Texas Longhorns defeat the Michigan Wolverines 3-2 in the Final Four, will face the Oregon Ducks for the National Championship Saturday

Sara Beth Purdy

The Longhorns earned a spot in Saturday evening’s National Championship match by defeating Michigan 3-2 Thursday night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky (25-11, 21-25, 23-25, 25-12, 15-11). The Longhorns hit .316 in five sets against the Wolverines which is good for third-place in the NCAA finals record books for matches lasting five sets. With the win, the Longhorn’s achieved the program’s 70th win in post-season NCAA play, making them the sixth team to do so.

The No. 3 Longhorns will face No. 5 Oregon on Saturday evening for the National Championship. Oregon defeated No. 1 Penn State 3-1 Thursday night.

“[The] fans got their money’s worth. What a battle,” said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott. “I’ve been saying that we’ve been good in the crunch. You never see them give up.”

Early Thursday, it was announced that Elliott was named the 2012 AVCA National Coach of the Year for division one volleyball, his first national recognition while at Texas.

For Texas, Bailey Webster led with 18 kills and junior libero Sarah Palmer contributed 31 digs, a career-high. Senior Sha’Dare McNeal turned in the hightest hitting percentage with a clip of .524. For Michigan, Lexi Erwin led the match with 26 kills.

After starting out with a strong first set, the Longhorns struggled and dropped the second and third state giving the Wolverines the 2-1 match advantage. A dominate performance by the Longhorns in the fourth set evened the match. Texas came out firing in the fifth to clinch the opportunity to play for the title.

Set one was dominated on all sides by the Longhorns. The Texas offense hit .469 with 16 kills and only one error. Michigan was held to a .000 hitting percentage with only seven kills and seven errors. Webster led the court with six kills and a .462 hiiting clip. The Texas defense had 4.5 blocks in set one alone. The Longhorns won 25-11.

Michigan capitalized on the Longhorn’s characteristic second set slump by posting a quick 4-1 lead. The Longhorns came back to within one, but were unable to overcome personal errors to take the set away. The Longhorns hit .189 in the second set with 13 kills and six errors while Michigan hit .268 with 16 kills and five errors. Michigan’s Erwin lit up the court with 7 kills and a .316 hitting clip. McNeal led the Longhorns with six kills. Michigan took the set 21-25 to even the match at 1-1.

After the break, the Longhorns kept the score close, but Michigan edged out Texas 23-25 in set three. The Wolverines hit .286 with 20 kills and only four errors. Texas had 16 kills and four errors in set three. Erwin turned in nine kills for the Wolverines while Texas’ Haley Eckerman led the Longhorns with seven kills. The Wolverines out blocked the Longhorns in sets two and three.

“You have to be patient. And every ball, everything isn’t going to be a kill,” Webster said of facing a possible elimination. “Every pass isn’t perfect, every set isn’t perfect…I think we were just trying to eliminate errors. And although it took a long time, it came. So that’s what matters.”

Faced with elimination, Texas came out firing in set four. Texas hit .455 with 11 kills and one error  in the fourth while holding Michigan to a clip of .026 with 11 kills and 10 errors. The Texas defense had four blocks in the 25-12 set four win.

Set five started out with a run by the Longhorns to go up 4-0. The Wolverines were able to come back and tie the set at 8-8 apiece. After a quick time-out, the Longhorns came up big offensively with a 7-3 run to win the set 15-11 and secure a spot in the final game. In set five, Texas hit .300 with nine kills and three errors with Michingan hitting .124 with seven kills and four errors.  McNeal had the final kill off a set from junior Hannah Allison for the match point.

“Showed a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and executed when it counted,” Elliott said. “We did a good job in managing our game and defensively we stepped up and did a good job.”