Texas volleyball loses national championship 3-1 to No. 2 Kentucky, historic season comes to end

Maya Martinez

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That’s the lesson Texas learned in the NCAA national championship against No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday night. In their first championship appearance since 2016, Texas fell 3-1 and left Omaha empty-handed, finishing its historic season 27-2.

The Longhorns were fresh off a sweep of Wisconsin, the top team in the country, in the Final Four on Thursday night. They used some of that momentum in a solid first set, where they made it look easy and won 25-20.

“In the first set, I don’t think they were playing to their highest ability, and we came out on top there,” junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston said. “They realized they weren’t playing their best and found a way and just kind of had a perfect game after that.”

While Texas was hitting well, Kentucky was always a couple steps ahead defensively. The Wildcats shut down runs, made hard-to-reach digs and bested Texas from the service line to come back and win it all, taking the remaining sets 25-18, 25-23 and 25-22.

Head coach Jerritt Elliott believes his team did almost everything right but were simply bested by the top offense in the country.

“We got beat fair and square today. (Kentucky head coach) Craig (Skinner)’s team was phenomenal,” Elliott said. “They were just a little bit better,”

Elliott praised Kentucky setter Madison Lilley, the AVCA Division I Player of the Year, who contributed the bulk of the Wildcats’ defensive stand. Lilley’s 19 digs all over the court made it difficult for Texas to exploit weak spots.

“Madison (Lilley) is a phenomenal setter and kept them in system and kept the rhythms going,” Elliott said. “There’s a reason she’s the Player of the Year,”

Eggleston, the captain on the court as well as a leader off it, was emotional after the match. The Big 12 Player of the Year wishes the season had ended differently, but she took many lessons away from the match and the last nine months.

“I’ve grown so much,” Eggleston said. “Just from a volleyball standpoint, I feel like a totally different player than I was at the beginning of the season with my passing defense and just everything I’ve been doing.”

Eggleston still managed a stellar .400 hitting percentage and 21 kills, followed behind by sophomore opposite hitter Skylar Fields, who put up 16. While the pair’s hard work deserved commendation, it wasn’t enough to get past Kentucky’s brick wall.

“They were trapping our left side hitters, and we knew that, but we weren’t passing well enough to get the back court going and get our middles going,” Elliott said.

Both Eggleston and Elliott said they wish they could get back in the gym as soon as possible to work out the mistakes.

“The serving and passing can always be better. The defense can always be better, and we’ll keep learning,” Elliott said. “But I’m super excited because I get to go back to this family and keep getting better,”

During the offseason, the Longhorns will relax and take their minds off the game. It’s been a long nine months — essentially two full seasons and a long, difficult postseason run. But Eggleston said they won’t forget about what happened in Omaha.

“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and you never want to end the season on a loss,” Eggleston said. “We’re coming back stronger next year. I think there’s a lot of blood boiling and we’re ready to go.”