LEXINGTON, Ky. — Top-seeded Texas advanced to its NCAA-best sixth consecutive NCAA regional final after downing Kentucky 3-1. The 25-23, 22-25, 27-24, 25-23 victory sends the Longhorns to the finals where they will meet No. 8 UCLA, which swept four-time defending national champion Penn State in its semifinal.
Texas improved to 25-4 on the season, while Kentucky concluded its season with a 28-6 record. The Longhorns are the only team in the NCAA to qualify for each of the last six Regional finals and they are vying for their school-record fourth consecutive trip to the National Semifinals.
Sophomore outside hitter Bailey Webster headlined the Horns’ attack and equaled a career-high with her match-leading 17 kills. National freshman of the year candidate Haley Eckerman added 16 kills in the win, while senior All-America middle blocker Rachael Adams hammered out 15 kills on .367 hitting.
The first set was a back-and-forth struggle that saw 13 ties, but Texas did not relinquish the lead from the 6-5 mark on. A 4-0 rally stretched the margin to three, but UK kept the tally tight the rest of the way before a kill by junior opposite hitter Sha’Dare McNeal forced set point and a Wildcat attack error sealed the set, 25-23 for the Horns.
Texas fell behind early in the second set and trailed by three at the 14-11 mark. The Longhorns mounted a 5-1 rally fueled by two Webster kills to forge ahead, 15-14, but UK answered promptly with a 4-1 run to claim an 18-16 edge. Texas briefly regained the lead at the 20-18 mark, but Kentucky was too strong down the stretch, closing the frame on a 7-2 run to clinch the set 25-22.
In the third, Texas broke a nine all tie with an 8-2 run paced by three Webster kills to capture a 17-11 advantage. Kentucky responded and narrowed the lead to three, but Texas quickly ballooned the margin to five at the 22-17 mark. The Horns were then forced to withstand a 7-2 rally that saw UK overcome three set points to tie the stanza at 24. Consecutive kills by McNeal and Webster with score knotted at 25 clinched the set and lifted UT to a 27-25 set win.
The fourth set was the biggest seesaw battle of the night with the lead changing hands 11 times and the score being tied on 20 different occasions. Texas began its push when a long rally ended in a Texas point to tie the match at 21 and it forged ahead by one on a kill by Webster. UK hung tough and evened the tally at 23 before an Adams kill and a Wildcats attack error propelled the Horns to a 25-23 victory.