Mark Swanson, Special to NCAA.com
AUSTIN – The Austin Regional had been the only NCAA Division I women’s volleyball regional that was going according to plan. Top-seeded Florida, No. 8 Illinois, No. 9 Texas and No. 16 Purdue did exactly what they were supposed to do – get to Austin.
Then, the Boilermakers went and shook things up.
Purdue dominated Florida and Texas put together a remarkable comeback to slip past Illinois in five games and set up Saturday’s regional final. The match is scheduled for 8 p.m. (CST) and will be televised on ESPNU.
It will be a match-up of underdog teams entering with a massive amount of emotion, for different reasons.
Down 2-1, the homestanding Longhorns (26-5) fashioned a comeback for the ages. Despite being clearly outplayed through the first three sets, Texas – somehow – completely reversed course in the final two sets.
The Longhorns finally controlled the service game, dominated set four and then took set five, 15-11 to advance. Texas has lost games like this the last two years in the tournament. After being up on Stanford 2-0 in the 2008 Final Four, it lost. A year ago, the Longhorns lost a 2-1 lead on Penn State in the national championship match.
After breezing through the regular season the last three years, Texas was hit hard by injuries and at one point lost four of five matches. The Longhorns have adjusted, however, and at last have their lineup set. Texas is on an 18-match winning streak and has lost on the Gregory Gym court only twice in four seasons.
On the other hand, the regional final is completely uncharted territory for Purdue (24-10). The Boilermakers have never advanced this far since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams. The program reached the regional semifinal 2005-08, but was eliminated each time. Friday’s win, the first ever over a No. 1 team, was a breakthrough.
“We’re still in shock,” setter Jaclyn Hart said.
“It was a really big win for our program, to get to this level,” Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said. “We’ve been here three times before in the last six years and hit a roadblock, so it was great to get past this level.”
The Longhorns will have a natural advantage with the crowd, but that may not matter if the Boilermakers put on the kind of show they did against the Gators.
There was nothing fluky about Purdue’s win. The Boilermakers controlled the game with their set and consistently kept the Gators out of their system. Defensively, Purdue keyed on Florida All-American Kelly Murphy and took her out of the match, limiting her to only five kills on 17 swings. They’ll have a similar challenge in the regional final versus Texas outside hitter Juliann Faucette, the Big 12 Player of the Year.
Purdue is the rare team that can match Texas’ size. The Longhorns traditionally have one of the nation’s biggest blocks, but they’ll be eye-to-eye with an equal Saturday. The Boilermakers, especially outside hitter Ariel Turner (18 kills versus Florida), have survived the grueling Big 10 schedule littered with size. It will be difficult to show them something they haven’t seen.
“They’re very physical and they’re a very good serving team, like Illinois,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They’re battle-tested and experienced. They’ve played Penn State (which advanced to the University Park, Penn. regional final) and Illinois and all the great teams in the Big Ten. We’re going to have to play composed and play well tomorrow night.
“I thought they had a good shot (to beat Florida). They’ll be a great test. You get to this level, they’re all great tests.”