After two great NCAA National Semifinal matches on Thursday, it all comes down to this. Texas and Oregon will meet tonight at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2 for the right to hoist the National Championship trophy. On paper the two teams are evenly matched and have several key players who will be difference-makers in the match. They are different styles of team, with Oregon running a quick offense with a feisty setter and tough defenders and Texas relying on their big guns for offense and blocking. Throughout the AVCA convention it’s been asked “who’s going to win?” The panel of Championship coaches was split and there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut favorite. A look at the two teams left standing.
The Ducks just keep on making program history. After appearing in their first-ever NCAA Semifinal match, Oregon took out top-ranked Penn State in four in a match that had head coach Jim Moore declaring that he had no idea how his team had won. After dropping the first set, the Oregon team did a visible regroup and came out strong and really showed why they finished the second in the Pac-12. The fast and balanced offense that Lauren Plum runs could really give Texas fits, as the Longhorns had problems with Michigan’s offense. While Oregon only hit .170 in the Penn State match, three players had 16 or more kills, led by Liz Brenner with 17 and Alaina Bergsma and Katherine Fisher with 16 apiece. And while non-existent at the beginning of the match, the Duck block woke up at the end and really helped change the tide of the match. Oregon outdug Penn State 80-67 and had 11 more kills (63-52) while coming out on the winning side of the serving game, producing six aces and only one error. As one AVCA convention speaker said, an emanating trait of the Oregon team is the complete buy-in of Coach Moore and his program and style and the Ducks have the confidence and skills to win the program’s first-ever national title.
In the NCAA National Semifinal match against Michigan, the Longhorns outscored the Wolverines 109-84 and sided out at 69% for the match, yet they nearly didn’t advance. Looking at the stat sheet, Texas won every statistical category except aces/errors but Michigan mixed up their offense at key times to keep the Longhorn block and defense off balance. Four Texas hitters reached double-digit kills, led by Bailey Webster with 18 kills and Haley Eckerman with 16. Hannah Allison directed the team to a .316 hitting percentage while Sarah Palmer produced a career-high 31 digs. Khat Bell was the understated hero of the match, connecting on 11 of 20 attacks to hit .450 with seven blocks. Yet Texas got into lulls in certain points of the match and seemed a bit taken-aback. They’re going to have to really focus and use their physical attributes and ability to hit over blockers while combating Oregon’s fast offense in order to pick up the program’s first title since 1988.
The Series: Oregon vs. Texas
The Longhorns lead the overall series between the two schools, 2-1, but the programs have not met since 1984.
There’s no clear advantage for either team on paper but each is going to have to come out and play their very different and distinct styles of game. It should be a real battle and the team who maintains composure and has the will not to lose will prevail.