NCAA Volleyball – Texas has history, Louisville can make some
7:00 p.m. ET
CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s collegiate basketball and other collegiate sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.
OMAHA, Neb. – For the Texas Longhorns, winning the national championship in women’s volleyball this season would mean building on an already rich program heritage. For the Louisville Cardinals, this would mean taking their program and conference, the ACC, to new heights.
The contrast between the programs from a historical point of view is of course enormous. But if you look at the teams that will be contesting the NCAA Finals at CHI Health Center on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN App), you don’t see that much of a difference.
Texas is 27-1 and went 15-1 in Big 12 play. Louisville is 31-2 and went 17-1 in the ACC. These programs have had the best win rate in Division I over the past two seasons, with the Cardinals at .955 (63-3) and the Longhorns at .947 (54.3).
“We’re excited to be here and to have the opportunity to reach the top of the mountain,” said Texas coach Jerritt Elliott. “We have a lot of respect for what Louisville is doing and for the competitive team they have. They are extremely well trained.
“We need to organize our team so that we can play Texas volleyball and have a great chance of achieving what we set out to do.”
Louisville’s Dani Busboom Kelly could become the first head coach to win the NCAA Division I title in volleyball. A player for Nebraska from 2002-2006, she helped lead the Cornhuskers to a 124-10 record as they won three Big 12 titles and appeared in two Final Fours and clinched the 2006 NCAA title. As a senior that year Busboom Kelly switched from starting setter to libero, a selfless adjustment that helped the Huskers win the championship by making them even stronger.
Busboom Kelly faced Elliott’s Texan teams in Nebraska both as a player and as an assistant coach, including a win over the Longhorns in the 2015 NCAA Finals. And her Louisville squad achieved one of its breakthrough NCAA tournament wins in 2019 against Texas, winning the regional Semi-final with 3: 2.
“He’s built a dynasty and every year they’re expected to finish in the bottom four,” Busboom Kelly said of Elliott. “And I know if they’re not in the last four, people are like, ‘What’s wrong with Texas this year?’
“So it’s quite a tough spot and it’s a lot of pressure year after year and they’re handling it really, really well. Just really impressive, just the consistency of the program.”
But Busboom Kelly knows a lot about it from her time in Nebraska, which has played for (10) and won (five) more NCAA titles than Texas. This will be the Longhorns’ eighth NCAA Finals, and they’ve all won it twice.
Molly Phillips (left) and Logan Eggleston are just one win away from achieving their goal of bringing another national championship to Texas. Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports
Texas always has a wealth of talent, and this season it’s led by underdog Logan Eggleston, who was named AVCA International of the Year on Friday. You and the Longhorns know the Cardinals will do whatever it takes to serve aggressively in the title match. That’s part of what got Louisville this far.
In Thursday’s 3-2 win over ACC team Pittsburgh in the semifinals, Louisville had 10 service aces. And Anna DeBeer served eight straight points to start the fifth set, which Louisville dominated 15-2. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the biggest fifth-set win in the national semifinals or finals since women’s college volleyball went into rally standings in 2001.
“A lot of teams are planning that against us,” Eggleston said of Louisville’s serve. “They have to take us off the grid so we’re off the system. So we faced that a lot in a lot of our games throughout the season. Also, we have a lot of great servers in training, which makes us a lot better.”
Eggleston was part of the Texas team that lost in the finals here in Omaha in April 2021. Technically, that’s the 2020 championship, as the tournament was moved from December to spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eggleston’s achievements stand out even in the history of the star-filled Longhorns, with only one achievement remaining: a national championship.
“I mean, that’s the main goal that we’ve been thinking about all year,” she said. “That’s why we came to Texas.”
Busboom Kelly is the reason players are drawn to Louisville. Playing collegially, the ACC had no serious contender for a national championship. She helped change that.
“I just think we shouldn’t be impressed by the games they make,” said Busboom Kelly, acknowledging how fascinating the Longhorns can be. “We know they’re going to make some really incredible games, but each game is only worth one point.
“If we keep that in mind and stay consistent and disciplined in what we do, it will definitely put us in a much better place.”