Lincoln – Top-ranked Texas proved worthy of its No. 1 seed on Saturday, as the Longhorns continued defense of their 2012 national title with a 3-0 sweep of No. 8 Nebraska in the NCAA Lincoln Regional final in front of 8,343 fans at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
In winning its school-record 10th consecutive postseason match, Texas handed the Huskers a home sweep (25-19, 25-22, 25-23) for the first time ever in the NCAA Tournament. Overall, Nebraska was swept in Lincoln for the first time in 24 years, dating back to a loss to No. 1 Hawaii on Oct. 2, 1989. Texas also became the first No. 1 team to win in Lincoln since Penn State in 1999.
With the win, Texas advanced to the NCAA Semifinals next weekend in Seattle. The Longhorns (27-2) will take a nation-leading 23-match winning streak into Thursday’s semifinal against 12th-seeded Wisconsin. Texas is appearing in the NCAA Semifinals for the ninth time in school history and for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
Leading the way in the Longhorns’ second regional final victory over Nebraska in five seasons was a strong block and an efficient night from All-Americans Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster. Eckerman had 14 kills, while Webster produced 12 kills and hit .500. Together, the duo combined for 26 kills and only three errors on 73 swings, while Eckerman added a double-double with a team-high 15 digs. Khat Bell and Chiaka Ogbogu added seven kills eac and Hannah Allison recorded 37 assists to help Texas hit .266 in the match.
Molly McCage led a big blocking effort for the Longhorns with eight stuffs, helping Texas out-block Nebraska 14-3. The block helped Texas to the sweep despite being out-killed and out-dug by the Huskers.
Nebraska finished its season with a 26-7 record. The Huskers were led by an outstanding performance from Big Ten Player of the Year Kelsey Robinson. In her final match, Robinson delivered a match-high 21 kills, while adding 12 digs to produce her 19th double-double of the season. Kadie Rolfzen added her 13th double-double with 12 kills and 12 digs. Justine Wong-Orantes produced a match-high 17 digs to lead NU to a 63-58 advantage in digs. Mary Pollmiller added a match-high 41 assists for the Huskers.
In set one, Texas jumped out to a 5-1 lead and never trailed. The Longhorns put down kills on three of their first five swings and blocked Nebraska twice to force an early Husker timeout. Texas stretched the lead to six with the first point out of the timeout, and the Huskers closed to within three on numerous occasions but Texas would let Nebraska get no closer. Consecutive Longhorn blocks fueled a 4-0 Texas run that pushed the lead to 21-14. Nebraska answered with three straight points to trim the lead to four but Texas called a timeout and quickly pushed the lead back to six before closing out a 25-19 victory on Ogbogu’s fifth kill of the set. Eckerman had six kills on 17 error-free swings, as Texas hit .293 in the opening set. Nebraska was blocked five times and committed nine hitting errors in the set while hitting just .106.
Serving played a key role in the start of set two, as a pair of Texas serving errors and a Husker ace helped Nebraska to an early 5-2 advantage. The teams then traded sideouts until Texas used a pair of stuffs to win five straight rallies and take a 14-12 lead, forcing a Husker timeout. Nebraska quickly tied the set with the first two points out of the timeout before regaining the lead at 16-15 on Robinson’s 10th kill of the match. The Huskers pushed the lead to 18-16 after winning a joust at the net to end a long rally, forcing Texas to spend a timeout. The Longhorns came out of the timeout on fire, winning four of the next five rallies to go back on top 20-19 and forcing a Husker timeout following back-to-back Texas blocks. UT pushed the lead to two at 22-20 and earned a 25-22 win on the Longhorns’ 10th block of the match. Nebraska produced two more kills than Texas in the second set, but the Longhorns out-blocked the Huskers 5-1.
At the break, Texas had three players with at least five kills, including Eckerman and Weber, who combined for 20 kills with only one error. Nebraska was forced to rely on Robinson and Kadie Rolfzen in the opening two sets, as that duo combined for 25 of the Huskers’ 30 kills on 65 of Nebraska’s 98 swings. The rest of the NU roster combined for only five kills and six errors in 33 attacks.
The teams traded early leads in set three before Nebraska built a 10-7 advantage fueled by four kills on six swings from Melanie Keil off the bench. Nebraska coult not hold the lead however, as three Husker hitting errors in a span of five rallies helped Texas pull even at 11-11. Another Nebraska error out of a timeout gave the Longhorns a one-point advantage before a Texas error put Nebraska back on top, 13-12. The Huskers stretched the lead to two at 16-14, before consecutive Amy Neal aces put Texas back in front, 18-17. The Longhorns would never relinquish the lead and capitalized on a free ball to take a 24-22 lead on Webster’s 12th kill of the match. Nebraska fought off one match point before NU’s fifth service error of the match sealed the sweep. Nebraska out-hit Texas for the only time in the match in the third set, but the Huskers still committed seven attack errors, while the Longhorns never had more than four errors in any set.