Texas deals with another lost lead in tourney

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
1:41
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the Texas Longhorns, the feeling -- and the scoreboard -- were all too familiar: the two-set lead in a women's volleyball tournament environs, the one-set-away-from-victory mentality and the reminder that -- as in their loss to Stanford last year in an NCAA tournament semifinal -- even an early lead doesn't guarantee a win.

The Longhorns started strong in the national championship match against the two-time defending champion, undefeated Penn State, at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night. Texas established a rhythmic offense and notched 16 kills in the first set to Penn State's 11. The second set was even more lopsided, with the Longhorns totaling 17 kills and a .500 attack percentage, while the Nittany Lions managed only 10 kills and a .375 attack percentage.

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Destinee Hooker and Teammates
AP Photo/Mike Carlson Destinee Hooker and the Longhorns lost a 2-0 lead to Penn State in the championship match.

"Going into the locker room up 2-0, you obviously have to know that Penn State is No. 1 for a reason," Texas junior outside hitter Juliann Faucette said. "You can't let up, you can't relax, and they definitely fought back and made some huge adjustments."

The Nittany Lions' defense broke through in the third and fourth sets, stopping several Texas kill attempts and forcing long rallies that drew exclamations from the crowd, before forcing a fifth set and winning it 15-13 -- and the national championship.

"It was just an all-out brawl and a really good match," Faucette said. "It swings both ways, and we just fell short."

They fell short in nearly the same way as a year ago. In the 2008 semifinal loss to Stanford, Texas led two sets to none before collapsing to force a fifth set -- which Texas also lost by two points, 13-15.

"The ball bounces kind of a funny way sometimes; I'm just extremely proud of our team," said coach Jerritt Elliott, whose Longhorns finished the season 29-2 (19-1 in the Big 12). "They fought the entire way, and they can walk away from this knowing the year that they had."

While they didn't tally the kind of numbers Penn State did, the Longhorns still finished as an inarguable success story.

"We've had a lot of firsts this year," said senior outside hitter and NCAA tournament MVP Destinee Hooker. "Winning the Big 12 outright, winning in Nebraska [3-1 in the Omaha Regional final] and actually beating Nebraska in front of 10,000 people in Omaha. It's just a blessing."

Hooker ended her Texas career as the Longhorns' postseason leader in kills (295), attack attempts (638) and service aces (28). Her total of 122 postseason kills this year is a school record, a number that also led all players in this year's tournament.

All-tournament team

Libero: Hailey Cowles, Minnesota

Middle blocker: Arielle Wilson, Penn State

Setter: Alisha Glass, Penn State

Setter: Ashley Engle, Texas

Outside hitter: Megan Hodge, Penn State

Outside hitter: Juliann Faucette, Texas

Outside hitter: Destinee Hooker, Texas (MVP)

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