McNeal helps UT win 15th straight match

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No matter what the Longhorns do, the team’s successes seem to be forever overshadowed by last year’s team that came into the NCAA Tournament ranked second and lost in the national championship game.

But even last year’s Longhorns did not enter the tournament carrying a 15-game winning streak. Nor did they defeat the Iowa State Cyclones on the road.

Texas swept Texas A&M 26-24, 25-19, 25-22 at home Wednesday, and then traveled to Ames, Iowa, to beat Iowa State 22-25, 25-23, 27-25, 25-19 on Saturday to end the 2010 regular season.

The ninth-ranked Longhorns will face off against UTSA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Gregory Gym. If the team wins, it will play the winner of UCLA and American University on Saturday also at Gregory Gym.

Of the teams ranked ahead of Texas in the tournament, only top-ranked Florida and fifth-ranked Northern Iowa boast longer winning streaks. Head coach Jerritt Elliott said its important to have some momentum to close out the season.

“You always want to play with some rhythm — play hot — going into the NCAA tournament,” Elliott said. “We’re going to focus on our side of the net like we have all year long and get our rhythm going and play well.”

The team’s Thanksgiving weekend started with hosting A&M on Wednesday. Texas avenged its mid-September loss to the Aggies in College Station, thanks to 15 kills on .737 hitting from junior middle blocker Rachael Adams.

The sold-out game was also the final regular season home performance for the team’s seniors. Senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette, who finished the game with a 16-kill, nine-dig effort and will finish her career with the fifth most kills among all Longhorns, sang the national anthem to start the match. Senior outside hitter Lauren Dickson assumed her role as a serving specialist with the return of junior outside hitter Amber Roberson and senior middle blocker Jennifer Doris finished with seven kills and two blocks assisted.

“It was a great night. We had a huge fan turnout, which means a lot to us,” Doris said. “It was so weird to think that this was my last home game here and to walk out there and get my jersey. It means a lot that coach Elliott gave me a chance to play here.”

The senior class has the highest winning percentage of any class in Texas volleyball history at .878.

“They have been special,” Elliott said. “They were a big part of turning this program around. They have been to an Elite Eight, a Final Four and a National Championship game in their first three years. We’d like for them to have another shot at it this year.”

After Thanksgiving dinner and football on Thursday, the team traveled north to play 16th-ranked Iowa State. Last year’s Longhorns suffered the lone blemish on its regular season record against the Cyclones, but Texas kept its win streak alive this year with a career-high 16-kill effort from sophomore utility player Sha’Dare McNeal.

Texas also got double-doubles from Faucette, who had 16 kills and a career-high 22 digs, and junior setter Michelle Kocher, who had 58 assists and 11 digs.

Regardless of whether the team advances or not, the NCAA Tournament South Regional will take place at Gregory Gym starting Dec. 10.