Third-seeded Texas takes down Michigan 3-2, moves on to title game
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Bailey Webster had 18 kills and Haley Eckerman added 16 as third-seeded Texas overcame a 2-1 deficit for a five-set victory against Michigan on Thursday in the women's volleyball semifinals.
The Longhorns won 25-11, 21-25, 23-25, 25-12, 15-11. They will play the winner of the second semifinal between top-seeded Penn State and fifth-seeded Oregon on Saturday.
Texas (28-4) dominated the first and fourth sets and took a 4-0 lead in the final set before Michigan tied it at eight. After a timeout, the Longhorns won three consecutive points and held off the Wolverines.
''The fans got their money's worth. What a battle,'' Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said.
''I've been saying it, that we're good in the crunch. You never see them give up. Even though we give up games, you can just see that they stay in their routine and just battle.''
Sarah Palmer had a career-high 31 digs for the Longhorns.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin had 26 kills and a career-high 87 attempts for Michigan (27-12), which was appearing in its first semifinals. Senior captain Claire McElheny added 15 kills and had a .419 hitting percentage.
Texas entered the semifinals having won 21 of 22 matches since a 6-3 start that included a loss to Penn State. That roll earned the Longhorns their fourth semifinal berth in the past five years with a bigger goal of closing the deal after blowing a 2-0 lead and losing to Penn State in the 2009 final.
The Longhorns wasted no time carrying out their strategy, using their size and power to dominate the first set.
Webster had six kills, Khat Bell four and Eckerman three as Texas mounted several runs and put the set out of reach with seven consecutive points for a 14-5 lead. A 5-2 run clinched the 25-11 win for the Longhorns, with Webster adding two kills while their defense deny the Wolverines at the net.
''It could've gone a negative direction and I thought our team did a great job of pulling through and competing extremely well,'' Michigan coach Mark Rosen said, calling Texas the most athletic team his squad has faced this season.
Unfazed, Michigan improved its attack and won the next two sets with several small scoring spurts that provided a cushion against Texas. Erwin keyed the Wolverines' rebound with seven points including a kill in the back left corner that made it 22-20, following with a crosscourt kill for a three-point edge en route to a 25-21 win.
Erwin's third set was even better as she exploited a hole in Texas' middle for many of her nine kills. Her last one sealed the 25-23 win, a crosscourt hit that squashed the Longhorns' attempt to tie the set following a small rally.
''We kind of were like, they have a '3' before their name and we don't,'' Erwin said. ''We just kind of played loose.''
Texas quickly seized the momentum and ran away with the fourth set with left-side help from Webster. Her presence created matchup problems for Michigan and the Longhorns took advantage for a .455 attack percentage en route to a 25-12 win.
Having found their rhythm, the Longhorns grabbed the early advantage in the fifth set and didn't flinch after the Wolverines tied the set.
''Honestly, I just wanted the point really bad,'' Webster said. ''I don't know what it was, but sometimes momentum just takes you.''
Michigan's loss ended a resilient run to its first semifinal, one that included overcoming several losing streaks before turning things around late in the season.