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Texas slams through Wright State in opening match of NCAA volleyball tourney

Texas middle blocker Brionne Butler, center, had a big night for the Longhorns in their second-round win over Wright State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday: she posted a near perfect hitting percentage — eight kills on nine attacks — and recorded five blocks.

Wright State won its first-ever NCAA Tournament volleyball match on Wednesday. On Thursday night, the Raiders ran into Texas, which won its 98th.

In what one might have called a David-and-Goliath situation, the fourth-seeded Longhorns swept the Raiders 25-12, 25-16, 25-16 in a lopsided second-round match in Omaha, Neb. Texas (24-1) will next face the winner of the Penn State and North Carolina A&T match in the regional semifinals on Sunday.

“It was a good first win for us,” UT coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I never take a win for granted, and we’re on to the Sweet 16 and we’ll probably face Penn State in the next round, which will be a huge challenge for us."

On Thursday, Texas certainly made a few service errors here and there, and sometimes Wright State had the Longhorns' number, but the team from Dayton, Ohio was outmatched. Mostly because Texas seems to have very few holes in the lineup — and several players over six feet. One of Wright State’s marquee players, outside hitter Mallory Lad, is just 5-6.

Brionne Butler, Texas' 6-4 middle blocker, posted a near perfect hitting percentage — eight kills on nine attacks — and recorded five blocks. Big 12 player of the year Logan Eggleston had 10 kills and three blocks, Molly Phillips had a day (seven kills) and Asjia O'Neal had eight blocks. Melanie Perra, the freshman from Mexico who joined the team in January, sealed the match in the third set with a strong kill.

"It’s a nice advantage to have,” Elliott said. “We’ve got a great team right now, and we could hurt you in a lot of different ways. We’ve obviously got some superpowers with Brionne Butler and Logan 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.”

The Longhorns looked formidable, and several players smiled big as they took down Wright State; Texas posted 13 kills on 25 attacks in the first set. But it wasn’t a flawless performance.

Service errors are what prevented the Longhorns from ending the match much sooner. That and touches — Elliott said they’ll have to work on those after months of playing in UT’s basketball arena.

“The ball travels a lot differently than it did in the Erwin Center and we’ll get some more opportunities hopefully here in the next two days,” he said. “ But we have some time to kind of recover with a two-day break and then it gets really heavy should we be able to advance.”

Butler and her teammates will spend their break enjoying bubble life: staying in their hotel rooms for most of the day and going on the occasional team walk. Such is life in the era of COVID-19, but the star defensive player is just happy to be back in the NCAA Tournament and doing her thing.

A redshirt junior, Butler sat out her first season with the team in 2017. In 2019, when Texas fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16, she missed the first eight matches of the season due to injury.

“(The) 2019 season didn’t end the way that we obviously wanted it to,” Butler said. “And even with the COVID thing going on, we’re just really … blessed to just be having this opportunity, so it feels really good to be back."