OMAHA — Texas took the court Saturday night seeing red.
Not figuratively, but literally as the sold-out crowd of 17,561 at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha was almost entirely composed of Nebraska fans. Each point for the Huskers was followed by a booming ovation, only to be matched by the shrieks that arose after each timeout.
But the experienced Longhorns refused to let the crowd defeat them.
“I don’t think it affected me a lot, or the team,” senior outside hitter Amy Neal said. “We’ve been used to loud crowds before, so I don’t think it affected us ultimately.”
What ultimately defeated the Longhorns was the strength of the Nebraska defense. Texas struggled to gain any momentum offensively, losing 3-0 in the national title game.
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The Huskers were all over the court Saturday night, keeping the Longhorns fierce attack on its heels. Nebraska head coach John Cook stressed that his team had to “keep Texas out of system,” prior to Saturday’s match, and his team did just that. Texas finished the evening with a .215 kill percentage, its lowest of the tournament.
“They weren’t timid at all,” Neal said. “They just came out and weren’t afraid. Their defense, and touches and passing, was incredible, and that’s what made the difference.”
Neal was limited to just three kills on 13 swings in the first set, as Nebraska took the opening frame 25-23. A thunderous block by Nebraska middle blocker Cecilia Hall sent the Longhorns to their bench down 1-0 for the third time in four matches.
Set two was defined by various runs by Texas and Nebraska. Both teams went on four combined runs of 3-0 or greater, leading to 15 ties and six lead changes. But ultimately, the Nebraska crowd, paired with the Huskers’ relentless defense were too much for the Longhorns. Tied at 22 apiece, Nebraska finished the set off with a 3-1 run, highlighted by a kill from freshman outside hitter Mikaela Foecke. Nebraska took the set 25-23.
Foecke was the star of the set and the match. The tournament’s most outstanding player registered 19 kills on the evening, the most of any player. The Longhorns found a way to slow down numerous All-Americans throughout the season, but had no answer for Foecke on Saturday night.
“Foecke was on fire,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “She was the difference maker in the match.”
Texas entered the locker room down 2-0, its backs against the wall. The veteran-laden roster had been in tough situations before, and Elliott had a simple message for his team.
“I told them ‘hey, we’re battling them right now’,” Elliott said. “We just gotta stay with the mission and stay focused with what we’re doing.”
Texas didn’t yield under the pressure in the third set, but it proved to be too little, too late. The Big 12 champion and No. 3 overall seed dropped the third set 25-21, and the match 3-0.
And so another year passes for Texas with a Final Four appearance, but no national title. The Longhorns have now made four consecutive Final Fours — seven out of the last eight — however, they have just one championship to show for it.
As Elliott approached the podium, the 15-year head coach chose not to think about those sobering statistics. Instead, he chose to think of how his team fought and the season they had.
“I’m so proud of this team,” Elliott said. “My seniors have created a culture that has never been created before. I tell them all the time, I won’t be upset if they give me everything they have. And they gave me everything they had tonight.”