OMAHA, Nebraska — Too much Texas.
Ten years after, the Longhorns are the NCAA volleyball champions again.
Texas, the favorite all season, swept Louisville 25-22, 25-14, 26-24 on Saturday night for its fourth — third in the NCAA — national title.
The Longhorns clinched it on an ace by Keonilei Akana, a Nebraska transfer playing in front of a crowd of 16,952 in the CHI Center that was cheering hard for Louisville and its coach, former Husker Dani Busboom Kelly.
But Texas denied her becoming the first woman to coach a team to the NCAA Division I championship and the ACC of winning its first title.
“I’ve been coaching 22 years at Texas and I think another six years or seven years at USC prior to that,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “And I told my wife today this was the most important match I’ve ever coached in regards to the match I wanted to win the most because of the two women sitting beside me but also the 16 women that were battling every single day in our gym.
“As a coach, when you manage teams, there’s a lot of problems, sometimes. And this team I didn’t have one the entire season. Everybody gave. They were committed to the process. That’s because of our leadership.
“And why it was so important to me is because this is a life lesson. They’re going to be leaders some day in the community. And they’re going to have to lead. And to remember the giving that they gave to one another, the commitment to that, when not everybody gets all the glamour and glitz, they did it.”
Big 12-champion Texas (28-1), which won its 14th match in a row, staged a big third-set rally and got a magnificent performance from Logan Eggleston, who capped her career with 19 kills and a .341 hitting percentage. She added seven digs and three blocks, one solo.
Eggleston, last year’s VolleyballMag.com national player of the year and named this week the AVCA 2022 player of the year — the VBM honors are announced next week — was obviously ecstatic.
“I’m just so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to have a fifth year and come back and to get to play with these girls. There’s so many girls on the team I wouldn’t have had a chance to be teammates with without this COVID year,” Eggleston said.
“I’m forever grateful for that and grateful for all the hard work they put in this year to make this happen. Yeah, it’s a lot more fun to not be crying sad tears at the end of the season. We can actually say we won our last game. It feels amazing.”
Madisen Skinner had 12 kills with one error in 27 attacks to hit .407 and added an ace, two digs and three blocks. Asjia O’Neal had nine kills in 14 errorless swings, an ace, four digs and three blocks. Molly Phillips had six kills, hit .312 and had two blocks.
Saige Ka’aha’aina Torrres had a kill, 37 assists, nine digs and a solo block, and Texas hit .371. Zoe Fleck had 14 digs, five assists and two aces, and Akana had four digs and the biggest ace of her career.
ACC co-champion Louisville’s season ended 31-3.
“Congratulations to Louisville. Amazing season. It’s really hard when one team has to lose. I’ve been on the other side of that a lot of times,” Elliott said. “And it’s really challenging. We were there two years ago.
“But what Dani is building at Louisville is really special. She’s building her own brand. She’s doing it by empowering women, and it’s great where the sport is headed. So much credit to her to get all the way there.”
The Cardinals, who had won 13 in a row, hit .189 and were outblocked 9-4. Claire Chaussee led the way with 12 kills but hit .158 to go with five digs. Anna DeBeeer had nine kills, hit .316 and had an assist, eight digs and a block. Aiko Jones had eight kills with one error in 23 attacks, two digs and two blocks. Amaya Tillman had four kills, an assist, an ace, a dig and three blocks, one solo. Raquel Lazaro had two kills in four errorless attempts, 28 assists, an ace and 14 digs. Elena Scott had six digs, three assists and an ace.
“Texas is great. They pass great. They defended great. We really couldn’t do anything to stop them,” Louisville coach Busboom Kelly said. “And it felt like anytime we felt like we got a little momentum, they took it away so quickly.”
Texas, which won the 2012 NCAA title and was so close so many times, led almost wire to wire this season. Nebraska was No. 1 in the AVCA preseason coaches poll, but Texas moved into the top spot after the first weekend on August 29. The Longhorns fell out of the top spot just once, after their only loss, in five at Iowa State, in the poll of October 24. But they were back at No. 1 the next week and stayed there.
Louisville was ranked as high as No. 2 and never lower than No. 5.
These were also the top two teams in the RPI. Heading into the final, Texas was No. 1 and Louisville just behind.
This was the fourth year in a row with a different winner. Stanford won in 2019, Kentucky won in 2020 (spring 2021 here in Omaha) and Wisconsin defeated Nebraska last year.
Both teams were remarkably efficient early. Texas went to the first-set media timeout up 15-12 and hitting .562. Louisville was hitting .500. After a long rally, Phillips and O’Neal blocked Chaussee to give the Longhorns a 21-18 lead, and Louisville used its first timeout. The Cardinals took a second not long after, trailing 22-19.
