- Reserve middle blocker Mirta Baselovic came off the bench for a huge block in game five
- Chiaka Ogbogu was named the regional MVP after going toe-to-toe with Florida's excellent Rhamat Alhassan
- The Longhorns, making their fourth straight Final Four appearance, will play No. 2 Minnesota on Thursday in Omaha
Instead of hanging another banner or collecting more tournament swag, the Texas volleyball team’s motivation this postseason is not at all materialistic.
They just want to play alongside one another for as long as possible.
It’s a simple request, and on Saturday they ensured they’ll reach this season’s final destination, Omaha, the site of the Final Four.
In an absolute classic that could’ve gone either way, No. 3 Texas edged No. 11 Florida in five sets, 25-22, 22-25, 25-19, 20-25, 17-15, at Gregory Gymnasium.
“I’m happy to have another week with them,” libero Cat McCoy said.
This marks Texas’ fourth straight appearance in the Final Four and seventh in the past eight seasons.The brackets shook out about as expected, and the Longhorns will take on No. 2 Minnesota at 7 p.m. Thursday at CenturyLink Center. In the second semifinal, No. 9 Kansas, which upset No. 1 USC, will face No.4 Nebraska.
“We’ve overachieved for what we have, depth-wise,” Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott. “They just stick together.”
Florida stuck together, too, making for an epic stare down that finally went Texas’ way when Paulina Prieto Cerame threw down a kill on a point that began with a rolling back row dig by McCoy.
“It’s awful that it came down to two points,” Florida’s Carlie Snyder said.
For Texas, Chiaka Ogbogu was named tournament MVP after she went toe-to-toe with 6-feet, 4-inch Rhamat Alhassan in a battle of middle blockers with astounding physical talent. A second middle blocker for Texas, Molly McCage, made the regional all-tournament team, as did Longhorns Paulina Prieto Cerame and Amy Neal.
Yet on one of the match’s biggest points, it was a third middle blocker, reserve Mirta Baselovic, who came up huge. Tied 13-13 in the fifth, Florida called timeout and Elliott made a bold decision to swap out McCage for Baselovic, a sophomore from Croatia who plays sparingly. She validated Elliott’s decision by promptly stuffing Alhassan and sending a crowd of 4,273 into a frenzy, including the men’s swim team who were wearing only their swim trunks. Baselovic’s teammates went berserk, but one player didn’t change even her facial expression. It was Baselovic.
“She’s a stone-cold killer,” McCoy cracked.
Elliott said “calculated percentages” factored into the decision.
“I could have made the wrong call, but I guess that’s what I’m the coach for, to make those tough decisions,” he said.
Florida scored the next point when Texas’ Nicole Dalton had a brain cramp and forgot to set. But her gaffe didn’t matter after Prieto Cerame ended the match with consecutive kills.
Both teams relied on their middle blockers in the fifth set, and for good reason. McCage and Ogbogu were lethal on slide hits, and Florida’s Alhassan threw down some hellacious spikes, including one on a bad pass from Neal for a 11-11 tie.
“Their middles were pretty elite today,” Florida coach Mary Wise said.
Earlier in the fifth, Texas scored to go up 8-6 on a dreadful call when a ball that dropped in bounds by a foot was called out. Snyder, who had the hit, was livid as the teams switched sides.
Unable to contain Alhassan, Texas played from behind after dropping game one for the second night in a row.
After a win in game two, the crowd started to get loud and was eventually at full-throat when Texas took an 18-14 lead in the third. Two more points came on consecutive kills by McCage, one soft, one emphatic. For the final point, Ogbogu crushed a shot off of Alex Holston in the back row.
Holston, who had her way with Texas in regular season wins the past two seasons, was limited to just 13 kills and .171 hitting.
In game four, Florida’s Mackenzie Dagostino was deadly at the service line, ripping off five straight points and three aces to take a lead Florida did not relinquish. One of her aces couldn’t have been hit better, evenly splitting McCoy and Neal in the back row.
“I thought game four got away from us,” Elliott said. “We weren’t smooth. It was ugly, but we found a way to win.”