Texas falls to Penn State in national semifinals

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KANSAS CITY — Maybe a rematch wasn't the best idea for Texas.

While this year’s edition of the Texas-Penn State matchup featured a pair of vastly different teams compared to a season ago, the Longhorns were stuck with the same result: A season-ending loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions.

Texas was swept 25-13, 25-13, 25-22 in the semifinals of the NCAA volleyball tournament Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. It was the second time in as many years that the Longhorns went home empty handed after running into the volleyball juggernaut that is Penn State, having done so in the 2009 NCAA championship game as well.

Head coach Jerritt Elliott was scratching his head early and often as the Longhorns never found a way to get their game off the ground as the offense struggled from the get-go on Thursday.

“I just didn’t feel like we ever got a rhythm on the serve-receive,” Elliott said. “We really ran into a buzz saw with Penn State.”

Penn State’s solid defense — and mammoth size — bothered the Longhorns all night. The Nittany Lions established a 10-1 lead in the first set and Texas never bounced back.

“Our passing tempos weren’t there, we got really tight and our approach speeds and tempo setting weren’t as crisp as I would have liked them,” Elliott said. “We were just on our heels the whole night.”

Senior outside hitter Julianne Faucette heaped praise upon the Penn State defenders and credited their size and speed in limiting Texas’ offensive chances.

“They were picking everything up, including the tips,” Faucette said. “They were just really good on their feet and it was hard for us to come back from that because we weren’t responding with our defense until the third game when it was too late.”

But after breezing through the early rounds of the tournament and fighting past tough opponents in Illinois and Purdue, the height of the Nittany Lions limited Texas’ opportunities for kills. Poor passing from the Longhorns certainly didn’t help their cause.

“It’s really hard to get good swings when the passing tempos aren’t there and we are out of rhythm,” Faucette said. “It was a different block from what we have seen, it’s a bigger block and we haven’t really played that many big players on the other side of the net so it was hard to adjust.”

The Longhorns stumbled out of the blocks and looked like deer in the headlights as Penn State jumped ahead 4-0, prompting a Texas time out as Elliott hoped to calm his young team down.

“We’ve got a lot of young players that haven’t been in this situation and we got tight and their block intimidated us because of their size,” Elliott said. “We weren’t able to respond.”

Texas found itself in an early hole after the first set, but couldn’t find the answers in the second. Senior middle blocker Jen Doris and her teammates never seemed to regroup after Penn State came out swinging.

“We got in a funk and couldn’t figure out a way to get out of it and it just lingered,” Doris said.

Everything seemed to go Penn State’s way in the first two sets, but Texas mounted a small comeback in the third set and looked somewhat settled down after the break. The team established a 13-12 lead after a Faucette kill, but then the Longhorns fell behind and never got back within two points.

The loss snapped Texas’ 19-match winning streak.

“Everyone wrote us off at 5-4 and we came back and won 19 matches in a row, that doesn’t happen without great leadership, without great confidence and without a commitment to being great and we made a lot of people proud at our university,” Elliot said.