Volleyball opens NCAA Tournament against Samford/Wright State winner

05 Apr By
After a first-round bye, Logan Eggleston (left), Brionne Butler and the Texas Longhorns will tip off the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the winner of Wright State and Samford (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas volleyball team will be competing for a national title as the NCAA Tournament's No. 4 overall seed. The Longhorns will open the tournament against the winner of the first-round match between Wright State and Samford.

It will be the first time the tournament is contested in the spring, and also the first time it is held in a "bubble" environment, as all matches, spanning from April 14-24, will be played at the Chi Health Center Arena in Omaha, Neb.

As one of the top 16 teams in the tournament, Texas earned a first-round bye after posting a 23-1 record through a slate that featured all but two conference matches in the fall and eight non-conference spring matches. The seeding marked the second straight time that Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott led his squad to a top-four seed; the Horns were No. 2 at the 2019 NCAA tournament.

“I’m really proud of our team," Elliott said. "They put in a lot of effort and sacrifice into staying healthy throughout the year and to have a record of 23-1 is remarkable. To be one of the top four seeds is not taken for granted. Our draw is tough, but that is the NCAA Tournament. We are going to take it one match at a time and we are happy to be playing and representing the University of Texas.”

UT's first match of the tournament is set for 6 p.m., April 15 against the winner of a first-round tilt between Samford and Wright State.

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Samford has been a heavyweight within the mid-major ranks for the last few seasons, and won its third straight Southern Conference title with a three-set sweep April 3 over Mercer. The Bulldogs played a conference-only spring schedule this season and did not compete at all during the fall. Samford enters the first-round duel with a 15-3 record.

Wright State is making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance after capturing its first Horizon League title with a 3-2 victory April 3 over the University of Illinois-Chicago in the conference championship. The Raiders rolled through their spring schedule, posting a 16-1 record, with the only loss coming in the team's lone non-conference duel against Dayton.

The tournament will be a completely different format than the normal one to which players and coaches are accustomed, but Elliott and junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston were generous with their optimism when they met the media Monday.

"Obviously this is another go-around for us," Elliott said. "What we've done this season has been really impressive with the amount of matches we've been able to play. It's a tribute to our team and our university for keeping our players safe. We're going into a different tournament than we've ever done before. We're just trying to take it one day at a time."

"It's definitely going to be a totally different experience, and totally new, but the good thing is, it is new for everybody," Eggleston, who is fifth in the nation in kills with 379, said. "We're all going into it not knowing what to expect, so we have to go in with an open mind and be prepared for everything."

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley