Dec. 13, 2009

Sidebar: Tested Texas Stands Tall At Qwest Center

By John Fey
Special to

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Texas women's volleyball team will be trading the snow and cold of Omaha for sunny and warm Tampa, Fla., next weekend. It will be a working vacation for the Longhorns, who earned a shot at the national title.

That was the prize for Texas' 21-25, 25-18, 25-16, 25-17 victory over Nebraska in Saturday night's NCAA regional final at Qwest Center Omaha before a pro-Huskers crowd of 9,253.

"Obviously, it was a very emotional win for our team and our program," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. "I've coached a lot of matches, and this might be the biggest on how special it is to me. I'm extremely proud to represent the Big 12 in the next step."

The Huskers lost to the same opponent three times in the same season for the first time since the NCAA tournament began in 1981. And the Longhorns became just the third team ever to beat Nebraska in the Qwest Center, the Huskers' home away from Lincoln.

So second-ranked Texas heads to Florida at 28-1 to face Minnesota, while seventh-ranked Nebraska ends 26-7.

Texas All-America hitter Destinee Hooker pounded Nebraska with 18 kills, and Juliann Faucette added 14 for the Longhorns, who started slowly on the attack before finishing with a .342 percentage.

Nebraska, which committed 26 attack errors, ended at .179. The multiple mistakes didn't go unnoticed by coach John Cook.

"All three games we lost we gave up big runs," Cook said. "They were causing some of those errors. We didn't serve an ace tonight, and they had five. Those little things are what caused those runs."

Nebraska stunned the Longhorns in the opening game by bolting to an 8-3 lead, aided by a couple of Texas errors. During that spurt, the Huskers had five kills and attacked at .833 percent.

After Hooker ended Nebraska's quick start with a kill, the Huskers responded with three straight points -- none coming on a kill -- to go up 11-4.

Later, down 15-7, Texas rallied on two Faucette kills and a Nebraska error to cut the lead to 15-10. The Longhorns continued to chip away, coming within 17-15 on an ace by Hooker and forcing a Nebraska timeout.

Nebraska's hitting percentage dropped to .200 after the fast start. But Texas came no closer than two the rest of the first game as Tara Mueller put the finishing touch on the win. The Huskers enjoyed a .297 to .167 advantage in hitting in that game.

In Game 2, the Longhorns benefited from sloppy Nebraska play. Texas took its first lead of the night 8-7 on a Huskers attack error. Six of Texas' first points came off its opponent's service or attack errors.

"I tell them every day that our most important drill is serving," Cook said. "It just shifted the momentum. We became very tentative. That's why those multiple errors and balls in the net hurt."

A service error and back-to-back net violations by Nebraska allowed Texas to take its largest lead in Game 2 at 19-16. A Huskers timeout didn't stop the Longhorns from scoring two more points.

The Huskers climbed back within 21-18 but succumbed to a 4-0 run by Texas that ended on a double block by Faucette and Rachael Adams for the victory. The Huskers harmed themselves with nine errors in Game 2 and hit just .171. Texas had only two miscues and hit at a .364 clip.

Nebraska appeared shaken up at the start of Game 3 as Texas jumped on top 8-4. Its lead grew to 15-8 on an Amber Roberson kill. A back-row block call raised Texas to a 22-12 lead, and Jennifer Doris ended the blowout with a kill to put the Longhorns a game away from Tampa Bay.

The Longhorns posted a match-high .467 hitting percentage in that game, while Nebraska struggled at .167 and had three more service errors.

In Game 4, the Huskers rallied from behind to take their first lead at 9-8 on a double hit call. From there it stayed close, with five ties and four lead changes, until Texas went on a 3-0 run to go up 16-13.

The Longhorns lengthened the lead until Adams polished off the trip to Tampa with three straight kills for the 25-17 victory.

"I thought the team did an incredible job making the adjustments," Elliott said. "The passers did a phenomenal job. Nebraska had won 12 matches in a row without losing a set. We got some great performances."