Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield was emphatic in his claim.
“We didn’t walk backwards into this,” he told reporters when questioned about being the lowest seed in the NCAA volleyball Final Four field at KeyArena. The Badgers were the only team of the final four that didn’t have to defeat a seeded team to advance to Seattle.
Seeded 12th, Wisconsin was expected to be exposed Thursday at KeyArena when it faced defending champion Texas, the top seed in the tournament.
The Badgers (28-9) had other ideas. And in the deciding set, the 5-foot-7 Deme Morales had two eye-popping kills to emphatically finish off Wisconsin’s upset win over Texas (27-3).
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“We’re just a bunch of ballers,” Wisconsin freshman setter Lauren Carlini said after their 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23 victory.
Wisconsin used an impressive service game mixed with strong defense to keep itself in a match against a bigger, stronger hitting Texas.
The Longhorns were out of sync, collecting 23 hitting errors and nine service errors in the match. All-American junior Haley Eckerman was particularly off, getting 17 kills on 60 attempts with nine errors for a .133 hitting percentage.
Texas’ uncharacteristic play was particularly evident during the second set as Wisconsin built a 19-10 lead. Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott even switched setters from Hannah Allison to Chloe Collins and back again, in an effort to shake his team up.
It was Morales, the shortest player at her position in the Big Ten, coming up with the key scores to nullify her 13 errors for a .024 hitting percentage in the match.
“It’s not like hitting in the net is anything new,” Morales said of making hitting errors. “Before it used to really bother me when I was younger. But going through all this and going up against huge blockers; it fires me up. It’s like, ‘OK, I just have to keep going at them.’ ”
Added Sheffield: “We might have set a world record tonight on the number of times we got blocked. So, our hitting percentage doesn’t look great, which probably makes it even more impressive that we’re able to win.”
Wisconsin senior libero Annemarie Hickey led three Badgers with double-figure stats in digs with 21. The Badgers had 72 overall.
“There’s just no words right now,” Carlini said. “We never expected that we were going to get this far. … I don’t think anyone is happier than us right now.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.