SEATTLE, Wash. — At first, the crowd — almost entirely University of Washington fans — couldn’t believe what they saw. A scrappy, underdog Badger team dominated the top-ranked Longhorns from the start. But then something odd happened: Wisconsin never stopped.
An early 8-3 lead in Set 1 snowballed into a 2-0 match lead. At that point, Wisconsin and the crowd believed the upset was possible. Texas fought back and looked to regain control in the fourth set, but, in the critical moment, the Badgers took control
When the final point hit the ground, the fans let out huge roar. The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers had advanced to the NCAA championship over the No. 1 Longhorns 3-1 (25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23), ending Texas’ repeat national championship bid.
“We played our poorest game of the year,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We didn’t serve well. We didn’t pass well. We didn’t hit well. It’s tough to win with 43 hitting errors.”
The Longhorns started off flat in Wisconsin’s opening run. They committed four service errors, allowed three aces and failed to give their hitters an opportunity to put balls away. After cutting the lead to 20-19, the Badgers rallied for five straight points to take the first game. Despite hitting more efficiently and executing more blocks, the Longhorns weren’t able to overcome the early deficit.
“For some reason, we got on our heels off the bat,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t figure it out.”
Game 2 didn’t go any better for Texas. The Longhorns fell behind 10-3 early because of a myriad of troubles in returning the serve. They cleaned that up later in the set but failed to produce any kind of extended run and lost the set 25-18.
“We had to serve fearlessly,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We kept them out of system. We have one of the best backcourts in the country, and they needed to make the digs today.”
Texas was forced moved into survival mode in Game 3 and managed to endure. After back-and-forth play all game, with both teams struggling to kill the ball, Texas found itself with two game points at 25-23. But Wisconsin, like it had all night, responded. It wasn’t enough though, as two errors extended the match to a fourth set.
But Texas couldn’t endure another late Badger run. After controlling the game the entire set, Wisconsin clawed back to take the fourth game, and the match, late.
“We are used to teams trying to serve tough,” senior setter Hannah Allison said. “That is the only way to throw us off, and they executed that well.”
In the match, both teams struggled offensively. Texas hit .156; Wisconsin .131.
The loss was the Longhorns first since non-conference play, which ended a repeat national title bid and a season that already included the first undefeated Big 12 run in school history.
“Nineteen blocks and they hit .131,” Elliott said. “If you told me that before the match I’d say we win 90 percent of the time. We managed our game poorly. It stinks that we played our poorest game of the year today.”