National Championship moments: 1988 Women's Volleyball
It was the type of season coaches and players strive for - the dream season. After receiving little respect from the volleyball community for years, the University of Texas women's volleyball team shocked the nation by storming through the NCAA Final Four and winning its first NCAA Championship in 1982.
Not only did the Longhorns win the national championship, but they did it in a dominating fashion. They accomplished the feat by beating the No. 1 and previously undefeated UCLA in the semifinal and defending champion Hawaii in the championship match of the Final Four. They were the first team ever to go through the NCAA Tournament without losing a match, sweeping North Carolina, Colorado State, UT Arlington, UCLA and Hawaii for a perfect 15-0 playoff record. They were also the first team east of California to take the national title.
When the Longhorns began the 1988 season, head coach Mick Haley knew he had the ingredients for a national championship team - experience in the form of four outstanding seniors, youthful exuberance from the underclassmen and a schedule that would test his squad's determination. His only concern was whether those ingredients would mesh by the end of the season.
Haley shouldn't have worried. Although the Horns three early season home losses - two to top-ranked UCLA and one to regional foe UT Arlington in September - they grew from those experiences and learned to play together as a team. Texas had its early season victories as well, winning the BYU Regional Cup Challenge by defeating perennial powers Pacific, BYU and Pittsburgh.
Texas tuned up for the NCAA Tournament by winning its own tournament over Thanksgiving weekend - the Whataburger Thanksgiving Invitational. It included Notre Dame, Penn State, San Diego State and Texas, and all four matches went five games. It was during the tournament that UT fans saw the maturity and tenacity that would carry the team through the NCAA playoffs.
The 1988 edition of Texas women's volleyball was a team on a "mission." One of the biggest factors in the Horns' drive was the will of the four senior starters - Dawn Davenport, Sue Schelfhout, Stacie Nichols and Katie Salen - to go out as winners and to earn national respect from the volleyball community. The four seniors provided the leadership, combined with the outstanding play of sophomores Dagmara Szyszczak and Quandalyn Harrell, to fuel the Texas attack. And Texas - and the nation - discovered a future star in freshman "super sub" Janine Gremmel.
The four seniors played the NCAA Final Four with a vengeance. Davenport started slow against UCLA but had a great match against Hawaii and finished her career, spreading her sets around for a balanced Texas attack. Salen had an outstanding offensive match against Hawaii. Nichols, a consistent middle hitter all season, was one of the keys to UT's success, playing practically error-free ball for the tournament. For their efforts, Davenport, Schelfhout and Nichols were named to the NCAA Final Four all-tournament team. In addition, Davenport was named as a First-Team All-American and Schelfhout was named to the Second Team.
All in all, it was a complete team effort with every member playing her best. What began as a mission turned into the Horns' dream season with the acquisition of the national championship trophy.