No. 3 Volleyball marches to national semifinals
Dec. 9, 2012
Natalie England, Texas Media Relations
AUSTIN, Texas - Featuring all-around brawn and relentless front-row trajectory, the No. 3 Texas Longhorns have plowed through this 2012 season with brewing steam. Their controlling 3-0 sweep against No. 6 Southern California to advance to the program's fourth NCAA Final Four appearance in the past five years typifies UT's growing momentum.
In front of a packed Gregory Gym on Saturday night, the Longhorns defeated USC 25-19, 25-22, 25-14 while hitting .424.
With familiar offensive power, the Longhorns maintained a high level of play by augmenting UT's swings with ball control and passing. Setter Hannah Allison finished with 45 assists, and libero Sarah Palmerestablished the delivery with 11 digs. Four Longhorns finished the match with at least six digs.
The three key components of UT's repertoire gelled against the Women of Troy, resulting in a rare sweep for the Longhorns in an NCAA Regional Final. Of UT's seven previous trips to the national semifinals, only three have been earned with a sweep, and the most recent for UT was in 1988, the year of the program's only national championship.
That team was, in fact, coached by Mick Haley, who returned to Gregory Gym this weekend as USC's head coach.
"You really have to give Texas a high mark here, and if they continue to play like this, I think they have a chance to win (the national championship)," Haley said. "We were pleased to be able to play to a crowd like this for two nights."
So far the Longhorns have prevailed in 27 matches, dropping just four, by relying on dependable power. Each of Bailey Webster, Haley Eckerman and Sha'Dare McNealis capable of double-digit kills, while the Longhorns hum along as the nation's top attacking team at better than .320 hitting.
As the ninth-best blocking team in the country, averaging 3.00 blocks per set, UT often found separation from opponents at the net. Those strengths were apparent for UT in the third and decisive stanza. The Longhorns hit .480 and planted six team blocks to hold USC to .029 hitting.
"What an amazing night. Our fans were electric. Our team was confident and they played at a very high level tonight," UT head coach Jerritt Elliottsaid. "Most importantly, we were consistent the entire night. Except for the first few points in game two and game three, I think the steadiness of our team was very, very good."
Webster led all hitters with 17 kills, Eckerman added 11 and McNeal finished with 10. Molly McCagelogged a team-high five blocks and finished with three kills on four swings.
USC's Samantha Bricio, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was limited to seven kills on 31 swings. She entered the match averaging 4.78 kills per set.
"Our defense I thought was very solid tonight and we had great transition swings," Elliott said. "Hannah did a great job distributing the offense, and our blocking, getting touches and our middles getting involved, was very important."