OMAHA, Neb. -- The decade-long quest for a third NCAA title ended in celebration Saturday as Texas defeated Louisville 3-0 to win the women's volleyball national championship.
The big-hitting Longhorns were too much for the Cardinals, winning 25-22, 25-14 and 26-24. Texas was powered by AVCA national player of the year Logan Eggleston, who had 19 kills and seven digs and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
The overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, Texas was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll in August but spent all but one week of the regular season ranked in the top spot. The Longhorns dropped to No. 2 after their only loss of the season, 3-2 at Iowa State on Oct. 19, but were back at the top the next week.
This was, indeed, the Longhorns' season, almost wire to wire. The program previously won NCAA titles in 1988 and 2012. Both of those were also sweeps over Hawai'i and then Oregon.
"I'm just so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to have a fifth year and come back," said Eggleston, whose kill total was the second-best in her career for a three-set match. "We can actually say we won our last game, and it feels amazing."
The Longhorns won Saturday at CHI Health Center, where they have faced deep disappointment before. They lost the national championship match to Nebraska here in 2015 and to Kentucky in 2021 (that was officially the 2020 title, although it was played in the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
That Kentucky victory brought the SEC its first volleyball title, and Louisville was trying to do the same for the ACC on Saturday. The Cardinals were appearing in the final four for the second season in a row and defeated fellow ACC team Pittsburgh 3-2 in the national semifinals Thursday.
It has been a swift ascent to national prominence in six seasons at Louisville for coach Dani Busboom Kelly, who won volleyball titles as a player (2006) and assistant coach (2015) with Nebraska in this arena. She was attempting to become the first woman to win the NCAA Division I volleyball title as a head coach and also give Louisville its first national championship in a sport other than men's basketball.
After Texas dominated the second set, Louisville had a chance to extend the match with two set points in the third set, leading 24-22. But Texas won the last four points to take the title, on kills by Asjia O'Neal and Eggleston, a Louisville attack error and a service ace from Keonilei Acana.
"It felt like if we get to [the fourth set] we had a great chance to win," said Busboom Kelly, whose Cardinals finished the season 31-3. "It's very disappointing when you have a swing to win the set. But it's also pretty amazing to be in that position, and something we're going to learn from.
"These opportunities are incredibly hard to get. But we're going to look back on this season and be thankful for so many things. We've changed the program, the city, the fans."
The Longhorns were appearing in their 14th NCAA final four and their eighth NCAA final. They didn't compete in the first NCAA tournament, in 1981, as Texas opted to play in the final AIAW tournaments that school year and won the last AIAW title in volleyball.
The Longhorns' 1988 NCAA title came behind coach Mick Haley, who was at Texas' helm from 1980 to 1996 before leaving to guide the U.S. women's national team. Jim Moore coached the Longhorns from 1997 to 2000. But after Texas had its first -- and still only -- losing season in 2000, Moore was replaced by Jerritt Elliott, who then was interim head coach for USC.
The Longhorns have made the NCAA tournament every year but one under Elliott and have won at least 23 matches in 20 of his 22 seasons. This year, Texas finished 28-1, the best record in school history. Elliott's 2012 championship team went 29-4, and the program had multiple chances since to add another NCAA trophy until doing so Saturday.
Elliott has been through his share of heartbreaks -- among them, Texas being up 2-0 on Penn State in the 2009 NCAA final but falling 3-2 -- but he said Saturday's match was the one he wanted to win the most.
"Because of the two women sitting beside me," he said, referring to Eggleston and O'Neal. "And also the other 16 women that were battling every day in our gym. As a coach, when you manage teams, there's a lot of problems sometimes. This team, I didn't have one the entire season. Everybody gave; they were committed to the process.
"Why it was so important to me was because this was a life lesson. They're going to be leaders someday in the community, and to remember the giving they gave to one another ... they did it."
Eggleston said the Longhorns' one loss this season -- a 3-2 defeat at Iowa State in October -- actually was helpful.
"We learned a lot about ourselves as players and a team through that," Eggleston said. "We were committed to getting better. If we hadn't lost that game, I don't know if some of the conversations we had and areas we improved would have happened."
Texas has continued to be a powerhouse. But the growth in the sport displayed by programs such as Louisville has made getting to the regionals, let alone the final four, more difficult. This year, Texas swept Fairleigh Dickinson and Georgia in the first two rounds, then won its regional matches 3-1 against Marquette and Ohio State. The Longhorns also beat San Diego 3-1 in Thursday's national semifinal.
Just in terms of the physicality and leaping ability, the sport has come a long way. Elliott made reference to coaching his first final four on the women's side, in 2000, when he was at USC.
"My two outside hitters were touching 9 feet, 10 inches and 9-11. Now if you're not at 10-3, 10-4, you're pretty small," he said. "So the game changes, and the coaching has developed. There's so much science behind it. There's so much numbers, analytics behind it. People can study the game and manage the game. There's a lot more information out there than there was 10, 15 years ago."
And of Eggleston, who joins former Longhorn Bailey Webster (2012) in winning the tournament's most outstanding player honor, Elliott gave the outside hitter the ultimate compliment.
"To become one of the greats in any sport, you've got to win a championship," he said. "And Logan did that now. So she puts herself on an extremely elite level. What she's done for this university, to take advantage of every resource possible, what she's given in every aspect ... I wouldn't be surprised if we have a statue at some point for her on campus."