Dec. 13, 2009

By John Fey
Special to

OMAHA, Neb. –– The Texas women’s volleyball team knew coming into the regional here that it would face the challenge of three other Big 12 teams, including the host school, Nebraska, and its legion of vocal fans. Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott wasn’t relishing the prospect of playing at Qwest Center Omaha.

“When I heard Omaha had one of the regionals,” Elliott said, “I said that is not the site I wanted to go to.”

So to get ready for a possible trip to the Omaha Regional, the Longhorns gained experience at other large venues.

“We played in some tough matches to prepare us to be on the road for a really long time,” Elliott said.

The Longhorns will hit the road one more time for another large venue in Tampa, Fla., where the Final Four takes place. Texas advanced to the NCAA national semifinals for the second straight year and will meet 11th-seeded Minnesota at 7 p.m. EST Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Second-ranked Texas overcame a rowdy pro-Nebraska crowd by beating the Huskers in four games Saturday night.

“It just means I have another week with my team,” said standout senior hitter Destinee Hooker. “I’m looking forward to this week. It’s a blessing.”

Hooker, the regional’s most outstanding player, pelted the Huskers with a match-high 18 kills on 40 swings. Teammate Juliann Faucette chipped in 14 kills as the Longhorns (28-1) ended seventh-ranked Nebraska’s season at 26-7.

“It means everything,” Texas setter Ashley Engle said of advancing to Tampa. “I feel the same way as Destinee. I love this team. I think we’ve gotten everything we deserved. I think we embraced (Omaha). Now the Final Four should be our reward.”

Elliott, whose team lost just to Iowa State this season, asked his squad for one more extraordinary effort against the Huskers.  

“I challenged them that they would have to be the best mentally all year long,” he said. “And they responded. They could have folded.”

Texas responded by hitting .342, the highest opponent hitting percentage Nebraska had allowed all season.

Nebraska coach John Cook complimented his team’s fans and the Longhorns as two of his players broke down emotionally after the match.

“The crowd was great,” Cook said. “They were trying to will us to win this match. They were awesome.

“But Texas played great. Big-time players step up, and Destinee played well. I think that was the biggest difference in the match.”

Cook had a prediction for the title game, which takes place next Saturday night, both from team and individual standpoints.

“I think (Texas) will play Penn State in the final,” he said, “and you’ll see (Penn State star) Megan Hodge and Hooker in a great match.”

Others among Saturday night’s crowd of 9,253 couldn’t disagree about Hooker's mark on the match. She had four of her team’s five aces to go along with 18 kills.

“She’s a special player,” Cook said. “I thought we did some good things on her. We slowed her down. I thought our game plan was good on her. She hurt us with her jump serve.

“We’ll see if she can get it done and win a national championship.”

Hooker’s coach heaped high praise on his All-American.

“She’s been huge for us, not just on the court but off the court,” Elliott said. “Her play is spectacular. She can hurt you on contact. She’s a winner, and she knows that. She’s a key component for us to be successful.”

In addition to Hooker being the regional’s most outstanding player, Engle and Faucette joined Iowa State’s Victoria Henson, Sara Ammerman of Texas A&M and Nebraska’s Kori Cooper and Sydney Anderson on the all-tournament team.