Allison sets up semifinal win for Texas
Setter Hannah Allison had 53 assists in Thursday's match
Texas junior setter Hannah Allison likes her options, and she should. There are really no bad choices when she is deciding who to set up for the next Longhorn kill.
Allison used all of those choices in the Texas offense on Thursday as the Longhorns advanced to the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship finale after a back-and-forth five-set victory against Michigan in the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
Four Texas players recorded double-digit kills led by junior outside hitter Bailey Webster with 18. Sophomore outside hitter Haley Eckerman notched 16 kills, while senior Sha’Dare McNeal contributed 13 and sophomore Khat Bell added 11.
Collectively, the Longhorns were efficient. The nation’s top-hitting team posted a .316 for the match against the Wolverines as they moved on to their first title match since 2009.
“I think it makes it difficult for teams to scout certain players and try to stop one person because you have a lot of weapons to use,” Allison said. “So it helps them balance each other. So not one person on a team has all the weight, not one person has to get all the kills. And I think that's the most important thing.”
Allison likes to spread the offense around, and dished out 53 assists to her teammates in the match.
“For me, I can be a little bit creative with who I set, what play calls I make because I have so many players who can put the ball away,” Allison said. “So that allows me to really spread that out and make us a little bit more unpredictable.”
In the first set, Texas dominated Michigan, hitting .469 by playing practically errorless ball en route to a 25-11 win against the Wolverines. Michigan made adjustments, and Texas combined for 10 errors over the next two sets as the Wolverines took a 2-1 advantage in the match.
Michigan’s momentum was palpable, but Texas did not panic. The Longhorns rallied for a 25-12 victory in the fourth set – once again behind efficient hitting (.455).
With the scored tied at eight in the fifth set, Texas came out of a timeout to score three points en route to securing a 15-11 win and a chance to play for the national championship.
“I'm just so proud of our group that we've been good all year. I've been saying that we've been good in the crunch,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “You never see them give up. Even though we give up games, you could see they just wanted to stay in this routine and battle.”
“You have to be patient,” Webster said. “And every ball, everything isn't going to be a kill. And although it would be nice if it was, but you know like every pass isn't perfect, every set isn't perfect, so for us to go swinging 100 percent on every swing I don't think would be very smart. I think we were just trying to eliminate errors. And although it took a long time, it came.”
The Longhorns leaned on experience they have gained over the course of the season to pull out the victory.
“I think the biggest thing is we've learned how to manage our errors and manage just how we play, and at the beginning we were up and down at points and different sets,” Eckerman said. “It was a battle. And once the season progressed, we were just calm and steady throughout the whole match. And we just learned how to manage a lot better.”
Michigan head coach Mark Rosen, whose Wolverines played a grueling Big Ten Conference schedule, was impressed by the Longhorns.
“They played great [Thursday],” Rosen said. “They did a great job, especially down the wire, the match, and certainly wish them the best of luck. They're the most athletic team we've seen. It doesn't mean they're the best team that's going to win it all. But as far as physical athleticism and size, they're as good as we've seen.”
Texas will be seeking the program’s first NCAA title since winning the trophy in 1988 on Saturday.