Louisville volleyball dared to write history on Saturday night, but after three quick sets the status quo remained intact.
The Cardinals were denied their first national championship in program history after falling to Texas 3-0 (set scores: 25-22, 25-14, 26-24) in the NCAA Volleyball National Championship game at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The win gave the Longhorns (28-1, 15-1 Big 12) their third national title in nine championship games and retained Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly – a Nebraska native coaching in the same arena, she has won two titles as a player and assistant coach with the Cornhuskers – from becoming the first female coach to win a national championship.
The last female coach to lead a team to the championship was Mary Wise with Florida in 2017.
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“I told them in the locker room, there are so many words to say, it’s hard to know what to say first,” said Busboom Kelly. “I’m disappointed in the way we played, but so proud of this season’s oeuvre.”
Texas avenged its championship loss two years ago—to Kentucky and Madi Skinner, who is now a Longhorn—by setting fire to the Cardinals offensively. Led by the best player in the country, the Longhorns were on offense early Saturday night, dominating a defense that Pitt blocked into submission two nights ago; U of L only had a total of four team blocks on Saturday.
National Player of the Year Logan Eggleston proved why she is the best, racking up 10 kills in the first set alone and finishing with 19 kills (.341 attack percentage on 41 attempts), seven digs and three total blocks (one solo) .
“She’s an incredible player, the National Player of the Year. She’s been a six-rotation starter for five seasons.” Louisville coaches felt she was not playing at her usual level in the semi-final against San Diego and Busboom Kelly said, “Great players don’t tend to play two bad games in a row. We assumed they were great would play.” .
Texas’ dominance this season was known when he entered the game. The No. 1 ranked Longhorns came in on a 13-game win streak and posted high winnings after a four-set victory over San Diego in the national semifinal.
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The Cardinals (31-3, 17-1 ACC) fought hard to make it to the Finals. Anna DeBeer and Phekran “PK” Kong improved their matches in the Elite Eight and National Semifinals to push Louisville to the championship. Louisville’s resilience overcame Oregon and Pitt, but Texas pressure kept the Cardinals on their heels.
Texas beat Louisville .371 to .189 to finish with nine blocks ahead of the Cardinals’ four. Eggleston, Skinner and Asjia O’neal controlled the net with a total of nine team blocks and kept the Cardinals’ offense contained. Only Claire Chaussee reached double-digit kills (12) for U of L, with DeBeer (nine) and Aiko Jones (eight) falling short despite .316 and .304 respectively.
“It’s easy to look back on a lot of things with regret (in this game), but I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” said DeBeer. “But there are so many things I wish we could have done that Saturday night.”
Going into the third set 2-0, Louisville seemed to bring momentum back to the sidelines. Louisville led 15–14 before the Cardinals were called for an out-of-rotation foul, allowing the Longhorns to tie the game. Busboom Kelly debated the call before receiving a yellow card. Skinner then led Texas by a 5–0 run.
“I’ve seen the receiving team being called to leave early, which can be a big advantage,” said Busboom Kelly. “But in all my coaching I’ve never seen a team on duty come out of circulation.”
Graduate senior Chaussee tried to power up Louisville’s offense all game long. Finishing with 12 kills and five digs, the ACC Player of the Year kept Louisville afloat during a potential comeback in the third set. Louisville trailed Texas 20-16, but went on an 8-2 run to set up a set point. But with their backs to the wall, Eggleston led the Longhorns 4-0 to finish the Cardinals’ season and win their first title in 10 years.
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After a second straight Final Four appearance, Louisville would need to bring back several pieces from its championship run.
Kong and DeBeer will be back for their senior years, sophomore libero Elena Scott was selected as an AVCA Second Team All-American and Busboom Kelly will be loaded for another championship round in her seventh season at the helm.
Follow Courier Journal reporter JL Kirven on Twitter @JL_Kirven for more updates on Louisville prep sports.
This article originally appeared in Louisville Courier Journal: NCAA Volleyball Tournament Championship: Texas Beats Louisville