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Texas knocks off Nebraska in four sets to book its return to volleyball's Final Four

Texas middle blocker Asjia O'Neal, left, and outside hitter Skylar Fields prepare to compete against Texas Tech last October. The Longhorns defeated Nebraska in the Elite Eight on Monday to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2016.

When Logan Eggleston committed to play volleyball for Texas back in December 2016, future trips to the Final Four were the expectation.

After all, the Longhorns had just played in that year's NCAA championship match. And Texas had made eight Final Four appearances in a nine-year span.

But as a freshman, Eggleston's Longhorns were eliminated in the Elite Eight. Then came a Sweet 16 upset to Louisville a year later. This season, only one player on the roster had actually even played in a Final Four, and libero Morgan O'Brien had done so while playing at Illinois in 2016.

"It's pretty easy as a coach to start questioning whether you're ever going to get back again," longtime UT coach Jerritt Elliott said.

On Monday, the Longhorns ended that drought and answered those doubts. Eggleston and Skylar Fields both registered 18 kills to lead fourth-seeded Texas to a 25-22, 19-25, 25-15, 25-21 win over Nebraska in a regional final match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Neb.

Texas (26-1) will face No. 1 Wisconsin in the national semifinals this Thursday. Wisconsin (18-0) survived a five-set battle with Florida on Tuesday.

"I'm just so proud that we got there this year," said Eggleston, a junior. "We put in so much work, so it's such an amazing feeling right now."

Led by Eggleston and Asjia O'Neal, Texas trailed only once in the first set. Eggleston contributed seven kills while O'Neal had five. Between their 26 attempts in the set, they had one attacking error.

Paced by three early aces, Nebraska took the second set to even the match. The Longhorns rebounded in the third game behind Fields' seven kills.

Texas fell into a five-point hole in the fourth set but rallied. After UT gained a 15-14 advantage, Nebraska forced two ties but never led again.

The match ended on Fields' final kill. One day after she registered a career-high 21 kills in a four-set Sweet 16 win over Penn State, Fields did her damage on 27 attempts. She committed only one error. Her .630 hitting percentage fueled a Texas offense that hit .336.

"This is honestly so surreal right now, but I knew our team would play together and we could come out on top," Fields told ESPN after the win. "We really wanted it."

Nebraska (16-3) was led by Madi Kubik's 15 kills. Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun, who transferred from Texas after her freshman year, finished her career with seven kills on 24 attempts.

Texas also received a 10-kill performance from O'Neal. Junior setter Jhenna Gabriel directed the offense with 46 assists. O'Brien had 14 digs.

Texas has long used an aggressive approach on the service line, which has led to a frustrating amount of errors. The Longhorns committed 15 service errors, but Eggleston was responsible for five of their eight aces. O'Brien served three straight points as Texas took a 15-14 lead in the fourth set.

"We don't want to be high-risk, we want to be consistently good," Elliott said. "You've got to get them off the net. Especially with our size and our defense, we've got to be able to create some opportunities for transition points and we were able to do that."

Added Eggleston: "We knew we're gonna have to come in and be really aggressive against Nebraska because they're a great passing team and they have really great middles. We wanted to get them out of system as much as possible so we've been putting a really big emphasis on that. We know that it's going to come with some errors, but then as you can see it's going to come with some really great serves that gets them super out of system and gets a lot of aces." 

Texas and Nebraska were both playing their third matches in a five-day span. Last Thursday, Texas swept a Wright State team that had won one NCAA Tournament match in its history. UT then had to face Penn State and Nebraska powerhouses in back-to-back days.

Penn State has won six national titles since 2007. In two of the past five seasons, the NCAA has crowned Nebraska.

Texas is also regarded as volleyball royalty, though. But the Longhorns are going for their first championship since 2012.