ally Batenhorst was also hitting in the negative and became a serving target for the Longhorns. She had an outstanding game in the semifinal against Pittsburgh, with eight kills and four blocks, but was unable to carry the momentum into the final and at times.


Despite the loss, there is nothing but good things to be said about the heart and hustle of this Nebraska team. With no seniors on the roster, they will for sure be looking to avenge themselves next season. Harper Murray has proved herself all season long and Bergen Reilly became the first-ever freshman setter to get named Big Ten Setter of the Year. Next year's Nebraska squad has all the tools to make it back to the national finals.


A Record Breaking Season For All

This has been a record-breaking season for the sport of volleyball. Countless teams have broken their own attendance records and several televised matches have received a record-high amount of viewers. The NCAA championship saw 19,727 people attend, breaking the indoor attendance record that was set just days prior to the semifinals. The Longhorns will go home as champions of sport, but also symbols of the growth of college volleyball this 2023 season.



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