Third-seeded Texas sweeps Oregon for NCAA title
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Bailey Webster played little in Texas' previous NCAA volleyball championship game appearance three years ago but became quite experienced with the postseason as the Longhorns reached two more semifinals.
That seasoning paid off for the junior Saturday night when she helped Texas win a national championship.
Webster had 14 kills, Haley Eckerman added 12 and the third-seeded Longhorns swept Oregon for its first NCAA title since 1988. Texas won 25-11, 26-24, 25-19.
"All I remember about this match is that we did the whole thing together," said Webster, who finished with a .500 hitting percentage and four block assists and was voted the tournament's most outstanding player. "I really think we won this because we were such a team out there."
Texas (29-4) has been a recent regular at volleyball's Final Four, making its fourth appearance in five years and playing in its first title game since 2009. The Longhorns lost to Penn State in five sets after leading 2-0.
This time they took care of business for their second title in four tries, recording their third sweep in the past four matches. When it ended the Longhorns swarmed the court to celebrate, with sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell jumping on coach Jerritt Elliott's back.
"I've been in this thing a lot of times and finally we broke through," Elliott said about winning his first title as a coach. "This has been a long time coming."
But the Longhorns ended up making quick work of the Ducks by dominating the net, outblocking Oregon 15-1. Texas also outhit the Ducks .438-.202.
Leading the way was Webster, a first-team AVCA All-American outside hitter. She was injured during Texas' 2010 semifinal appearance but bounced back to be the 2011 Big 12 Conference player of the year and lead the Longhorns and enter this year's Final Four with a .519 postseason hitting percentage.
On Saturday Webster was part of a Texas effort that shut down AVCA Division I player of the year Alaina Bergsma, whose nine kills were also matched by nine errors. Many of her attempts were blocked as the Longhorns' defense keyed on her.
Liz Brenner and Katherine Fischer each had 13 kills for fifth-seeded Oregon (30-5), which made its first title-game appearance.
"I don't know what it means to Texas; I know that it hurts for us to lose it," Ducks coach Jim Moore said.
A crowd of 16,448 attended the game, the second-largest for an NCAA tournament final.
Texas beat Oregon for the third time in four meetings.
Oregon had hoped to use up-tempo offense and solid defense to put Texas in a quick hole and not allow the Longhorns' dominant hitting game to get going. That was asking a lot considering Texas led the nation in hitting percentage (.322) coming in and used it to dominate Michigan in the first and fourth sets on Thursday.
Lost in all the talk about the Longhorns' offense was their strong defense, which they showed in the opening set. Texas built a 12-4 lead behind four blocks including two each by Webster and Molly McCage.
Texas often had two defenders at the net ready for Oregon returns and at one point had almost as many blocks (seven) as Oregon points (eight).
The Longhorns quickly closed out a 25-11 win, led by Webster's five kills and three blocks.
"We all wanted it really badly, and sometimes that can get in the way of your play," Fischer said of the Ducks' first-set play.
The second set was more even, although Oregon held several small leads thanks to five kills by Fischer and three by Ariana Williams. But Texas wiped out a 17-13 deficit with two Webster kills and a block and kill by senior Sha'Dare McNeal, who finished with eight kills and four block assists.
The Longhorns tied it again at 23 as Webster scored three of the Longhorns' final four points for a 26-24 win and a two-set advantage.
"I think it was just timing the hitters and knowing their shots," McNeal said of Texas' blocking.
Having been in this position just three years ago, Texas methodically finished off Oregon in the third set.
The Longhorns' left side helped build a 9-6 lead before Webster returned to help make it 14-9. Oregon answered with three straight points to close to 14-12, but Texas closed with an 11-7 run as Webster, Bell and McCage sealed the net and Haley Eckerman added two kills down the stretch.
Sarah Palmer contributed eight digs for Texas.
Bailey said the Longhorns didn't discuss their last title game appearance, adding that their focus was on closing out the match.
"We were just positive the whole time and acting like nothing had happened before," she said. "We just took it one point at a time."
That simple approach by Texas provided a long-awaited championship.
"To me, getting to the Final Four is one of the hardest things to do in sports," Elliott said, "and to get there four out of five years says a lot about where our program is. I've talked to so many great coaches and I just said, 'What's the key?'
"They said, 'Just keep getting back to the Final Four and giving yourself a chance.'"