Texas ended the first set on a vicious back-row attack by Eggleston. She hit it so hard that it was dug on the back row by Chaussee and the ball rocketed all the way back past the Texas baseline. For the first set, Texas hit .533 and Louisville .400. Eggleston had 10 of her team’s 19 kills with one error in 16 attacks. Chaussee had seven kills with one error in 14 swings for Louisville.
Texas took the upper hand right away in the second set, and an out-of-sorts Louisville called time down 11-6 and hitting .091 for the set. Texas had five kills in nine errorless swings.
The Longhorns did not let up, and Louisville desperately used another timeout down 15-7, when it was evident that, barring a major change, Louisville was looking at having to pull off a reverse sweep to win the title.
Louisville finally responded and closed to 15-11, which caused Texas to use its first timeout. Texas in turn scored the next three points and never looked back.
Louisville hit minus .029 for the second set with seven kills and eight errors in 34 attacks.
The first challenge of the match came at the second point of the third set. After Jones sailed one long to put Texas up 2-0, Busboom Kelly went for the green card and got the call overturned.
Louisville took a 7-5 lead when Texas was called for being out of rotation on serve receive. Louisville built its biggest lead at 9-6 when DeBeer’s blast ended a long rally. But Texas was having none of it and got a kill from Skinner and a block from Phillips. The Longhorns tied it at 10 on a block by O’Neal and Eggleston.
Louisville saw a 12-10 led evaporate as the Longhorns took their first lead of the set at 13-12 on a kill by Eggleston.
DeBeer’s kill put the Cardinals up 15-14 at the third-set media timeout. At that juncture, Texas was hitting .422 for the match and .391 in the set, while Louisville was at .209 and .318 in the set.
Louisville was called for being out of rotation on the ensuing serve, almost unimaginable that both teams could commit such violations in the last match of the season. The resulting argument earned Busboom Kelly a yellow card from official Michelle Prate.
What’s more, Skinner then blocked Tillman to put the Longhorns up 16-15. Tillman tied with a nasty swing down the right sideline.
The slugfest was on with Louisville’s season on the brink.
Skinner had back-to-back kills, and Louisville called time down 18-16.
Texas turned it on from there. A block by Kayla Caffey — who finished with no kills but three blocks — and Skinner on Kong and a kill by Skinner put Texas up 20-16 and left Louisville out of answers and out of timeouts.
Louisville responded with a kill by Jones and an ace from Lazaro. Texas then called time leading 20-18.
Chaussee got a kill to make it 20-19, but Skinner, hitting on the right side, tooled the block to rebuild the lead to 21-19. Eggleston had a hitting error, but Phillips ended a long rally by hitting off the block. Louisville challenged that the ball was not out of bounds off the block.
The scored was tied 21-21.
Louisville went up 22-21 and 23-22 and got to set point on DeBeer’s hit out of the back row, then Texas called time.
O’Neal’s kill made it 24-23 and it was tied 24-24 when Chaussee hit long. Louisville challenged unsuccessfully for a touch.
A long rally ended when Eggleston hit long, but Louisville was in the net.
Elliott claimed “I actually told Kayla at match point, I said, she’s going to ace here. And that serve was so clean and hard and she did it.”
He was right. Texas then won the national championship on Akana’s ace off Chaussee.
“It felt like if we could get to game four we had a great chance to win,” Busboom Kelly said. “We couldn’t quite get to game four. I kept thinking, man, if we can win this set, I felt like we could win the match.
“It’s, again, very disappointing when you have a swing to win the set. But it was pretty amazing to be in that position and something we’re definitely going to learn from in the future.”
Texas won the last AIAW national championship in 1981 and the NCAA title in 1988 under Mick Haley and the 2012 crown under Elliott. Texas lost in the championship match four times, most recently in the 2020 (spring 2021) season.
Texas advanced with sweeps of Fairleigh Dickinson and Georgia and then beat Marquette, Ohio State and San Diego, each time in four sets.
Louisville advanced by sweeping Samford, Purdue and Baylor and beating Oregon and Pitt in five.
Just 12 programs have won the title since the NCAA began holding women’s volleyball championships in 1982: Stanford (9 times), Penn State (7), Nebraska (5), UCLA (4), Texas (3) Hawai’i (3), Long Beach State (3), USC (3), Pacific (2), Kentucky (1), Wisconsin (1) and Washington (1).
Kentucky of the SEC is the only team outside of the Big Ten or Pac-12 to win the crown since Texas won 10 years ago.