What a difference a year makes.
Texas finds itself in a new role in this year’s edition of the Final Four — the underdog.
It’s hard to believe that a team that’s won 19 straight matches would be considered as such, but don’t tell that to junior middle blocker Rachael Adams and the rest of the Longhorns.
“This team has come a long way and we may be the hottest team coming in, but we still see ourselves as the underdogs,” Adams said. “We still have a lot to show and a lot to give.”
But while the Longhorns are still adjusting to their new position, one thing remains the same — the road to the championship goes through Penn State.
Texas will face familiar foe Penn State in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., looking to avenge last year’s heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Nittany Lions — a game in which Texas was within a few points of a national title.
But Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott hasn’t lost any sleep over the loss and is preparing his team for another opportunity to beat the best in the business while hoping it’s his squad that receives some lucky bounces this time around.
“When you’re playing those caliber teams, you need a couple breaks, one touch here or something happens there,” Elliott said. “I felt like, when I watched the film over and over again to see what I would have done differently, there weren‘t any changes I would have made. I felt good with the way we started in our rotations and what we did. You have to make plays. We had some opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. I have no regrets.”
Elliott coached the Longhorns to the Final Four each of the past two seasons but hasn’t gotten Texas over the hump just yet. But he and the Longhorns know they’ve gained valuable experience in those defeats and are ready for a new outcome in 2010.
“Even though it hurts and you want the players to win and experience what that’s like you can always walk off as a coach when they gave you everything they had,” Elliott said. “I had a team that did that both years. We have another shot this year and hopefully those experiences pay off in end.”
Senior outside hitter and newly named All-American Juliann Faucette echoed her coach’s comments.
“We have some experienced players that were in two final fours and, losing both those games the last two years were hard, but we’ve always learned something from that,” Faucette said.
Elliott is downplaying the idea that this game is a rally cry for his team, saying it’s just another opportunity to showcase Texas’ talent to the country. But the coach seems to be getting used to facing the Nittany Lions on the sport’s biggest stage, and doesn’t see either team taking a step back in years to come.
“When you look at Penn State’s program and where our program is at and the future recruits that are coming in and the players that we have, this could be a battle that continues for the next couple of years in the Final Four,” Elliott said.
And while these two teams could face off again next season, it’s the last chance for senior middle blocker Jen Doris to beat Penn State. The Houston native isn’t going to hold anything back Thursday night in what could be her final match in a Texas uniform.
“We’re just going to go out and keep doing the same things we have done all year, stick to our routines and things that have made us so successful to this point,” Doris said. “Hopefully, in the end, it’s enough to get us past. If not, we’re going to know that we gave everything that we had, so we can hang our heads high.”
It’s a new team, a new season, a new role and a new opportunity for the Longhorns to finally reach their championship aspirations.
All Texas can do now is play for a new outcome.