Texas rallies to beat Washington and will play Nebraska, which swept Illinois

Holly Campbell, left, and Asjia O’Neal of Texas are all over this attempt by Washington’s Shannon Crenshaw/Matt Smith photo

Second-seeded Texas went lost the first two sets to No. 15 Washington on Thursday, but then turned it around in a big way to win 19-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-9, 15-9.

Texas, which reached an NCAA Tournament regional final for the 15th time in 16 years, will play Nebraska on Saturday. Nebraska swept Illinois in an all-Big Ten match 25-12, 25-21, 25-17 and advanced to a regional final for the 10th year in a row and the 31st time in 40 seasons.

Both teams have won national titles. Texas last won in 2012, while Nebraska won in 2017. Texas lost in last spring’s national-title match to Kentucky.

Texas, which won the Big 12 and advanced with victories over Sacred Heart, simply overpowered the Huskies starting with the middle of the third set. Washington held a 15-10 lead in the third, but was outscored 65-25 from that point.

Texas hit .346 with 62 kills and 16 errors in 133 attacks as the Longhorns improved to 27-1 with their ninth victory in a row. Logan Eggleston led with 20 kills, hit .441, and had an ace, six blocks, and 13 digs. Skylar Fields had 15 kills and Brionne Butler had nine kills, hit .471, and had five blocks, one solo. Molly Phillips also had nine kills, hit .350, and had an assist, a dig, and three blocks, one solo. Asjia O’Neal had seven kills with no errors in 15 attacks, three digs and six blocks. Jhenna Gabriel had two kills, 51 assists, two blocks, and nine digs.

Washington, which went to last spring’s national semifinals, won the PAC-12 and advanced in this tournament with victories over Brown and Hawai’i, was hitting better than .400 after the first two sets, but finished at .211. The Huskies ended their season 26-5.

Samantha Drechsel led with 19 kills, three assists, five aces, three blocks, and 12 digs. Claire Hoffman had 14 kills, an ace, a block, and nine digs. Marin Grote had seven kills with one error in 11 attacks, two digs, and three blocks, two solo. Ella May Powell had four kills, 42 assists, an ace, two blocks, and three digs.

“Everything we hoped for except for the result there,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “Texas was the great team that we thought they were. Always thought that the team that made it out of this regional would have a great shot to do it all, and I certainly feel the same way at the end of this match. Proud of my group; thought they represented themselves pretty darn well for a 15 seed, and did a lot of things at an extremely high level for a long period of time, and that’s all you can ask for. 

“You have to give (Texas) credit for doing everything at a higher level. I thought they created some huge plays at the end of the third set when things really mattered. We needed a few kills, we took some good swings, they dug and they made some plays. From there I thought every aspect of their game improved, but most of all their defense. We struggled to score points in the later sets, we sided out at 64-percent in the fifth set, which we feel pretty good about, but they sided out at 100-percent and you have to play some defense and create in those moments. Always comes down to just a few plays; I’ll think about that third set for a while, but that’s sports.”

Nebraska improved to 24-7 as the Huskers beat Illinois for the third time this season. It’s the first time Nebraska has swept an opponent three times in the same season since 1995.

Kayla Caffey and Madi Kubik had 11 kills each. Caffey had two errors in 17 attacks to hit .529 and had five blocks and two digs. Kubik had two errors in 31 attacks and had seven blocks. Lindsay Krause had eight kills with two errors in 14 attackis, three blocks, and two digs. Nicklin Hames had a kill, 33 assists, an ace, and 10 digs. Her team hit .260.

Illinois, which ended its season 22-12, played without second-leading attacker Megan Cooney, who was ill. The Illini advanced by beating West Virginia and then upsetting defending-champion Kentucky and Cooney had 17 kills.

Against Nebraska, the Illini hit .088. Kennedy Collins led with eight kills, a block, and a dig. Jessica Nunge had seven kills with no errors in 26 attacks and 10 digs. Leading attacks Raina Terry was held to five kills and she hit minus .111.

Jessica Nunge of Illinois hits against the Nebraska block of Kayla Caffrey, left, and Nicklin Hames/Matt Smith photo

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