Omaha, Neb. – The Texas Longhorns women’s volleyball team is in familiar territory: back in the NCAA championship game. Meanwhile, their opponent in Saturday’s Final, the Louisville Cardinals, will be in attendance for the first time, as will an ACC team as a league.
Texas, the top seed in the tournament, beat the San Diego Toreros 3-1 on Thursday, followed by a 3-2 Cardinals victory over their conference rival, the Pittsburgh Panthers.
This will be the Longhorns’ eighth appearance in the NCAA title game, which ties them with UCLA for fourth all-time. Only Stanford (17), Penn State (10) and Nebraska (10) have played more in the NCAA Tournament. Texas won NCAA titles in 2012 and 1988 and claimed the final AIAW championship in 1981.
The ACC had only had one representative in the last four volleyball games before Louisville and Pitt’s back-to-back appearances the past two seasons. That was Florida State, which lost in the semifinals in 2011. Both the Cardinals and Panthers lost in the semifinals last year.
Notable is not only this historic volleyball breakthrough, but also Louisville head coach Danny Bosbaum Kelly’s appearance in the Final. She is the second head coach to have been in an NCAA Championship game, after Mary Wise of the Florida Gators in 2003 and 2017.
“Dani has just done so much for this program,” said Louisville outside batter Anna DePerre. “She’s badass. She knows what she wants, she makes us work hard, we want to work hard for her.”
DeBeer and teammate Elena Scott combined for 10 rushing yards, the most by one team in a National Semifinal game in the past 10 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research.
DePerre was on the line for the first eight points of the fifth set, which turned into an impressive 15-2 rout for the Cardinals after Pitt rallied to win the fourth set.
“I knew if I could be aggressive and get them out of the system at the start of that group, it would help us a lot,” DeBeer said. “I really wanted to get a good serve, and it ended up being more than I expected.”
Claire Chausey had 25 kills to lead Louisville, which is 31-2 this season.
The Cardinals and Texas have not met in the regular season.
The Longhorns have knocked on the door several times since their last NCAA title a decade ago, including their most recent loss two seasons ago to Kentucky here in Omaha. But they hope to push that door this year.
“It’s about dealing with our emotions,” Texas coach Gerrit Elliott said of preparing for the tournament. “I have a lot of confidence in this group in terms of our routines. I’m really impressed with their resilience and the way they want to fight. They really want to win that thing, and now they have that serendipity.”
Texas’ lone loss of the season came 3-2 at Iowa on Oct. 19. But she lost the first set in five matches, including Thursday, 28-26. The Longhorns won all of those games, with the Toreros finishing 25-16, 25-18, 25-20.
“The first set wasn’t our perfect set,” said Texas hitter Molly Phillips. “It’s a great feeling to go out and play perfect volleyball and sweep a team. But it’s better not to play the perfect game, beat the hard times and beat a team in four sets like that.”
Madison Skinner led Texas with 17 kills, Logan Eggleston had 16 and Phillips had 14. The Toreros were the No. 2 seed in their region and defeated No. 1 seed Stanford on the Cardinals’ home court in the Elite Eight. San Diego finished the season 31-2.
“What a great season for San Diego volleyball,” said the Torreros’ Jennifer Petrie, who was named the AVCA Division I coach of the year earlier Thursday. “I couldn’t be more proud of these two girls….believing they deserved to be here. We earned the right to be here, and we’ve made a statement for that. Kudos to Texas, which is, a very good team. One we paid for tonight.” And we struggled with it.”
The Final will be Saturday at 8 PM EST on ESPN2. With no Nebraska Cornhuskers here in Omaha, Louisville is the closest thing to a fan favorite because of Busboom Kelly. She is a native of Nebraska and won two NCAA titles with the Huskers as a player (2006) and assistant coach (2015), both in Omaha.
Bosbaum Kelly joked that there was another reason her team would be the crowd’s pick in the final game, considering how the Huskers and Longhorns used to be fierce rivals in the Big 12 Conference before Nebraska moved up to the Big Ten.
“I saw a quote from someone, probably on Twitter, saying, ‘Nebraska don’t forget what they said,’ and I was hoping they were behind us,” said Bosbaum Kelly. “I would be really surprised if any Nebraskans are cheering for Texas on Saturday.”
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