LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Junior All-America outside hitter Bailey Webster had 18 kills while junior libero Sarah Palmer registered a career-high 31 digs Thursday as the No. 3 seed Texas Longhorns rallied for the five-set win over the Michigan Wolverines (25-11, 21-25, 23-25, 25-12, 15-11) in the NCAA national semifinal. With the win, Texas advances to the 2012 national championship on Saturday to play the winner of tonight’s Penn State/Oregon semifinal.
Sha’Dare McNeal hit .524 on 13 kills with 12 digs and four blocks for Texas (28-4) while Khat Bell hit .450 on 11 kills and seven blocks. Junior setter Hannah Allison tallied 53 assists with 11 digs and career-tying six blocks. Haley Eckerman added 16 kills and eight digs. Freshman middle blocker Molly McCage had four kills and six blocks while freshman Kat Brooks had two key service aces in the fifth set.
Lexi Erwin led Michigan (27-12) with 26 kills while Claire McElheny added 15 kills while hitting .419. Lexi Dannemiller had 52 assists with 11 digs and three blocks while Jennifer Cross registered eight kills and five blocks.
Texas hit .469 in the first set, holding Michigan to .000 as the Longhorns quickly took control with a 14-5 run to begin the match. UT closed out the set with a 9-4 run to win the first set easily.
Cross helped the Wolverines break a 12-12 tie in the second set as three straight points put them ahead, 15-12. Texas got within one after a ball-handling error was called, 20-19. Erwin would figure in three kills in the latter part of the set to help Michigan even the match.
It was a similar start in set three with Michigan again pulling away after a 12-12 tie. Bell brought UT within one at 19-18, but two hitting errors by the Longhorns would help Michigan take the 2-1 lead in the match.
In set four, the Longhorns played in similar fashion to the first set. After three straight points by the Wolverines made it 11-9, Texas unleashed a 14-3 run, including seven straight points to force the final set.
Texas kept the pressure up with four straight points to open the fifth. Erwin brought the Wolverines back and McElheny would tie it at 8-8. After a Texas timeout, Webster used two kills to push the advantage back to three, 11-8. McCage used a solo block to make it 12-9 as McNeal would end the match for the Longhorns with the kill.
Saturday’s match begins at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Central) and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. TexasSports.com will offer a free audio webcast, along with Gametracker live stats and live Twitter updates @TexasVolleyball.
Notes: Texas is advancing to its fourth NCAA national title match (1988, 1995 and 2009)…this was the third time in NCAA post-season history that Texas rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win a match (2010 NCAA Regional final against Illinois and 1995 national semifinal against Stanford…Texas has now won 22 of its last 23 matches (only loss was Nov. 24 at Iowa State)…Texas is now 3-0 all-time against Michigan (all three wins in post-season play)…Texas is hitting .379 in the post-season…Texas is now 4-2 in five-set matches this season…Texas is 6-2 when splitting the first two sets this season…Texas is 27-2 this season when posting more blocks than its opponents (tonight was 14.5 vs. 8.5)…Sarah Palmer’s previous career high was 26 digs, recorded on Nov. 10, 2010, against Baylor…Hannah Allison had six blocks on Oct. 19, 2011, at Baylor…Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott was earlier named the 2012 AVCA Division I National Coach of the Year.