Wednesday, 21 February 2024

International Volleyball

Thriving Texas plays Nebraska for NCAA title in “an iconic matchup”

Thriving Texas plays Nebraska for NCAA title in "an iconic matchup"

Jenna Wenaas of Texas hits against Wisconsin’s Anna Smrek and CC Crawford/@AndyWenstrand

By Joey Johnston for

TAMPA — Normally, there’s tremendous pressure on a defending national champion. Nerves can be frayed. Expectations must be managed.

But the Texas Longhorns are loose, smiling and eager.

Who saw it coming?

Following Thursday night’s four-set victory against No. 3 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament’s national semifinals at Amalie Arena, the seventh-seeded Longhorns (27-4) will play for back-to-back national titles when they face top-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers (33-1) in Sunday’s 3 p.m. Eastern finale on ABC-TV.

Texas coach Jerritt Elliott, with an extra off-day — this is the first time the national championship is not decided on Saturday — will have plenty of time to ponder the matchup with Nebraska.

Thursday night — actually Friday morning in the post-midnight interview — Elliott already began building up the Texas-Nebraska showdown.

“It’s an iconic matchup,’’ Elliott said. “It’s great for the sport. I think both social media and both fan bases will be pumping this up.

“There’s such a rich tradition of alumni, All-Americans, people who have won national championships on both sides. You know, it’s Lakers-Celtics. Regardless of how long these two programs have played each other, they’re going to be really fired up.

“This should be a lot of fun for all the fans involved across the country. People will be tuning in, I can guarantee that. With the popularity of our sport, we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to come.”

We’ll stop short of painting Texas as a “Cinderella’’ team. Maybe it’s a better portrayal to say the Longhorns are a talented, seasoned team that weathered a series of potholes, along with a near-elimination moment in the postseason.

The Longhorns were 5-3 in the early season, hardly the expected position for a preseason No. 1-ranked team. They pulled it together and earned a No. 2 regional seed, but weren’t widely picked to reach the national semifinals. And in the region semifinals, they faced a fourth-set match point against Tennessee.

After surviving, now they’re thriving. Texas has won nine in a row.

Against Wisconsin, with a front line featuring 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek and 6-7 Carter Booth, Texas used its speed, guile and athleticism to overcome that formidable wall. After the opening sets…

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