Thursday, the Texas women's volleyball team pulled out a tough semifinal in recovering from a 2-1 deficit against Michigan. Saturday, the Longhorns had significantly less drama in sweeping Oregon 3-0 and winning the Longhorns third national championship (second NCAA title) in the sport.
Texas volleyball last won an NCAA title in 1988, and took this one in front of 16,448 fans, the second-largest crowd for a championship match in tournament history. And they won it thanks in large part to a tenacious hitting effort that ranks among the best in tournament history.
But Saturday, Texas (29-4) was astounding on both sides of the net in cruising to the title, hitting an astounding .438* as a team while out-blocking Oregon (30-5) 15-to-1 and holding Oregon's Alaina Bergsma, the 2012 AVCA National Player of the Year, to a .000 hitting performance. Bergsma had nine kills and nine errors.
For those unfamiliar: hitting percentage is calculated by taking a player's (or team's) kills, subtracting the number of attack errors, and dividing that from the number of attacking attempts. So if someone had 10 attempts with four kills and two errors, their hitting percentage would be .200.
At the same time, Texas junior two-time All-America outside hitter Bailey Webster was at her best, having 14 kills while hitting .500. Webster, who earned the 2012 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, hit .370 for the Finals, the fourth-best mark since 2008. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by fellow Longhorns Hannah Allison, Haley Eckerman and Sha'Dare McNeal.
The Longhorns swarmed defensively in the first set putting up seven blocks in limiting Oregon to a negative .083 hitting percentage and rolling 25-11.
The Ducks had their best chance in the pivotal second set, one that saw both teams hit tremendously well — Texas hit .515 and Oregon .462. Oregon led 14-11 and 17-13, but every time the Ducks seemed to be in control, Texas came roaring back. The Longhorns called a timeout and scored the next four points to tie the set at 17. After Oregon scored three straight and took a 23-21 lead, Eckerman and Webster had back-to-back kills, tying things up again at 23.
Eckerman then recorded a service ace, her first of the postseason, to break the tie. And after Liz Brenner tied the set at 24, Webster recorded two straight kills to win the set 26-24.
The Longhorns defense came up with another strong effort in game three, holding Oregon to .205 hitting as Texas gained the lead at 5-4 and never looked back in winning 25-19.
The Longhorns had 43 kills to just four errors over the course of the match, while Oregon hit .202. Eckerman had 12 kills, five digs and a block while hitting .400 for the Horns. McNeal hit .471 with eight kills and no errors. And Molly McCage and Khat Bell combined for 14 of Texas's 15 blocks. Setter Hannah Allison had 35 assists and five blocks.
The Longhorns were tenacious hitters in the Finals with a record .360 hitting percentage, making 108 kills and just 19 attack errors in 247 attempts. And while the Longhorns will have plenty of time to celebrate this title, it's worth noting that a chance to repeat could be in the making: Texas returns all but McNeal, a graduating senior, next year.
The title was the first for Longhorn head coach Jerritt Elliott, who was named the 2012 AVCA Division I Coach of the Year.
The University of Texas now has 47 NCAA all-time championships and 50 overall titles.