No. 2 Texas falls short of redemption season in Elite Eight loss to No. 10 Nebraska, 3-1

Hannah Williford, Sports Reporter

Texas entered its season thinking about redemption. But on Saturday, the comeback story had Nebraska written all over it.

For both teams, the opponent was a fresh memory after their meeting this spring in the Elite Eight. That night, Texas walked away with a 3-1 victory in Lincoln, Nebraska. Saturday night, the story switched with No. 10 Nebraska’s 3-1 victory in Gregory Gym.

“We’ve been together for the last 18 months working towards a common goal,” junior Skylar Fields said. “We got where we wanted to last year and it didn’t end well. … We dedicated the entire summer and this whole fall trying to get back in and finish the goal, and I think that losing right now, … it hits way harder.”

The No. 2 Longhorns struggled to return balls from the back line and had 14 service errors on the night, despite being ranked second in the nation for service aces. Texas spent much of the night out of system.

“Pretty much our whole offense was, because of our passing, just live and die by Logan and Skylar,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said.

While the first set started tightly for the Longhorns and Cornhuskers, Nebraska was able to pull away toward the middle of the set. Texas dropped to a seven-point deficit, and despite heroics from junior Logan Eggleston, who put up six kills throughout the set, it was not enough to bring the Longhorns back.Texas found itself struggling to return spikes from Nebraska.

On the other side of the court, the Cornhuskers showed just how effective they are as a defensive powerhouse, defending hit after hit. Nebraska ran away with the first set 25-19.

In set two, the Longhorns continued to struggle defensively against Nebraska, putting them in another eight-point deficit. Out of system, Texas struggled to find an answer that would be effective against the Nebraska defense. Halfway through the set, Elliott subbed out junior setter Jhenna Gabriel for junior Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, which proved slightly more effective.

Senior Sydney Petersen, who played her last game for the Horns tonight, was a bright light on offense. She gained points in back-to-back aces and started a point streak for Texas while serving, and accumulated four service aces throughout the night. The rest of the team caught her momentum, rallying for a 22-22 tie. However, the Horns could not pull off the win from behind, losing 23-25 after a series of errors.

“That kind of summed up the whole night,” Elliott said. “That’s kind of what we were. We fought back and we put ourselves into position, and the things we can control we didn’t take control of.”

Texas entered a battle in set three that neither team was willing to give up. Serving continued to be a problem for the Longhorns in the third set, with five service errors.

But in this set, Texas found a recipe for success with hard hits at the net from Eggleston and Fields as well as a series of blocks by senior Brionne Butler.

Finally, tied at 22, Melanie Parra was up to serve. After a successful volley, the sophomore served a ball that skimmed across the top of the net and landed just on the line. The gym fell quiet as Nebraska was awarded the point. But in a well-timed challenge by Elliott, the call was overturned. Texas up. Crowd exploded. The Longhorns wriggled out of the third set alive, 25-23.

While Texas kept some of its energy alive for the beginning of set four, by the middle of the set, the team looked outplayed.  The appearance of sophomore Reilly Heinrich, who saw little playing time this season, rejuvenated them. But late-game heroics could not make up for an eight-point deficit. Texas fell, 25-21.

“We weren’t going to stop playing until somebody won that set,” Fields said. “That’s it. I think that to continue to play even when you’re down is really encouraging everybody to keep wanting to keep playing and keep fighting. We weren’t going to give up. I think we left it all out there.”