After losing two national championship games to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, head coach Jerritt Elliott and the Texas Longhorns broke through on Sunday with a dominant 3-0 win at Amalie Arena in Tampa to win back-to-back national championships.
The Longhorns started the season 5-3 and dealt with injuries and illnesses that forged a toughness that stood the test of the NCAA Tournament despite the disrespect of a No. 2 seed, facing a match point in a five-set win over the Volunteers, and having to go on the road to beat the Cardinal in the regional final.
Against the best defensive team in the country that held every other tournament opponent under .100 hitting, Texas hit .264 and held a 38-20 kill advantage over Nebraska, led by 16 kills from Big 12 Player of the Year Madisen Skinner, who was so outstanding throughout the tournament that handing her the Most Outstanding Player award was an absolute no-brainer.
At the service line, the Horns set the tone for the match, completely picking apart the Huskers and forcing them out of their offense with 12 aces to only two for Nebraska — the Cornhuskers hit .013 with almost as many attacking errors (19) as kills (20), including a -.059 hitting percentage by star outside hitter Merritt Beason, who had more attacking errors than kills.
The young Nebraska team looked nervy in the early going, struggling to get in system and losing the first four points with Texas libero Emma Halter scoring three with strong serving. The Cornhuskers settled in quickly, however, taking an 11-9 lead as the Longhorns had difficulties creating quality swings. Texas battled back as Nebraska committed three service errors and an ace by Skinner prompted a timeout by the Huskers. The timeout disrupted Skinner’s rhythm enough to cause a service error, but the Horns looked close to taking the set with a 22-19 lead that forced another timeout. Then Elliott was given a red card for arguing with the officials about Nebraska’s rotation that cost the Longhorns a point before the Cornhuskers tied it at 22-22 on a return error by Halter. Needing a timeout to refocus, Texas won the set with three straight points, including a kill by Skinner over three Nebraska blockers and an ace by Keonilei Akana to for the 25th point.
Skinner had six of the 11 kills for the Horns, hitting .364 as the Cornhuskers hit .065 with nine kills and seven attacking errors in the opening set as Texas came up with three blocks.
Nebraska started the second set with better defense at the net, scoring three of its first 10 points on blocks and going on a 3-0 spurt to force a timeout by Elliott with the score at 10-7. Skinner responded with a tip kill from the back row out of the break, the start of a 4-0 run that included two aces by Asjia O’Neal to force the Cornhuskers to regroup with a timeout. It didn’t work, as O’Neal hit two more aces and the Longhorns dominated the net with consecutive block after a kill by Skinner from the back row to extend the run to nine straight points to make it 16-10. Texas scored two more points before Nebraska finally broke the run with three straight points, but the Longhorns responded by winning seven of the final eight points of the second set, including two aces by Ella Swindle to steamroll the Huskers and take a commanding 2-0 lead.
The attack for Texas stayed red hot in the third set, scoring 10 of the first 15 points to take a 15-10 lead heading into the media timeout, the first four by Skinner before a number of her teammates got involved in a balanced effort. Leaving no doubt about the outcome, winning 11 of the final 12 points with O’Neal sealing the national championship with an ace, a fitting final point on a dominant serving day for the Horns.
Here's the final point of the 2023 Texas Longhorns NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) December 17, 2023
DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPS pic.twitter.com/66diieq9bj
It’s the fifth national championship for Texas and the third for Elliott in his legendary coaching career.