Longhorns claim Big 12 crown

Lauren Giudice

The No. 5 Longhorns battled back on Senior Night to defeat Oklahoma and win an outright Big 12 Championship — Texas’ fifth conference championship and third outright title.

The Sooners defeated the Longhorns earlier in the season, 3-2, and went ahead early in the first set Saturday night. A 9-2 rally by the Longhorns led by two blocks and a kill by Rachael Adams gave Texas a 15-12 lead but the Sooners came back and won the set 25-21.

The Longhorns trailed again in the second set, but a 12-2 run by Texas gave the team a 25-16 set win. Freshman Madelyn Hutson had two kills and a block assist and had a career-best .600 hitting percentage in the match. Freshman Haley Eckerman had three straight aces to close out the set. She had a career-high five service aces in the match.

“We were just able to build confidence,” Adams said. “When you have a server that can keep it on the other side’s passers, you just let the front court do it from there. You get on the big runs.”

The Longhorns were losing 12-4 in the third but found another comeback set win. They had a 21-9 rally and won the set 25-21. Bailey Webster had four kills in the set with two of these kills giving Texas two of the last three points in the set. She led the team with 16 kills overall.

Two blocks and two kills by Adams helped the Longhorns take a 13-8 lead in the fourth set. A kill by Webster ended the set 25-19.

The seniors, who have been to three consecutive Final Fours, ended their regular season in style, in a game where they had to fight hard for a win against one of the few teams who have defeated them this season.

“They weren’t going to come in here and be like, ‘Oh, yeah. Here’s the Big 12,’” Adams said. “They were going to make us fight for it. And that’s perfect going into the tournament time, because other teams are going to do that too.”

Head coach Jerritt Elliott is grateful for what the senior class has given to this program and is glad to send it off with a conference win. But the Longhorns’ goal all season has been to win the NCAA tournament, so the team now has to set its sights beyond the Big 12.

“We were not good tonight early on,” Elliott said. “We didn’t have a rhythm going. I didn’t think we were at a high level, and they changed that.”

He said once the team was down 12-4 in game three, they started playing at a completely different level.

“Some nights, you’re not going to be as smooth as you normally are,” Elliott said. “And you’ve got to be able to find wins, and this group did that. This is a huge confidence builder because this could happen in the NCAA tournament.”

The Longhorns finished the season winning 14 consecutive games, and this victory extended the Texas’ home winning streak to 28 — a new UT record.

The seniors have advanced far in NCAA tournaments every year that they have donned burnt orange. But in their final year, they want to win it all.

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Texas tops Oklahoma, clinches Big 12 title