Texas' Season Ends in Final Four

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For the second consecutive season, the Longhorns' season ended in heartbreak in the Final Four. Texas will have to wait another year to add a banner to the rafters.

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Longhorns season ends in heartbreak in Semifinal Record: (27-3)

For the second consecutive season, the Texas Longhorns run through the NCAA Tournament came to a sudden halt in the Semifinal match at the hands of a lower seeded team. This year, BYU became the first team in NCAA Volleyball history that wasnt one of the 16 national seeds to advance to the Championship match. For Texas, its another season in which it had a tremendous chance to add another championship banner to the rafters of Gregory Gym and fell short. Volleyball is without a doubt the premier athletic program currently on the Forty Acres. With high standards, and much success, comes much disappointment and criticism as well. When a team advances to nine consecutive Elite Eights, and six Final Fours in the last seven years, but only has one Championship trophy and one other appearance in the title game to show for it, a mantra that this team cant finish the deal is developed. Texas will have to wait another year, to try to change that mantra once again. How it happenedOklahoma City, Okla. -- BYU came into their game against Texas on Thursday on a run like few have seen. The Cougars defeated three national seeds including Nebraska and Florida State, while only dropping one set after experts predicted an early exit. That momentum, combined with the top blocking team in the country (3.85 blocks per set) was ready to meet Texas, who had only dropped one set in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, head on.

Texas continued a strategy they used throughout the early points of the Tournament in the first set of the Semifinal match. That was getting outside hitter sophomore outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame involved early. She executed the first two balls to the floor as the Longhorns gained a 2-0 lead. Neither team could control the opening set however as neither led by more than three points. There were 15 ties and seven lead changes as BYU and Texas scratched out and traded points. Up 24-23, the Cougars clinched the set on a senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman attack error to go up 1-0 in the match.

The second set resembled the dismantling the Longhorns experienced in the second set of the Elite Eight match against North Carolina where Texas lost 25-18. With the set tied at nine, the Cougars took the power and intensity of the match to a level the Longhorns werent ready to combat. BYU blocked six Longhorn attacks and went on a 16-7 run to close out the second set. Texas hit a troubling .033 in the 25-16 second set loss, and found their title hopes on the line headed into the 10 minute break.

The third set was a complete reversal of the script, especially late. Texas sprung to a 3-0 lead, but never could put BYU away until the teams were nodded up at 17. From that point, Texas was a completely different team, winning the final eight points of the set thanks to four BYU errors. The Longhorns out-hit the Cougars .357 to .026 and out-blocked BYU 5.5 to zero in the set, and kept their season alive.

Much like the first set, the fourth could have gone either way. Neither team could grasp control or pull away in a decisive set that featured 16 ties and six lead changes. BYU established the largest lead at 15-12. But Texas fought back, eventually taking a 23-22 lead. Three points later, the set was tied at 24. The next point produced the moment that many will remember and lose their lunch over when they think back to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Jennifer Hamson went up high for a kill going from left to right on the near side of the net. The ball appeared to pass just over the outstretched arms of Eckerman and hit the floor out of bounds. The Longhorns jumped into the air thinking they had a 25-24 lead, and only needed one point to force a winner-take-all set five. However, the official on the other side of the floor interjected and ruled that Eckerman had tipped the ball and it was a point for BYU. Coach Jerritt Elliott exploded on the official in disbelief and frustration, resulting in a yellow card assessed to the Texas bench, and a Longhorn timeout. Following the timeout, the 22nd Hamson kill finished off the set 26-24, the match 3-1 and the season for the Longhorns.

The call appeared to be incorrect on the television replay, and it was no doubt devastating for Texas. Instead of forcing BYU to earn three points to win, they only had to get one, which they did immediately after. That moment sucked all the remaining air out of Texas and any moment it had. But, its hard to make the judgment that the tipped call was the lone reason Texas was defeated.

The Longhorns were out-blocked for only the third time all season, 17-14.5. They were also out-hit by the Cougars .209-.162. It marked only the second time in the last 52 matches Texas was out-hit by its opponent.

