It was just last year that Texas' volleyball season ended a victory short of reaching the NCAA final four. The Longhorns have made sure that time gap didn't widen. The next order of business is to give UT a second national championship to match the title won in 1988.
The Longhorns, a No. 3 national seed, will take on Michigan at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2) in the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Michigan (27-11) is making its first national semifinal appearance. The second semifinal matches top seed Penn State against Oregon, another team making its final four debut.
Texas (27-4) has lost just once in the last two months - a five-set defeat at Iowa State in the final match of the Big 12 season.
"Last year, we fell short of going to the Final Four," Texas junior libero Sarah Palmer said. "We are getting better with every little spot of our playing. I think this is a good time for us to be peaking. We're so determined this year. We feel like we've got every piece of the puzzle."
Michigan has been close to breaking through to the final four. Coach Mark Rosen is in his 14th season in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines have had at least 20 wins in eight of the past nine years. Michigan has made the round of 16 in three of the last five years.
Texas reached the championship in 2009 but lost to Penn State in a memorable five-set match.
"I am very excited about our teamwork, our consistency and overall excellent play," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. "I am elated to be going back to the Final Four and that this team has pulled together after working so hard to get to this point.
"We don't need to change anything. We're playing at a high level. We just need to relax and stay with our routine."
Penn State (33-2) is a heavy favorite to win their fifth title in the last six years. But Texas impressed the coach of the team it defeated to win the Austin Regional Saturday.
"We didn't have an answer for them," said USC coach Mick Haley, who was the coach when Texas won its only national championship in volleyball in 1988. "If Texas can continue to pass, serve and play defense the way they did tonight, they can certainly win this whole thing. They did to us what we usually do to a team - they pushed us off the net with their serving. They overwhelmed us with their balance; it was an impressive performance."
Spikes and digs
Sophomore Haley Eckerman and junior Bailey Webster of Texas were selected first-team All-Americans by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Eckerman was one of two sophomores selected to the 14-person first team. Kristen Hahn of Iowa State and Caroline Jarmoc of Kansas were second-team selections while Iowa State's Alison Landwehr and Oklahoma's Sallie McLaurin were named to the third team.
Texas won 12 of 13 sets in winning four NCAA tournament matches in Austin. UT's regional final 3-set sweep of USC was its first sweep in a regional final sicne 1988 - the year the Longhorns won their only national championship.
Oregon and Michigan each defeated teams with glittering NCAA final four resumes. Nebraska and Stanford have combined to win nine NCAA volleyball titles and both were playing on pseudo home courts (Nebraska in Omaha, Stanford in Berkeley). But the Ducks and the Wolverines prevailed in the regional finals, each by 3-1 scores.
Texas is 2-0 all-time against Michigan. Both teams last met in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament in Austin with Texas winning in four sets (30-19, 30-27, 23-30, 30-28).
This is the second time this season that the Longhorns are playing in the KFC Yum! Center. The Longhorns defeated host Louisville on Oct. 8 in five sets (21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 26-24, 15-10).
Junior Bailey Webster is hitting .519 in the 2012 postseason on 64 kills (4.92 kps) with eight blocks. Sophomore Haley Eckerman is hitting .333 on 45 kills (3.46 kps) with 17 digs (1.31 dps) while Khat Bell is hitting .409 on 34 kills (2.62 kps) with 12 blocks (0.92 bps). Texas is hitting .405 with a 1.69 service ace per set average and 2.50 blocks per set average.