UT win sets up rematch with PSU
Mark Swanson, Special to NCAA.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- The University of Texas volleyball team isn't used to overachieving.
With a roster filled with high school stars and a recent tradition of dominance, the Longhorns are undoubtedly one of college volleyball's blue bloods - which is why this trip to the final four is just a little more special.
Texas outlasted Purdue, 3-1, on Saturday to win the NCAA Division I Austin regional and advance to the national semifinals for the third straight year. The previous trips were expected of a team that was clearly one of the nation's best. These Longhorns, however, will travel to Kansas City to take on Penn State, which beat Duke in four sets, because of heart and poise.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment," Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. "Early in the year when we were 8-5, I was hoping that we could put something together. It's a tribute to our girls. This is my most rewarding final four. Last year and the year before, we were expected to get to the final four. This year, as a No. 9 seed, we weren't."
Texas already had the unenviable task of replacing Ashley Engle and Destinee Hooker, two of the greatest players in program history. That was made even more difficult when projected starting outside hitter Bailey Webster went down in the preseason with a torn ACL. Then, defensive specialist Cristina Arenas (hip), outside hitter Ashley Bannister (ankle) and libero Sydney Yogi (hip) went down during the season.
It's taken all year to finally find the right - and healthy - mix.
That was on display Saturday night. Purdue got off to a wonderful start and it took the frenzied crowd of 4,152 at Gregory Gymnasium out of a large part of the opening set.
The Boilermakers frustrated the Longhorns with their service game and never allowed Texas to find any kind of comfort zone. Meanwhile, Purdue was confident and took the first set with ease, 25-18.
But there was a cost. All-Big Ten setter Jaclyn Hart went down with an injured left hamstring and never returned. That robbed the Boilermakers of their on-court decision maker, and it showed as the match progressed.
"It took us some time to respond," Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said. "It took us some time to figure out what was coming next. We lost a couple of sets there in a hurry before we adjusted in set four."
Texas (27-5) completely dominated the second and third sets. Purdue (24-11) struggled to find any kind of consistent rhythm, while the Longhorns fed off the crowd's emotions. Texas hit .500 in set two and .400 in set three to take the pair, 25-16 and 25-15. Set four had a feeling of inevitability.
But the Boilermakers found a response. They jumped out to a 10-4 lead and had the Longhorns on their toes. It took time, but Texas eventually found itself. The Longhorn defense started to respond and the deficit started to shrink. A Juliann Faucette kill pulled Texas to within 21-19. With Purdue serving for set point, Faucette again answered to tie the set at 24. Two more kills made it 26-25 before Rachael Adams ended it with a block on Katie Griffin.
That set off a wild on-court celebration with Faucette lofting a sign reading "KC Bound." Of all the years for that to happen, this was the most unlikely. That only makes it sweeter.