Elliott will have to wait until next season to try for his 400th win at Texas. He currently stands at 399 wins while supporting the burnt orange.

Molly McCage (.357) and Chiaka Ogbogu (.500) were the only two Texas players to hit over .120 in the match, as the two combined for 19 kills.

The two seniors Khat Bell and Eckerman didnt finish their storied Longhorn careers the way they wouldve hoped to, but they did manage nine kills each. The duo finish with a record of 104-14 (.881) and boast the only class in history to win four Big 12 Championships.

Personal side note: Although the Longhorns were frustrated and clearly felt robbed of a point and maybe a match following the loss, they handled themselves with class few can match even in defeat and answered every question thoughtfully. Another sign of their head coach, who will no doubt have Texas refocused and ready for another run in 2015.

Looking into the futureThe last two losses in the Final Four against 12th seeded Wisconsin and unseeded BYU sting like a kid that wakes up to coal in his stocking on Christmas morning. But, there are plenty of things to look forward to in 2015 for Texas.

The Longhorns lose their top two outside hitters in Bell and Eckerman. Bell is one of the better hitters in the conference and Eckerman is one of the best players in Longhorn volleyball history. That will wound, but shouldnt kill Texas. Elliott inked another top five recruiting class for 2015 that included two of the top outside hitters in the nation.

On top of that, Ogbogu, McCage and Neal all took steps this season and can be expected to progress for next year as well. Defensively, the Longhorns should have one of the best teams in the nation with the combination of Cat McCoy and Neal digging balls from the gym floor and McCage and Ogbogu throwing a block party over the net. The question will be if Neal, Cerame, Pilar Victoria and a few true freshman can produce consistently big swings from outside that Longhorn fans have grown accustomed to over recent seasons with the likes of Eckerman, Bell and Bailey Webster.

