Texas outlasts North Carolina to advance to Final Four for third-straight year

Jacob Martella

Until this point, the road for the Longhorns in the postseason had been relatively easy. Texas survived a slow start against Northwestern State, then easily dispatched Arizona State and No. 15 Colorado State to get to the Minneapolis Region final.

But against North Carolina, the Longhorns had to dig deep.

Texas bounced back after a rough second set, which North Carolina lead from start to finish, and then survived a tenacious Tar Heel attack in the fourth set to take the match 3-1 and advance to the national semifinals for the third-straight year.

After both teams traded points to start the match, the Longhorns finally broke free with a 3-0 run to take an early 5-2 lead. North Carolina would fight back numerous times to close the gap to 6-7 and then later to 15-17, but Texas would follow with a 4-0 run to take a 21-15 lead and close out the 25-21 set win with two kills from senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman.

The second set, however, would be one that the Longhorns would rather forget.

The Tar Heels came out on fire, taking a quick 5-0 lead, which included back-to-back service aces by junior outside hitter Leigh Andrew, and set the tone for how the set would be played. Texas would manage to pull back to within a point three times, but North Carolina held off those runs and then went on runs of 5-1 and 6-1 to level the match with a 25-18 set win.

After the 10-minute intermission break, the Longhorns came back out more composed, taking an early 6-3 lead. The Tar Heels continued to battle back, answering every Texas run with a run of their own. However, with a 21-20 lead, Texas finished off the set with a 4-0 run, including two Tar Heels hitting errors to take a 2-1 match advantage.

But it would be the fourth set that would be the most competitive set.

Texas grabbed a quick 7-4 lead only to see North Carolina take over a few points later with an 11-10 lead. The Longhorns then responded with a 5-0 run with Eckerman at the line to take a sizeable 15-11 lead; however, once again the Tar Heels clawed back into the set, eventually taking a 24-22 lead as they tried to extend the match.

But Texas managed to stave off three set points thanks to a Tar Heel service error, a block and a kill by senior outside hitter Khat Bell, then took a 26-25 advantage with another block. North Carolina, as it had all match, continued to fight, keeping Texas from getting the two-point advantage it needed to end the match until an attack error gave the Longhorns the 31-29 set win and a spot in the Final Four.

Four Longhorns finished the night with double-digit kills as the team combined for a .272 hitting percentage. Eckerman led the team with 14 kills, despite the Tar Heel’s strategy of trying to put a triple block on her, and drilled two aces. Junior outside hitter Amy Neal posted 11 kills and lead the team with 15 digs.

The Longhorns advance to the Final Four for the third-straight year and the sixth time in the last seven years. Texas will take on the winner over BYU vs. Nebraska, who played late Saturday night, in Oklahoma City on Thursday.