The no. 1 Texas Longhorns secured the program’s first national championship since 2012 and the third in school history with a 25-22, 25-14, 26-24 win over the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals on Saturday at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.
Outside hitter Logan Eggleston got off to a hot start and finished with a game-high 19 kills on a .341 hitting percentage with seven digs and three blocks while fellow outside hitter Madisen Skinner claimed her second national title by surging late with 12 kills on a .407 hitting percentage with three blocks. Texas hit .371 overall, holding Louisville to a .189 hitting percentage thanks to nine blocks. Libero Zoe Fleck added 14 digs and two service aces.
With Louisville outside hitter Anna DeBeer starting the match at the service line, Louisville won the first three points, but Texas responded with a kill by opposite hitter Molly Phillips, a kill by Eggleston, a block by Eggleston and middle blocker Asjia O’Neal, and an ace by Fleck to take the lead. Another service ace, this time by O’Neal, made it 8-6 before kills by Skinner and Eggleston and a net violation on Louisville pushed the margin to 12-9, then reached 15 points first on a service error by opposite hitter Aiko Jones , the leader in aces for the Cardinals, as both teams hit .500 or better in the early going and Eggleston recorded six kills.
Texas stretched it to 17-13, but two back-row kills by Louisville outside hitter Claire Chaussee narrowed the margin. Middle blocker Kayla Caffey went down the line over DeBeer for a kill to end a 3-0 run by the Cardinals, but three straight service errors by Texas gave Louisville a big boost. At 20-18, big digs from Fleck and libero Emma Halter set up a block from O’Neal and Phillips to force a timeout by Louisville.
The Cardinals bounced back with a kill from Jones. Out of system on the next point, Eggleston pushed a ball to the back left corner as Dani Busboom Kelly called another timeout. Chaussee’s seventh kill preceded the ninth from Eggleston down the line, sending the National Player of the Year to the service line, ultimately resulting in a net violation on the Horns. A critical service error on Louisville put Texas on the brink of a first-set win, but the Cardinals saved the set point with a slide kill through a seam in the Longhorns defense. Texas capitalized on its second opportunity, however, with a booming kill by Eggleston from the back row.
Fleck’s serving, including an ace, helped Texas out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, although service errors continued to be an issue for the Horns with two early and seven total in the match. A kill and ace from Skinner made it 9-5, then 11-6 when the Cardinals called for a stoppage of play.
On an attacking error from Chaussee and a kill by Eggleston the lead was up to 15-7 thanks to a 4-0 run that prompted yet another timeout by Louisville with the Cardinals in serious danger of losing contact with the Longhorns and any chance to seriously compete in the match.
Four straight points by Louisville were much needed for the Cardinals and quickly changed the tenor of the set and the match, prompting a timeout by Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott.
The Longhorns responded with a kill by Eggleston to end a long rally with both teams largely out of order. Two attacking errors by Louisville further stemmed the momentum for the Cardinals as the lead reached 18-11 for the Horns. A slide kill and a wonderful dig kill from O’Neal pushed the margin to 20-12 before a net violation by Louisville led Busboom Kelly to bench her setter. It only worked temporarily as the Cardinals struggled to field serves and pass the ball effectively, leading to a set point for the Longhorns and another attacking error to end the set 25-14.
With concerns about Texas losing its focus, Phillips started the set with two kills sandwiched an attacking error on Louisville overturned on review. The Cardinals briefly took their first lead since early in the first set, but O’Neal had a kill and Eggleston had a kill from the back row in transition before Louisville went back in front with their best stretch of volleyball on the evening. Both teams went back and forth scoring with the Cardinals maintaining a small margin until the Horns tied it 12-12 and then went ahead as Eggleston tooled the block for a kill.
Louisville made it to 15 points first, then was called for being out of rotation before a block by Texas and back-to-back kills by Skinner to take an 18-16 lead as Busboom Kelly wanted a timeout. A block and another kill from Skinner made it 20-16 and prompted another timeout by the Cardinals with the Longhorns on a 10-4 run. Two straight points by Louisville out of the break tightened the set as Elliott opted for a timeout of his own.
Chaussee tooled a block from the back row to continue the surge from the Cardinals, but Skinner’s kill off a block halted it, albeit temporarily with Eggleston pushing a ball out past the end line before a controversial play — Phillips appeared to have a kill off the block, but the ball was ruled to have touched her shoulder after the block. Louisville then took the lead 22-21 thanks to the 6-1 run slowed with a kill by Eggleston. A kill by Chaussee out of system marked a huge point for the Cardinals, followed by a back row kill from DeBeer for set point.
After a timeout by Texas, O’Neal had a kill from the middle to save the first set point and a good serve from libero Keonilei Akana put Louisville out of system and Chaussee missed long on the second to tie it at 24-24 after review upheld the call. On a swing by Eggleston, the Cardinals were called for a net violation and Akana ended the match with a service ace to win the national title.