Release from Oregon Media Services
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In the 32nd annual NCAA Championship, the #3-seeded University of Texas (29-4) ended the greatest volleyball season by the University of Oregon (30-5) with a 3-0 decision Saturday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
The Longhorns won their second national title in eight Final Four trips - this time by a 25-11, 26-24, 25-19 count - in front of the second-largest NCAA Final crowd (16,448).
"Texas played very well," Oregon head coach Jim Moore said. "They blocked great, and passed great. We knew that if we were going to be successful we had to serve tough. Kudos to Texas for their passing - they stayed in system - but we didn't apply pressure like we needed to either."
The national leader in hitting (with its .322 prior season average), UT logged a UO opponent season-high mark (.438). That opponent mark was only the second this year above .300 in 35 matches, and first above .400.
In comparison, Oregon hit .202 - its fourth-lowest mark of the campaign.
The Longhorns also proved formidable at the net defensively. Ranked ninth nationally in blocks per set, UT posted 15.0 on the evening - the most by a UO foe among the season's 22 three-set contests.
In other team comparisons, Oregon held edges in kills (46-43), assists (45-38) and digs (37-33), and UT sported advantages in aces (2-1), fewest service errors (3-7) and blocks (15-1).
Individually for Oregon, senior outside hitter Katherine Fischer led the team in hitting (.375) for the fifth time this season, thanks to her 12th +.300 effort of '12. She added eight digs to fall just shy of her eighth double-double of the season and 37th career-wise.
"Since they were doubling Alaina on the block, I was able to get a lot of looks with only one blocker," Fischer said. "I also like tooling the block - that's what I do - and that worked pretty well, too. Unfortunately we didn't start well tonight, mostly because of our nerves. We all wanted it really badly, and that got in the way. Once we got over it, we showed we could play with them in the second and third sets."
The Los Altos, Calif., native also shared top kill honors (13) with sophomore outside hitter Liz Brenner.
Freshman middle blocker Canace Finley logged her ninth +.400 effort (.429) of the season (and fourth of the postseason) after she converted five of her seven attempts for kills.
Senior libero Haley Jacob topped the team in digs (10) for the 28th time this season and 78th contest career-wise.
Other noteworthy stats came from senior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma (9 kills, 1 ace, 1 block) and junior setter Lauren Plum (41 assists).
"Our passing was good tonight, so I don't think that was part of why they blocked so well," Bergsma said. "We have seen big blocks before. Unfortunately we didn't make a lot of good choices at times. It's a tough way to end the season, but we proved a lot of people wrong all year long, so making it to the final means it's a bright future for our program."
On all-time Duck lists, Fischer climbed a spot on career lists for attack attempts (sixth, 3,477) and digs (1,187), and Brenner also jumped two spots on the Oregon all-time season list for points (522.5).
Individually for UT, Bailey Webster topped the Big 12 champions in kills (14) and hitting (.500), and fellow All-American Haley Eckerman followed close behind (12 kills, .400, 1 ace).
Other Longhorn category leaders included Hannah Allison (35 assists), Sarah Palmer (11 digs), Kat Brooks (1 ace) and Molly McCage (8 blocks).
"Before the match, we weren't sure exactly how to defend them," Moore said, "and we didn't figure it out until the second set. Our players might have been too calm beforehand, and didn't play as aggressively as we needed to. They also played really well, and we knew how talented several of their players were."
After the match, Bergsma and Brenner were tabbed to the NCAA All-Tournament Team with Lexi Erwin of Michigan, and the Texas quartet of Allison, Eckerman, Sha'Dare McNeal and Webster.
Saturday's contest capped an amazing season for the Ducks who had never advanced further than their three prior NCAA Round of 16 appearances (including two others under their eighth-year mentor Moore).
The Ducks now sport a 10-6 postseason mark in his tenure, compared to a 1-5 ledger in their four other trips (1984, '86, '87, '89) since the first NCAA tourney in 1981.
Oregon's road to Louisville started two weeks ago in Eugene with 3-0 sweeps of Big Sky tourney champion Northern Colorado and AVCA No. 13-ranked Dayton.
In last weekend's third- and fourth-round Regional tilts in Omaha, the Ducks staked 3-1 victories over #12 seed BYU and #4 seed Nebraska. Bergsma added the tourney's Most Outstanding Player award, and the junior pair of middle blocker Ariana Williams and Plum were also tabbed to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team.
