On Thursday night, like it has so many times before, Texas began a postseason run by tidying up its gym.
Senior Micaya White led the way with 13 kills as Texas opened the NCAA Tournament with a 25-9, 25-16, 25-15 win over Albany inside of Gregory Gym. Texas has swept its first opponent in each of its last 25 postseason appearances. All but three of those victories have been recorded in Austin.
Texas advances to face UC Santa Barbara, which knocked off Texas State in four sets. The Longhorns (22-3) and Gauchos (23-5) will return to Gregory Gym at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“I have no complaints about tonight,” said UT coach Jerritt Elliott, whose team is the tournament’s second overall seed. “I thought everybody was dialed in. I thought our concentration level pretty much through the whole match was good and what we wanted to get in the first match.”
Texas sent a clear message about how the night was going to go in the opening set. UT scored 12 of the match’s first 16 points en route to a 16-point rout. As a team, Texas hit .636 in the first set. Its defense recorded four blocks and held Albany to a negative hitting percentage and five total kills.
During the regular season, Texas had only once hit better than .575 in a single set. (The team had a .632 performance to close out a 3-0 win at Kansas on Oct. 26). Over the course of its last four matches, the Longhorns had opened with .214, .116, .140 and .278 percentages. Texas had dropped the opening set in each of its last three matches.
“I think it was good, again, to get on a good rhythm and then to just build trust within each other,” White said.
Added Elliott: “I though we came out and we executed at a really high level. I thought our blocking and our transition game was really good.”
In the opening set, Skylar Fields registered six kills on eight swings. Asjia O’Neal also contributed an ace and two blocks. Both Fields and O’Neal, who redshirted last year, are freshmen who were making their postseason debuts. What butterflies, right?
“I get a little nervous before every game,” Fields said. “I just kept the same mindset. It’s like, one game at a time, and just played our hardest.”
Texas led by as many as 10 points in the second set. Albany grabbed its only two leads of the evening at the beginning of the final session, but Texas never faced more than a one-point deficit.
The nation’s leader in hitting percentage, Texas hit .514 against Albany. That bested the season-high total it had set against Texas Tech on Sept. 28 by 58 points. With Jhenna Gabriel pacing the offense with 33 assists, Fields and sophomore Logan Eggleston also chipped in 10 kills.
At .214, Albany (16-11) entered the match with the fifth-worst hitting percentage among the qualifiers for the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, the Great Danes hit -.028. Texas recorded 10 teams blocks and no Albany player neared the 10-kill mark.
“Their size and speed, it’s bigger than we’ve seen this year,” Albany coach Josh Pickard noted. “It makes it a little tough to be successful against that.”
With the win, Texas improved to 33-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns have also won 35 straight postseason matches inside of Gregory Gym. Stanford was the last team to end UT’s season in its home gym and that 3-1 decision occurred in 2006.
Notes: White (.571) and Fields (.692) both had season-high hitting percentages. … Albany, which won the America East Conference’s title, was led by senior Akuabata Okenwa’s seven kills. … Texas committed 12 service errors. The Longhorns have had double-digit miscues on the service line in eight straight games. … This was the first-ever meeting between Texas and Albany. UT is 2-3 in its all-time series with UCSB.