Horns to face familiar foes in NCAA tourney

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For Texas, it couldn’t get much easier — just repeat and advance.

The Longhorns play in the NCAA Omaha Regional this weekend for a maximum of just two matches, and they can’t possibly face a team they haven’t already beaten this season. So simply repeating what they’ve done all season will earn the Longhorns a trip to the Final Four in Florida next weekend.

Easy, right?

“I don’t think the NCAA Tournament is ever easy or stress-free,” said head coach Jerritt Elliott. “If you get caught up in all the hype, that’s where you get in trouble.”

The second-ranked Longhorns are 26-1 this season, with the only loss in the Big 12 conference play against Iowa State. For the first match in Omaha, the Longhrons will face a rival they’re very familiar with — Texas A&M. Twice this season, the Longhorns easily swept past the Aggies, but after each match, Elliott praised A&M as a challenging opponent.

“A&M is tough because they have a lot of weapons in a fast offense that keeps you off-balance,” Elliott said. “We need to dig to transition a little better with our left side hitters, and that will really help us out a lot.”

That came after the sweeping the Aggies in College Station on Oct. 29. This time, they’ll face Texas A&M on a neutral site in Omaha, and Elliott thinks his team has what it takes
to advance.

“Do we have the talent to be there? Absolutely. Do we have a good chance? I think so,” Elliott said. “But it’s going to be decided on the court. Everybody has seen upsets.”

If Texas gets past Texas A&M, they’ll face other Big 12 opponents like Nebraska or Iowa State. Nebraska will be playing just an hour from home and will undoubtedly have the home-court advantage. Cornhusker fans pack their gym with greater 10,000 attendees, and they’ll definitely make the quick trip to Omaha to root against a team wearing burnt orange. Especially after last weekend, don’t be surprised if Bo Pelini himself shows up to tell Elliott he doesn’t deserve to go to the Final Four if the Longhorns advance.

But a more likely scenario is that the Longhorns will face Iowa State in the regional final.

The Cyclones beat Nebraska in a close match, 3-2, but two weeks later, the Cornhuskers swept Iowa State. Both losses came by the home team, so the Longhorns aren’t anticipating an opponent just yet.

Besides, they have their own wars to wage. When Elliott said that everybody has seen upsets, he might’ve been referring to the match that could’ve sent his team to the national championship last season. The Longhorns were up 2-0 over Stanford before they lost,
and some of the upperclassmen still play with chips on their shoulders.

“I think it’s definitely a motivation to get back,” said junior Juliann Faucette. “But it’s hard to look ahead when you just think about the road that we have to take to get there.”