The #5 Oregon Ducks Women’s Volleyball team hosted the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday and Saturday night, something they have not done since 1986. They won both of their matches in convincing fashion, posting 3-0 victories against both the Northern Colorado Bears and the Dayton Flyers.
Because it has been as long as it has since the Ducks have hosted a volleyball tournament, they could understandably be forgiven for being a bit over-hyped and excited. It showed, especially in their first match against the Bears. When taking into account the emotional makeup of any team, the excitement of hosting can be a good thing, but it can also have its downside. As Coach Jim Moore would explain after the conclusion of Saturday’s portion of the first round, “I believe that the first time you host an NCAA event it’s the most difficult matches there is to win. Obviously, I never told (my players) that. It’s hard, because you’re supposed to win – you’re at home. They did a fabulous job of keeping their emotions in check and doing what they’re supposed to do.” While the team’s excitement at playing in front of the home crowd showed, they did indeed overcome the excitement and jitters and played solid volleyball in both matches.
The Friday night opener featured the Ducks against the Northern Colorado Bears. The Bears were hoping for a better showing than they ended up posting, and were disappointed in that they felt their play was good coming into the tournament. “The match was a little faster than we were accustomed to. At times we adjusted to that. We couldn’t sustain that speed on our side,” explained Bears coach Lyndsey Oates. On the Ducks side, Coach Moore felt that the ball distribution could have been better than it was, with Alaina Bergsma topping the Duck scorers with 15 kills on the night. The story of the first game was more than just the Alaina Bergsma show, however. The Bears only had Kelly Arnold and Tambre Haddock scoring over 8 points for the match, while for the Ducks it was Canace Finley, Liz Brenner, Ariana Williams, and Bergsma with more than 8 points — 8 for Finley, 11 for Brenner and Williams, and 17 for Bergsma. The Bears were simply not able to withstand the Ducks’ speed and firepower, and the Ducks were able to withstand the lulls in their play, especially in the 2nd set. The Ducks won in straight sets, 25-14, 25-19, 25-18.
Saturday night’s match pitted the Ducks against the winner of Friday’s Pepperdine/Dayton matchup, the Dayton Flyers. Dayton’s previous match with Pepperdine was a hard fought match that had gone to 5 sets. One might argue that the match the day before didn’t leave the Flyers with quite enough fuel to go against the Ducks, but in reality it was more a case of the Ducks being more focused on their play and aggressively going after the ball. “I thought (the Ducks) were awesome in terms of anticipating the ball … I knew in the first four points that it was going to be a bad night for Dayton, because all four of those balls could have landed and not one of them landed,” explained Coach Moore. The Ducks were aggressive on digs and won the day on blocks as well, with 12 blocks to the Flyers’ 6. Better ball distribution was also apparent, with Finley and especially Liz Brenner coming up big with 10 and 15.5 points respectively. Dayton’s Rachel Krabacher had an outstanding game with 18.5 points, but again it wasn’t enough to overcome the Ducks’ firepower. Dayton had some fight in them, however, and played fairly close in the middle of the 3rd set before Ariana Williams scored 4 kills in a row. Some mistakes by the Ducks and bad luck brought some hope for the Flyers, but the Ducks closed out the 3rd set and the match with some excellent blocking. Oregon took the second match in straight sets, 25-15, 25-20, 25-21.
The Ducks volleyball team now enters the second round, after sailing through a first round in which it was expected they would dominate. From here on out they are not likely to post twice the attack percentage and blocks that they have in these first two matches. They will have to keep the energy and aggression up, and count on the excellent ball distribution skills of Lauren Plum, whose tournament play has been outstanding thus far. They know what they’re up against. They know they have to keep their heads in the game regardless of the competition. Coach Moore reminded us, and reminds them, that we’ve heard this from a different Oregon coach but the mantra is still true:
“It’s one play at a time.”
The Ducks enter the second round against #12 BYU on Friday, December 7th. The winner of that match will play the winner of #4 Nebraska vs. #13 Washington. The competition looks to be ranked from here on out, and for these Ducks to go deep in the tournament they will indeed need to take it one play at a time.
Pictures provided by Morgan L. Blackwell