With its 3-1 win over top-ranked Penn State in Thursday's semifinal, UO has staked all three of victories vs. top-ranked teams the past two years among its 22 showdowns in school history. Before Moore's arrival, Oregon's previous highest-ranked victim were three No. 7 teams three decades before - Stanford (1986), Hawai'i ('84) and Texas ('82).
With its second-place Pac-12 finish, Oregon celebrated its best-ever league placing in 27 years of Pac-12 play, and two places better than its fourth-place efforts in 2008, 1989, '87 and '86.
Oregon's regular-season win tally (30) eclipsed its former best (27-12, 1984) since the start of the NCAA volleyball era in 1981.
UO eclipsed 20 victories at record pace after it also achieved the feat four times before under Moore in 2007 (22), '08 (25), '09 (20) and '11 (21). For comparison's sake, UO achieved the feat once before ('89 - 21) in the other 19 years of conference play that started in 1986.
Moore now sports an all-time career record of 166-86 in his eight seasons. Ranked top 20 the entire season in the AVCA national polls, the Ducks opened the year ranked No. 20 in the preseason edition. Afterwards, among the 13 regular season editions, UO scored eight, top-five rankings with its three No. 2 pollings, two more at both No. 3 and No. 4, and one at No. 5.
Oregon ended with a 12-5 record against 2012 NCAA advancers, including a 7-4 mark vs. top 16 seeds (with sweeps of #4 USC, #7 UCLA and #16 Kentucky and 3-1 victories over #1 Penn State, #10 Nebraska, #12 BYU and #13 Washington, and losses to #2 Stanford (twice) and #13 UW). Remaining wins over non-seeded teams came vs. Ohio State, St. Mary's, California and Arizona State (twice), and the loss was to California.
This week has been an equally memorable one for UO on the national awards circuit.
Bergsma, Oregon's first-ever AVCA National and Pac-12 Player of the Year, was joined on the AVCA All-America First Team with junior and Pac-12 Setter of the Year Lauren Plum. Brenner was accorded her first honor and was a second-team pick.
Bergsma also picked up her first Capital One Academic All-America Third-Team selection, thanks to her 3.61 GPA in business. Fischer picked her second straight Academic All-America First Team nod, and third overall, thanks to her 4.01 GPA in accounting.
Among the 18 players selected on the three Academic All-America teams, the duo were the only selections that played in the NCAA semifinals, and Oregon was the only program among the 330 NCAA Division 1 teams that had multiple honorees.
Oregon's offense keyed its greatest season ever, as the Ducks again led the nation in kills this week (15.97 per set), and also ranked first in assists (14.91) and ninth in hitting.
On the individual front, Plum topped the nation in assists for the 13th straight week (13.39 per set) - and was 1.03 ahead of Aubrey Kirven of Towson (second, 12.36).
Bergsma also stood top five in two national categories (kills, fourth, 4.93; points, fifth, 5.43). Other Ducks with top-150 rankings included Williams (hitting, 58th, .353), Bergsma (hitting, 75th, .340), Brenner (kills, 73rd, 3.89 p/s; points, 73rd, 4.36 p/s) and Jacob (digs, 123rd, 4.37).
On the all-time Duck season lists, Oregon's final team hitting percentage (.289) tied its school record from '08.
A trio of seniors left quite a dent on the UO career charts, and their final rankings follow - Bergsma (points, third, 1,568.5; kills, fifth, 1,421; hitting, fifth, .278; attacks, eighth, 3,419); Jacob (digs, second, 1,577; digs per set, second, 4.01) and Fischer (points, fifth, 1440; attacks, sixth, 3,477; digs, sixth, 1,187; aces, eighth, 114; kills, 10th, 1,235).
Two other Ducks also owned multiple top-10 career rankings - Plum (assists per set, first, 12.30; assists, second, 4,194) and Williams (hitting, third, .311; points, ninth, .935.5).
On season charts, Ducks with top-10 rankings in 2012 included Bergsma (points, second, 631.5; points per set, second, 5.35; kills per set, fifth, 4.85; hitting, sixth, .325; kills, seventh, 572, attacks, seventh, 1,257); Plum (assists, second, 1,618; assists per set, second, 13.37); Jacob (digs, fourth, 525; digs per set, sixth, 4.45); Williams (hitting, fifth, .334); and Brenner (points per set, fifth, 4.39; points, seventh, 522.5).