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Texas volleyball facing BYU in Final Four

The Lady Longhorns are trying to win the school's second national championship in three years.

Texas athletics

Don't look now, but Texas is a volleyball school and has been for some time now.

By making the Final Four once again, the Lady Longhorns have lived up to the high standards that were set in 2012 when head coach Jerritt Elliott and core members of the current squad like senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman won Elliott's first national championship.

It's the third straight season and 10th time overall that Texas has made the Final Four, having advanced it out of the regionals in six of the last seven years.

And so at 6 p.m. CT on Thursday on ESPN2, Eckerman and her teammates will take the court against the BYU Cougars for the right to play in the championship game on Saturday evening

Eckerman helped the Longhorns reach the Final Four with a huge scoring surge on her serve against North Carolina in the critical fourth set to help the Horns put away the Tar Heels after losing the second set, the only set the Horns have dropped in the entire tournament. With 14 kills, she led the team in that category, just ahead of fellow senior Khat Bell, who had 12 of her own.

The first volleyball player to earn AVCA All-America honors for three years in a row, Eckerman hasn't had the easiest of journeys to the top despite the prodigious talent that made her one of the most coveted volleyball prospects in the country coming out of high school in Iowa.

What makes the team so impressive, however, is the depth of talent -- sophomore Chiaka Ogbogu garnered first-team honors, senior Khat Bell earned second-team honors, junior Molly McCage was named to the third team and junior Amy Neal received honorable mention recognition.

Meanwhile, BYU is one of the last four teams standing because of its own outstanding player in 6'7 Jennifer Hamson, who is also a major contributor on the Cougars women's basketball team.

"She can play at a very high above the net," said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott. "She can pretty much go over us if she's in rhythm and able to score. She has great range. She obviously has put up the last game against -- Sweet 16 put up seven and a half kills a game.

"And when she's on fire, she's one of the best players in the country."

It will be up to McCage and her teammates to stop Hamson from getting into that zone. Against North Carolina in the regional finals McCage led the team with seven blocks.

Heading into the match, the Longhorns are mostly focused on themselves, focused on avoiding a letdown this year. After losing to an unseeded Badgers squad in 2013, the experienced players on the team like Eckerman are making sure that it doesn't happen again.

"I think this year we're focusing on the game ahead of us, which is BYU," Eckerman said. "Last year I think we may have overlooked Wisconsin a little bit.  And this year we know that BYU's good.

"Obviously they've gotten here. So we have to focus on BYU and only BYU and making sure that we're taking care of what we need to do against them."

In the end, though, the chemistry that this team has will serve it well against BYU and, hopefully, in the national championship game against the winner of the match between Stanford and Penn State.

"This team, we didn't lose that many, it's just our chemistry is really good this year, and we have a ton of fun together," said Neal.

"And I just think that we still have the same mindset of taking it one game at a time and really focusing on the team in front of us and not looking ahead at all. But I think we are just really on the same page this year and we will trust each other on the court."