Elite Eight loss to Nebraska keeps Texas searching for its first championship since 2012
As Nebraska's volleyball team celebrated its Elite Eight victory at Gregory Gym on Saturday night, the Texas Longhorns walked past the Huskers in a single-file line.
Brionne Butler, a senior middle blocker who had just played her final match in a Longhorns uniform, sought out a lengthy hug from someone in the crowd. Her teammates, though, slowly wandered toward their locker room and offseason.
Madi Kubik and Ally Batenhorst each had 15 kills as No. 10 Nebraska advanced to the Final Four with a 25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21 victory. Eight months after Texas ended the 2020-21 season with a loss in the NCAA championship match, the No. 2-seeded Longhorns (27-2) once again fell short of winning their first national title since 2012.
"We've been together for the last 18 months working towards a common goal," junior Skylar Fields said. "We got to where we wanted to last year, and we didn't end well. I think that we dedicated the entire summer and this whole fall trying to get back there and finish a goal. Losing right now, it hits way harder."
After dropping the first two sets in front of an announced crowd of 5,080 — the largest volleyball crowd in Gregory Gym history — Texas tried to extend its season with another rally. The Longhorns won the third set 25-23, and it looked as if they had seized the momentum on a fourth-set swing by junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston.
Eggleston's shot found the floor for the point. But the two-time Big 12 player of the year was called for an attacking violation, and instead of Texas pulling to within 15-13, it was the Huskers who went up 16-12.
Nebraska (25-7) scored the next four points to go up 20-12, and Texas never got any closer than two points.
After the call took away that point, both Eggleston and UT coach Jerritt Elliott voiced their objections to officials. And they continued to steadfastly disagree with the call after the match.
"They said I caught and threw the ball," Eggleston said. "I've been doing that the whole season. I don't know how that one's much different, but you can't change it."
That call aside, Texas still had to shoulder much of the blame for the loss. The Longhorns committed 14 service errors and nine receiving errors. At one point, Elliott pulled starting setter Jhenna Gabriel in hopes that Saige Ka'aha'aina-Torres could give the team a spark.
Most notably, miscues cost Texas a chance to steal the second set. Down the stretch, kills by Fields tied that set at 22-22 and 23-23. But Texas followed up both of those kills with a service error. On set point, Eggleston was unable to handle a serve, and Kayla Caffey slammed home the wayward volleyball for the win.
"That kind of summed up the whole night," Elliott said. "That's kind of what we were. We fought back, and we put ourselves in a position. The things we could control, we didn't take control of."
Said Nebraska setter Nicklin Hames: "Our whole mentality for this match was to be bulletproof and to go on to the next play. I think you have to have that mindset in those big games because they make great plays and you've just got to move on and go to the next play."
Texas got 20 kills from both Eggleston and Fields. Fields, though, needed 45 swings. Eggleston had 53 attacking attempts. Facing a Nebraska wall that used three 6-foot-4 players — Lauren Stivrins, Lindsay Krause and Batenhorst — and the 6-3 Kubik, a Texas offense that was leading the nation with a .347 hitting percentage hit just .250.
In her last match, Butler had four kills and eight blocks. Sydney Petersen, the only other senior on the roster, served four aces.
"We poured every day into trying to win something for them because we lost last year. We wanted to make sure that they could leave here with the national championship," Fields said. "Losing them, it's going to be awful, but we're going to try to bounce back."
Notes: Hames was named the most outstanding player for the Austin regional. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Eggleston, Fields and Butler. ... Outside of Eggleston and Fields, no Longhorn had more than four kills. ... Nebraska outside hitter Lexi Sun, a former Longhorn who transferred after the 2017 season, did not play.