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Third Time's a Charm

UT volleyball makes Final Four, again

By Will Eidam, 5:20PM, Tue. Dec. 14, 2010

Destinee Hooker
Destinee Hooker
Photo courtesy of UT

"The Texas Longhorns' volleyball program is heading to the Final Four!" Sound familiar? It's happened the last three years. But you know what would be a welcomed changed? "The Texas Longhorns' volleyball program has won the National Championship!" Let's take a look at how this team stacks up against the past two UT teams to make it to the Final Four.

Regular Season Record:
2008: 25-3
2009: 27-1
2010: 23-5

Signs of Domination:

2008: Nothing really. They lost to powerhouses Stanford and Nebraska early in the year, but then rebounded in the second half to win their last nine matches to share the Big XII title with Nebraska.

2009: Other than going 27-1 with the lone loss being a five-game set vs. a quality Iowa State team? How about only losing 14 sets all year? Compared to '08s 25 and '10s 31, that's pretty impressive. To start Big XII play they won 39 of their first 40 sets. They were the team to beat that year …

2010: Since losing to the tournament's No. 2 seed, Nebraska (eliminated in Round of 16), Texas has won 20 matches in a row, only having to go to a fifth set once, against No. 8 seed Illinois. The other three teams in the Final Four have win streaks of nine, four, and three.

Star Player:

2008: Destinee Hooker: She wasn't just the best Big 12 female athlete in volleyball, she was the best in all sports, winning Big 12 Conference Female Athlete of the Year. Oh yeah, she was just a junior.

2009: Destinee Hooker: As a senior she continued to dominate, sharing the NCAA Volleyball Player of the Year Award with Penn State's Megan Hodge.

2010: Juliann Faucette: A third team all-American in '09, Faucette picked up where Hooker left off and won the Big 12 Volleyball Player of the Year award, making that three years in a row that the award has gone to a Longhorn.

Key Stat:

2008: Nothing really. Again, this was a team that was just beginning their dynasty. It was the first time Texas had been to the semifinals since 1995 and that's really the stat that stands out. Their attack percentage, digs per game, and points per game (points scored not resulting from opponents' error) are just about in line with their '09 stats, but every other stat is dominated by the '09 team. All of this was a sign that the following year was going to be a special one. And it was, thanks to Destinee Hooker.

2009: All Destinee Hour: Whereas in '08 and '10 when at least four players on the team had more than 200 kills, only two players reached that total, with Faucette racking up 330 and Hooker amassing a staggering 526. Put it this way: While '10 Faucette and '08 Hooker won Big 12 Player of the Year honors, they had about 4 kills a game. In '09 Hooker had 5. Those kills add up.

2010: Share the Wealth: Faucette may have won the Player of the Year award, but everyone on this team is contributing. Five players have more than 200 kills (Faucette leads with 451) and two players, junior Michelle Kocher and freshman Allison Hannah, have more than 590 assists. Compared to '08 and '09 when only one player each year had more than 400 assists, including Kocher's freshman year when she was accountable for 84% of all assists, it's a shared responsibility this year.

Path To Final Four:

2008: Being ranked No. 3 in the tourney, you think you're going to have an easy path to the Final Four, but not this easy. The three other teams seeded in the Top 4 had to play at least one game against a Top 10 opponent, but Texas only had to get past No. 14 UCLA in the Round of 16. Unseeded Iowa State took care of No. 6 Minnesota and No. 11 Oregon State for Texas, only to lose to the Longhorns in the quarterfinals.

2009: After putting away Texas State and TCU in the opening rounds, No. 2 seed Texas got to play Big XII opponents Texas A&M and No. 10 Nebraska, two teams Texas had taken 12 out of 13 sets from in the regular season. It was a cake walk.

2010: Despite the 20-match win streak to end the season, Texas' early losses forced them to accept the No. 9 seed and go up against supposedly harder competition. Fortunately, the Longhorns hosted a regional this year and got to have home field advantage against No. 8 Illinois, which they won 3-2, and avoided having to play the No. 1 team in the country, Florida, who got upset by No. 16 Purdue. While some players might have wanted the opportunity to avenge the 3-2 loss against Florida from earlier in the year, I'm sure all of them didn't mind facing an overmatched Purdue team to get to the Final Four for the third year in a row.

Strength of Final Four:

2008: The four top-seeded teams made the Final Four. Need I say more? Strength: 10 out of 10 2009: The good news: Texas got to play No. 11 Minnesota in the semifinals, with a chance to play No. 13 Hawaii in the championship. The bad news: Hawaii was playing No. 1 Penn State, a team that was on a 99-match winning streak. Texas would go on to face a team that had won 100 matches in a row. Strength: 8 out of 10 (Penn State accounted for 10 of the 8, while Minnesota and Hawaii accounted for -2.)

2010: It's the year of mediocrity (or parity, whichever you prefer): Every team Texas could face is vulnerable, even five loss Penn State. Going into the Final Four, Texas is the hottest team, clicking on all cylinders since September. Strength: 6 out of 10.

Chances of National Championship

2008: Sure, they were a No. 3 seed, but as a team that was going up against three volleyball teams that had been powerhouses since the '90s, Texas had more of a "just happy to be there" mentality.

2009: In hindsight, Texas had a great chance, winning the first two sets against the Nittany Lions, only to lose the next three. But without hindsight, Texas stood little chance against a Penn State team that was destined for victory.

2010: If Texas beats Penn State in the semifinal, worst case scenario is that they go up against No. 6 seed USC. This is the most balanced team Texas has brought to the Final Four and they're going up against the weakest semifinal grouping of the past couple of years. For a team that lost four of their first nine games, they have the best shot of winning the National Championship and I have them favored to win it all. Who'd have thunk it?

More talk about the Penn State matchup later in the week.

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