OMAHA, Neb. -- The Texas Longhorns women's volleyball team is in familiar territory: back in the NCAA championship match. Meanwhile, their opponent in Saturday's final, the Louisville Cardinals, will be there for the first time, as will the ACC as a league.
Texas, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, beat the San Diego Toreros 3-1 on Thursday, which was followed by the Cardinals' 3-2 win over their conference rival, the Pittsburgh Panthers.
This will be the Longhorns' eighth appearance in the NCAA title match, which ties them with UCLA for the fourth most. Only Stanford (17), Penn State (10) and Nebraska (10) have played for the NCAA championship more. Texas won NCAA titles in 2012 and 1988 and took the final AIAW championship in 1981.
The ACC had only one representative at volleyball's final four before the back-to-back appearances by Louisville and Pitt the past two seasons. That was Florida State, which lost in the national semifinals in 2011. Both the Cardinals and Panthers lost in the semifinals last year.
Not only is this ACC breakthrough historically notable for volleyball, but so is Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly's appearance in the final. She is just the second woman head coach in the NCAA championship match, following the Florida Gators' Mary Wise in 2003 and 2017.
"Dani has just done so much for this program," Louisville outside hitter Anna DeBeer said. "She's a badass. She knows what she wants, she makes us work hard, we want to work hard for her."
DeBeer and teammate Elena Scott combined for 10 aces, the most by one team in a national semifinal match in the past 10 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
DeBeer was at the service line for the first eight points of the fifth set, which turned into a remarkable 15-2 rout for the Cardinals after Pitt had rallied to win the fourth set.
"I knew if I could just be aggressive and get them out of system at the beginning of that set, it would help us a lot," DeBeer said. "I really wanted to get a nice serve going, and it ended up being more than I expected."
Claire Chaussee had 25 kills to lead Louisville, which was 31-2 this season.
The Cardinals and Longhorns did not meet in the regular season.
The Longhorns have knocked on the door several times since their last NCAA title a decade ago, including their final loss two seasons ago to Kentucky here in Omaha. But they hope to push through that door this year.
"It's about handling our emotions," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said of preparing for the championship. "I've got a lot of trust in this group in terms of our routines. I've been really impressed with their resilience and the way they want to fight. They really want to earn this thing, and now they've got that chance."
Texas' only loss this season came 3-2 at Iowa State on Oct. 19. But it has lost the first set in five matches, including Thursday, 28-26. The Longhorns have won all of those matches, finishing off the Toreros 25-16, 25-18, 25-20.
"The first set was not our perfect set," Texas opposite hitter Molly Phillips said. "It feels awesome to go out and play perfect volleyball and sweep a team. But it's an even better feeling to not play the perfect game, grind through the hard times and beat a team in four sets like that."
Madisen Skinner led Texas with 17 kills, Logan Eggleston had 16 and Phillips 14. Thursday's semifinal pitted a Texas program that was in its 14th NCAA final four against a San Diego program in its first. The Toreros were the No. 2 seed in their region and defeated top-seeded Stanford on the Cardinal's home court in the elite eight. San Diego finished the season 31-2.
"What an incredible season for San Diego volleyball," said the Toreros' Jennifer Petrie, who was named the AVCA Division I coach of the year earlier Thursday. "I could not be more proud of these girls. ... The belief that they had that we deserved to be here. We earned the right to be here, and we made a statement for that. Kudos to Texas, who is a very, very good team. One we pushed tonight, and we battled with."
Saturday's final will be at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2. With the Nebraska Cornhuskers not competing in Omaha, Louisville is the closest thing to a fan favorite because of Busboom Kelly. She is a Nebraska native and won NCAA titles with the Huskers as a player (2006) and assistant coach (2015), both in Omaha.
Busboom Kelly joked that there was another reason her team would be the crowd's pick in the final, considering how the Huskers and Longhorns used to be fierce rivals in the Big 12 conference before Nebraska moved to the Big Ten.
"I saw a quote from somebody, probably on Twitter, that said, 'Nebraska doesn't forget their own,' and I was hoping they'd be behind us," Busboom Kelly said. "I will be really surprised if any Nebraskans are cheering for Texas on Saturday."