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Michigan falls to No. 3 Texas in five sets at first-ever Final Four

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 13, 2012

Leading 16-11, the Longhorns cruised to a set victory on the momentum of a 7-0 run.

Morales and freshman defensive specialist Lindsey Lerg — who combined for 28 digs on the night — dove all over the court as Texas’ .455 attack percentage in the fourth set overpowered Michigan’s defense.

And then fatigue set in.

The Wolverines, gassed and running on the last bit of energy it had in its season, were not prepared for five sets. Dannemiller, who quietly quarterbacked her team with a 52 assists and 11 digs, managed to find the right hitters, but could not have accounted for a strong defense.

Texas libero Sarah Palmer recorded a career-high 31 digs on the night, managing to make an opportunity for Texas when it appeared one didn’t exist. Her teammates in front contributed 14.5 blocks as well, slowing down juniors outside hitter Molly Toon and middle blocker Jennifer Cross — something few teams managed to do.

With the match on the line in the fifth set, the Longhorns came out firing without missing a beat from a strong fourth set. Texas quickly moved out to a 4-0 lead to begin the set and shifting momentum in its favor.

But the Wolverines made up the deficit, tying the game at eight, with just seven points to go in the shortened set. Both teams, with their season in jeopardy, came out with adrenaline, but it was Texas who stayed in control.

“They’re the most athletic team we’ve seen,” Rosen said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re the best team that’s going to win it all, but as far as just physical athleticism and size, they’re as good as we’ve seen. It’s a game of inches at times. They just executed a little bit better than we in the end there.”

The Wolverines, having finally met a team able to stop its momentum, walked off with looks not of disappointment, but surprise. The team that held on in five sets against Tennessee, closed out a pivotal fourth set at No. 9 Louisville, beat its rival in the Sweet 16 and upset Stanford, had been in the position before.

But with seven freshmen on its team and only one senior, a team that lacked experience from the beginning of season needed more to continue with the unpredictable run.

There are no more practices. No more games. No more tomorrows. A season that looked like it would be over following six losses in eight games in the middle of October, was salvaged by a hot streak that propelled Michigan.

“It wasn’t always easy,” Erwin said. “We definitely had a lot to figure out at the beginning of the season. We had some chemistry issues, but I think we were really honest with each other and figured out our differences in order to be connected.”

But there is another season ahead.

“We’re going to make sure we work really hard to get to the next stage," Rosen said. "We can’t rest on this season; it will be a new season next year. We have to make sure that we build a team and a culture just like we did this year, and better.”

For a team that didn’t set expectations at the beginning of their season, the Wolverines will have eight months to prepare themselves for another run. The next one won't be as unpredictable.