Fifth-seeded Nebraska had no answer for Texas’ dynamic duo of Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields as the fourth-seeded Longhorns ended Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament run in the regional finals on Monday.
Texas won 25-22, 19-25, 25-15, 25-21 in front of a Nebraska-friendly crowd at CHI Health Center Omaha. The Longhorns hit right at their season-average of .336 while holding the Huskers to .171.
“Great match by Texas,” Coach John Cook said. “They totally out-served and passed us, and that was our only chance to hang with them because they’re. A big physical team, they have five great hitters and you’ve got to put some stress on them. We didn’t do enough of that and let them get some big runs. If we didn’t pass well today, we were going to have a hard time.”
Eggleston had 18 kills on .226 hitting, five blocks, five aces and four digs while Fields matched her with 18 kills on .630 hitting, committing just one attack error.
“They’re big, physical hitters,” Cook said. ”They set the ball tight and they go up there and go over the block So you’ve got to dig them, and if they get it by the blocker we’ve got to try to touch it. We did a pretty nice job on Eggleston… but Skylar Fields we had no answer for.”
Madi Kubik was the only Husker with double-digit kills, finishing with 15 on .256 hitting. Kayla Caffey added eight kills on .357 hitting and five blocks. Lauren Stivrins was in the starting lineup after missing Sunday’s match against Baylor and finished with seven kills on .357 hitting.
Nicklin Hames recorded her 10th double-double of the season with 34 assists, 13 digs and three aces. Lexi Sun matched Hames with 13 digs to lead the team but she also hit .000 with seven kills and seven errors against her former team.
Texas out-blocked Nebraska 12 to six. Nebraska dominated in service points as the Huskers had nine aces and just three errors while the Longhorns committed 15 errors, but Texas picked it up later in the match and finished with eight aces as well.
“We won the serve and pass battle in that set that we won,” Hames said. “We would go on runs, and serving’s super important because they have huge middles, huge outsides that are great hitters, so you have to get them out of system to be able to stop them.”
The Longhorns struck first, winning the first two rallies, but the Huskers answered with a 3-0 run to take the lead. It was short-lived as Texas answered with a 3-0 run of its own to pull ahead 5-3. The Longhorns stretched their lead to 7-4 and then 11-7 as a bit of shaky passing gave Texas a few free points.
Nebraska buckled down from there, however, using a 3-0 run to tie the match at 12-12. After trading sideouts, Texas regained control with a 4-0 run. Stivrins’ first kill of the day snapped the run. The Huskers cut the deficit to two four different times, but couldn’t get any closer as Skyler Fields terminated on Texas’ second set point opportunity to give the Longhorns a 1-0 lead.
Texas hit .385 behind seven kills on .316 hitting from Big 12 Player of the Year Logan Eggleston. Middle blocker Asjia O’Neal addled five kills on seven attempts as Texas notched 19 kills in the set. Nebraska hit .229 while Sun, Stivrins and Caffey combined for just 11 attempts (and six kills).
The teams traded blows throughout the second set with three lead changes and eight ties through the first 22 rallies. Nebraska finally created a bit of separation midway through with a 4-0 run consisting of a kill and an ace by Sun and two kills by Kubik.
The Longhorns scored the first two points after the media timeout to cut the deficit in half, but the Huskers responded with two straight and regained control as the Longhorns got no close than three points the rest of the way. Sun finished it off with a back-row kill on set point.
Nebraska hit .321 and held Texas to .286. Eggleston had just three kills and three errors on 16 swings. Nebraska had four aces and Texas had five service errors in set two.
The Huskers got off to a great start in set three, pulling ahead 4-1 on a kill by Kubik. Little went right for Nebraska after that, however, as a 5-0 run including back-to-back aces by Eggleston gave the Longhorns an 8-6 lead.
Nebraska tied it up at 8-8 but fell apart after that as the Longhorns outscored the Huskers 15-5 over the next 20 rallies. The teams traded sideouts until a kill by Fields ended it and gave the Longhorns a 2-1 lead.
Nebraska had nine attack errors and just eight kills for a minus-.036hitting percentage. The Longhorns hit .259 and had five service aces, three of them by Eggleston. Fields had seven kills on 10 swings without an error, matching her production from the first two sets combined.
The stars asserted themselves early in set four as Stivrins and Eggleston traded kills from the first serve. After six ties in the first 12 rallies, Texas pulled ahead 8-6 on a kill by Brionne Butler and an error by Sweet.
Jhenna Gabriel misfired on the next serve, sparking a 7-0 run by Nebraska that featured Knuckles at the service line. Jarritt Elliott burned both of his timeouts during the run that put the Huskers ahead 13-8.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Texas’ block took over. Three stuffs fueled a 6-1 Texas run that tied up the set at 14-14. After a Nebraska timeout, Eggleston gave the Longhorns the advantage with her 16th kill.
After four straight sideouts, Eggleston out the Longhorns ahead 18-16 with an ace. She missed her next serve, but a kill by O’Neal and back-to-back errors by Sun gave the Longhorns a 21-17 lead and drew Nebraska’s last timeout.
O’Neal served long when play resumed, then Kubik tooled the block for a kill to cut the deficit to two. However, Texas responded with a kill by Fields and back-to-back blocks to earn match point. The Huskers staved off elimination for a couple of rallies, but Fields dropped in a kill over the defense to end Nebraska’s season.
“They just were making plays and we couldn’t stop them,” Hames said. “It’s hard; we let them go on a run, so we kind of lost momentum. They had all the momentum so the plays were going their way. They ended up going on a run and being ahead of us and it was hard for us to catch up at the end.”
Texas out-hit .407 to .154 in the fourth set. Eggleston had seven kills without an error.
Hames summed up the emotion in the locker room after the match with one word: “sad.”
“We’re upset,” Hames said. “It’s Omaha, which is kind of a bummer because that would have been so much fun to play in front of all of the fans for a national championship. But I’m super grateful for this team. Everything we did this year — it’s been a really hard year with COVID, starting and stopping, never knowing what it was going to look like. I’m glad that I got to be teammates with all of these girls and I’m glad I got to go through this pandemic and everything with them. I think we’re sad. We don’t really know who’s coming back, but I’m really proud of this team this year.”
Texas will move on the Final Four to game the winner of No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 8 Florida.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.