The last time Texas volleyball faced off against Penn State was on the heels of back-to-back losses to the Nittany Lions in the NCAA Tournament, once in the National Championship and the other in the semi-finals.
Twelve years later and the Longhorns got their retribution, knocking off No. 13 Penn State in four sets to advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals.
After Penn State rallied to win the first set, the Horns won three straight including a decisive third set that reached set point six different times.
“I thought we came out and executed right off the bat and we never looked back,” coach Jerritt Elliott said afterwards.
The Nittany Lions didn’t look the same in the fourth set, with Texas still riding high off their momentum and led by as much as seven points before junior Brionne Butler sent Penn State packing.
That’s how you finish it!!! pic.twitter.com/sKQC4IEXhR— Texas Volleyball (@TexasVolleyball) April 19, 2021
Despite close calls in sets one and three, Texas controlled the even numbered sets with 25-18 and 25-17 victories, with Butler, Skylar Fields, and Logan Eggleston proving to be too much for Penn State.
Eggleston finished with a game-high 22 kills with Fields right behind her with 21 along with only 3 service errors.
The Horns controlled set one from the beginning, but failed to close after Penn State staged a furious 6-1 rally to take the first set 25-23.
“It was emotionally draining the way we played in game one,” Elliott said. “We controlled the match up all the way up until 22 points and had three or four swings to win and never executed.”
It was only a season ago when the Longhorns were upset on their home floor to Lousiville in the NCAA Regionals, but instead of suffering a similar fate, Texas took control in set two.
Junior Jhenna Gabirel was just three assists shy over her career-high with 55 assists and added 18 digs for her sixth double-double of the season.
“The only way you’re going to get far in this [tournament] is taking it one step at a time,” Gabriel said. “That’s been our motto this whole entire time that we’ve been here and I think it’s paid off and tonight definitely gave us a little confidence boost going into tomorrow.”
Next up for the Longhorns will be the 5-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are coming off a 3-0 sweep against No. 12 Baylor.
“We got a quick turnaround and it’s unfortunate that our sport has not given us a day in between,” Elliott said.
Instead of the traditional NCAA Tournament with 64 teams, the NCAA elected to only stage a post-season with 48 teams. The side effect of that means the entire tournament will be played in 10 days, including a back-to-back for Texas and other teams who advanced to the quarterfinals.
Texas drew what could be considered the “region of death” with the five-time champion Cornhuskers on deck just after defeating Penn State who hold onto seven National Championships.
Oh and by the way, the winner of Texas-Nebraska has a potential match-up with No. 1 Wisconsin in the Final Four.
Tomorrow’s game against Nebraska will start 45 minutes after the 11 a.m. match ends and will air on ESPN2.