No. 3 Texas’ head coach Jerritt Elliott has been calling his Longhorns “different” all season.
Their success makes this team look like most of the others under Elliott’s command. Texas won its fifth-straight Big 12 championship, earned a fourth-consecutive NCAA Final Four appearance and had five or more players earn All-American honors for the third year in a row.
What sets them apart, Elliott said, is how they come together.
“This isn’t the most talented team we’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “But they make up for it by playing together. What makes this team special is they’re a true team. We have a lot of unselfish players and they’ve really bought into what we’re doing.”
The Longhorns (29-2, 15-1 Big 12) will be the underdog in their semifinal matchup against No. 2 Minnesota (30-4, 18-2 Big 10) in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, making this team different in yet another way. This year will be one of the first times Texas isn’t considered a favorite in the Final Four, but it’s ready for the challenge.
“It makes us hungry,” freshman middle blocker Morgan Johnson said. “This is a very special team. We have everything we need. We came here to battle.”
Minnesota is coming into this game with a six-game win streak, including sweeps of Jackson State, Marquette and Illinois in the first three rounds of the tournament and a 3-1 win over Hawaii to clinch the Des Moines Regional.
The Gophers are hitting .272 as a team and averaging 15.5 digs and 2.9 blocks per set. They’re led by All-American senior outside hitter Daly Santana, who has 563 kills and a team-high 39 service aces. Sophomores middle blocker Molly Lohman and libero Dalianliz Rosado lead the team defensively with 154 blocks and 519 digs, respectively. Juniors opposite Hannah Tapp and middle blocker Paige Tapp and freshman setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson also earned All-American honors.
“Minnesota’s playing probably the best volleyball of the teams in the Final Four,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be a battle and our team is going to be ready.”
Texas is riding an 11-game win streak after sweeping Fairfield in the first round and defeating Purdue, UCLA and Florida. The Longhorns are hitting .308, averaging 14.4 digs and 2.5 blocks per set.
Seniors outside hitter Amy Neal and middle blocker Molly McCage and juniors middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu, outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame and setter Chloe Collins were named to All-American Teams, giving Texas the most honorees of any Division 1 team. Neal leads the team with 447 kills, Ogbogu has 129 blocks and sophomore libero Cat McCoy boasts 439 digs.
“This year, we just want it so bad,” Neal said. “We fight for each other, we celebrate each other and it’s not about individuals at all.”
A win over Minnesota will put Texas in the national championship game against the winner of No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Kansas, potentially breaking a two-year streak of semifinal losses.
“We don’t always come out perfect, but this team has a lot of heart,” McCage said. “We are so different from any other Texas team, it has taken a lot, and hopefully we win another championship.”
- NCAA Final Four Semifinal
- No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 3 Texas
- TV: ESPN2
- Time: 6 p.m.
- Where: CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Nebraska