After stunning one-seeded Stanford and Wisconsin in the 2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament, defending national champion Texas Volleyball (28-4) plowed through the final number one-seed and AVCA top ranked, Nebraska (33-2), to retain the crown. The resounding defeat marked the program’s first back-to-back titles; moreover, the Longhorns made history by earning consecutive championships through sweeps over their final opponents. The win denotes the first of three for Texas over Nebraska in Final Championship matches.
The Tournament was emblematic of #1 Texas’ 2023 season. A rollercoaster of sets across six matches was peppered with a near elimination loss to an average opponent that required team perseverance to victory but was quickly negated by domination over top performers reflecting the talent that comprises the Longhorn roster. From late August to December, Texas demonstrated they respected and trusted the process of both refining the fundamentals and developing chemistry among a group of new and experienced players. The Final Four All-Tournament team was representative of that constituting a mix of lower and upperclassmen from Texas: Emma Halter, Asjia O’Neal, Madisen Skinner and Ella Swindle.
The 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Madisen Skinner, led Texas with 16 kills versus Nebraska and a total of 125 for the Tournament. The outside hitter is a three-time National Champion and will return to Texas her senior year after accruing 547 kills and 46 service aces – both season highs for the program. Rounding out the offensive weaponry in tournament play, senior Molly Phillips and junior Jenna Wenaas contributed 36 and 51 kills, respectively.
It was fitting for Longhorn senior Asjia O’Neal to serve the final match point given the middle blocker accounted for five of the team’s 12 aces in the Championship match – a career high – and an essential ingredient to the lopsided triumph. O’Neal also contributed four kills and three blocks versus the Cornhuskers adding to her season total of 164 blocks and a history breaking more than 600 career blocks at Texas.
Freshman setter Ella Swindle was a high school student preparing to embark on her college journey just a year ago. Few have exhibited more poise and determination when beginning their collegiate athletic career with a reigning national championship squad in which she was immediately assigned the key starting quarterback position. In the Final match, Swindle earned five kills and two aces, and across the Tournament a total of 220 assists.
In the sport, a highly effective offense is dependent on a strong defense and sophomore Emma Halter dutifully assumed that role for her team this season. The Libero accumulated 85 digs in the Tournament and 441 for the season. Finally, it was Halter, Swindle and junior Keonilei Akana (libero), who supported Skinner in the Longhorn service game with 38, 30 and 33 aces across the season, respectively.
The Longhorns finished the season claiming the Big 12 Title for the 16th time and their fourth NCAA National Championship and fifth overall. The 2024 team will lose starting seniors O’Neal and Phillips but much like this year’s defending national championship cohort showed, there will be budding team members join who cannot be underestimated when they fill big shoes alongside veteran players for #1 Texas as they move into the Southeastern Conference.