Texas is a top five program in the country every season, but theyll have to wait another year to make a case theyre number one. Full postgame reactionJerritt Elliott Opening statement:I thought BYU played exceptionally well. Their block caused a lot of problems for us. They got a lot of good touches and a lot of blocks and that took us out of our offense a bit. But I felt as the match went on we were gaining more and more control. We won Game 3 and I thought we were in a good position to win Game 4. And I think I can't comment on refereeing, but I can comment where I think the sport needs to go and I think we need to look at some instant replays and some abilities to make some calls, because it's difficult when you get a two-point switch and your kids tried as hard as they did. A lot of that was a tribute to what BYU did and hats off to what they accomplished tonight. I thought our kids came in prepared. I thought they fought really hard. They gave us a chance to get back, and I'm just really proud of what this team has accomplished this year and whatKhat Belland Haley have done for this program and it's always hard when you're not ending the season with a W.On if the Longhorns pressed after the second set: No, I thought we responded really well, Game 3. Game 2 could have gone any way, or Game 1 could have gone either way. It was very, very tight. 25-deuce game. It's a challenge. Game 2, I thought we just kind of fell apart, their block did a great job. And they were on fire. We just couldn't sustain the mentality of the pressure that they put on from that. But in Game 3 we came out, played at a very high level, thought our blocking caught fire. We put ourselves in a position with serve/receive, to get our middles a lot more involved, which we wanted to do. And ultimately, I think the last game it was a deuce game. But it could have gone the other way, with other circumstances that occurred. And I thought our team fought hard. But when we were getting more momentum, I thought-- I told our team: We get this game, they're in trouble because I thought Hamson was getting tired, just from the pure amount of swings that she was taking. And her numbers were dropping significantly as that match was going on. We were starting to get more touches and we were doing a better job defending her. And her physicality wasn't going over the block as much. I felt that was going to be a big key. And I felt really good-- I saw that ball go out and saw our chance to serve the match.On disappointment of losing back-to-back seasons in the Semifinal and what he tells his team: This is a cruel profession. One team walks away the champion. And whether we lost tonight or whether we were to have lost on Saturday, still you've got to be able to kind of reflect-- what we do is every year we go back, we give them a break. Then I give them a list of questions about every little part of our program, how I coach, what our practices are like, how our travel is, things that helped us get to the point, things that maybe we didn't do well to get over the hump to win so that I can kind of create my little bible of how to get them back on pace and get them organized and get them motivated again. This is a competitive group. I was blown away last weekend. I didn't realize we've been to nine straight Elite Eights and six out of last seven Final Fours. We've been in this situation five out of the six times we've been to the Final Four. We've got to get back, look at some things. Now we've got some different personnel. And we'll get them motivated. But right now it's time to rest and reflect. And it's a long, long season. On that goals set at Texas, and falling short of others: I think the goals at Texas now are the standards we've created. If we don't get to a Final Four it's a disappointing season, which is sad in the sports, in coaching, but I think we reached two of our goals, was to get back to the Final Four and win the Big 12, which we did. We're devastated that we didn't win. We thought we had a chance. We thought we had a chance tonight. I felt like Stanford and Penn State were the two best teams but I thought we had a good fighting chance to give a shot at that. And I will take-- I'll make my staff take a rest and we'll get back, watch film, learn what we need to do and get back at it again. That's what you do. You pick up the pieces and build a new puzzle and try to figure it out again. That's the fun part. On tipped call: I've not seen it. But I've received numerous texts. But, again, I'm not going to get into that. My disappointment is probably just where the angle it was called from. It's human error. That's why I'm saying the NCAA needs to look at it. This game is going so fast. And it's a two-point switch. If it was basketball, a player missed a basketball shot, the other team got two points, it's a big difference. So you just want to give the athletes the best chance for them to settle on the floor. And that's all we want as coaches. That's all we want as players. That's all I would imagine the NCAA would want as well. When you've got a 6'7" girl touching as high as she does, how minute those touches are and how close they are, it's challenging. We saw some calls class week that I think Nebraska and Washington were very tight. And I think with instant replay you get to do it right. That's all we're asking is just to be fair. We can't just blame one person on this. On the season low hitting percentage for Texas and for Eckerman:If you don't block-- if you can pass you're going to deal with their blocks. We were passing under 1.9. I think we steadied that a lot more. I think Molly only had two sets in the first two games. And we were able to kind of get their middle going. You'll have to run the middle on the right side a lot. With the 6'2" situation and our ball control situation we don't have a back court attack. It would have been nice to have been able to counter some of that with our back row attack when we're off the net. But you gotta live and die that. When you have Hamson out there and Young that are doing such a nice job out there-- the least correlated stat to winning championships is blocking. But they're proving that stat wrong when they put up 17 stuffed blocks in a game.On if Texas overlook an unseeded BYU team: No, I was very comfortable with the way that our team prepared today. I mean, I told our staff: Look, if we don't win this match it wasn't because we didn't prepare the right way, it wasn't because of the talk we had. I think they learned their lesson last year. I think it was a valuable lesson. But they gave a tremendous amount of respect to BYU. When you're blocking like they are and you're getting first ball kills like they are, it can be overwhelming. You don't have an answer. And you just keep getting slugged. Until we got on a path-- we were able to get our middles going and change the transition game a little bit. I thought they were starting to slow down physically. And that's what we were hoping to do is get into that fifth set and give us a little more of a charge. I thought our passing was picking up and we did some nice things.Haley Eckerman On difficulty of BYUs blocking abilities:I mean, we knew they were big, that they were obviously the top blocking team. And we had practice with that. Every day in our gym we have practice. We have girls like Chi who touches 11foot. We have a big block. They came in, they did amazing. They knew how to control the game. And we fought back and you can tell everyone was trying to change things up and we were trying to manage and work hard with that and they ended up still getting out with it.On having to play from down 2-0 and the lack of experience having to do that:Especially Khat and I, we've been through that. This season, our past career games, we've been through that. And we knew we had to look each other in the eyes. And it showed. It showed we weren't going to give up and we had that fight and we came out of the locker room and knew it wasn't over yet. We weren't go...