Saturday, December 15, 2012

Championship Match Preview

by Jen Armson-Dyer

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.

Oregon (29-4)
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.

Texas (28-4)
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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Look Ahead – NCAA Division I National Semifinals

Jennifer Armson-Dyer is currently the Director of Operations for the Badger Region Volleyball Association, and previously worked for eight years as the Media Relations director for the Penn State men’s and women’s volleyball programs. Armson-Dyer played volleyball at Northwestern University, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism, and currently lives in Milwaukee, WI with Marquette Assistant Volleyball Coach, Craig Dyer and their son, Liam.

And then there were four.

Probably not the four that anyone picked at the start of all of this, but all four earned the right to show what they've got on the game’s biggest stage in Louisville. Two of the teams have never advanced this far, one team is fighting for its first title since 1988 and one team is looking to grab its fifth title in six years.

On Thursday night at the KFC Yum! Center, third-seeded Texas takes on the Cinderella of this tournament, unseeded Michigan, in the first of two NCAA National Semifinals, slated for a 7:00 p.m. ET start on ESPN2. The second match features top-seeded Penn State against fifth-seeded Oregon, scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. ET, also on ESPN2. The winners meet for the right to hoist the NCAA National Championship trophy on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

#1 Seed Penn State (33-2)
Having captured the National title in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Nittany Lions are again in the driver’s seat, coming in seeded in the top spot and having dropped only one set (to #8 seed Minnesota) throughout the NCAA Tournament. Penn State has weapons in every facet of the game, including Ariel Scott (3.73 kps) and Louisville-native Deja McClendon (3.24 kps) on the offensive end. While lethal as an attacking setter, Micha Hancock also delivers from behind the service line, racking up 81 aces for the year. Last weekend she broke the NCAA record for aces in Tournament play (22), surpassing Misty May’s previous record of 20 when she was at Long Beach State in 1998. Defensively for Penn State, Dominique Gonzalez (3.60 dps) anchors the backcourt while Katie Slay (1.32 bps) is an imposing figure at the net. NCAA experience and the “we’ve been here before” factor also weigh in big for the Nittany Lions, as six players on the roster have at least one NCAA Championship ring already. Also, only two more words are needed: Russ Rose.

#5 Seed Oregon (29-4)
After finishing second in the Pac-12 to secure its best-ever league finish, the Ducks continue to make program history by advancing to its first-ever NCAA National Semifinal. Their program-best 29 wins has also aided Oregon in leading the country in both team kills per set (15.97) and team assists per set (14.91) while ranking ninth in team hitting percentage (.296). Alaina Bergsma (4.93 kps) and Liz Brenner (3.89 kps) carry the Oregon offensive load as talented setter Lauren Plum directs the offense with 13.39 assists per set and Haley Jacob picks up 4.46 digs per set to lead the defense. Something to watch for in the match is the Oregon block and defense versus the Penn State offense. The Ducks are averaging 1.78 blocks per set this season as compared to 2.78 for their opponents. The fewer number of blocks is balanced by the superior kill and attacking numbers but Oregon is going to have to put together some runs aided by defense in order to overtake the Nittany Lions.

The Series: Penn State vs. Oregon
The overall series between the two teams is 1-1. The last meeting was a four-set Duck victory to open the 2011 season as then-unranked Oregon ended the four-time defending national champions’ NCAA-record 94-match home winning streak.

#3 Seed Texas (27-4)
After a convincing sweep of sixth-seed Southern California in the NCAA Regional Final, the Longhorns are making their fourth NCAA National Semifinal appearance in the last five years. Texas is a physically imposing team with hitters who have the ability to make an opposing block look like child’s play. Haley Eckerman (4.45 kps) and Bailey Webster (3.84 kps) lead the offense while setter Hannah Allison has directed the squad to a .322 hitting percentage. Sarah Palmer (3.44 dps) leads the defense while Khat Bell (1.36 bps) heads the blocking list. However, Texas’ biggest opponent could be themselves. In the past on this stage, they have been up 2-0 on two different occasions, including on Stanford in the NCAA Semifinal in 2008 and on Penn State in the National Championship match in 2009 before losing both 15-13 in the fifth set. However, it should be noted that the last time Texas swept their Regional Final opponent was 1988, the year they went on to win the National Championship.

Michigan (27-11)
After advancing to its fifth NCAA Regionals since 2007, the Wolverines broke through last weekend by downing second-seeded Stanford in four sets to advance to the program’s first-ever NCAA National Semifinal. The only unseeded team left in the field, Michigan is the second team since 2005 to make it this far, matching Santa Clara. While they may not have the NCAA National Semifinal experience under their belts, the Wolverines did gain some knowledge of the KFC Yum! Center and high-pressure situations as they defeated Tennessee in five sets and No. 10 Louisville in four sets two weeks ago to advance to the Berkeley Regional. Lexi Erwin (4.20 kps) carries the offensive load for Michigan while Jennifer Cross (2.63 kps), Molly Toon (2.68 kps) and Claire McElheny (2.30 kps) also average more than two kills per set. Setter Lexi Dannemiller has directed the offense to a .246 hitting percentage while Tiffany Morales (3.91 dps) leads the defense and Cross (1.25 bps) tops the blocking list. The Wolverines are no stranger to the underdog role, pushing Penn State to five earlier this year and beating six ranked teams, but they will need to use their confidence and scrappy play to test the Longhorns.

The Series: Texas vs. Michigan
The Longhorns lead the series with the Wolverines, 2-0. The last meeting was a four-set Texas win on Dec. 4, 2004 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Both matches have the ability to provide a high quality of volleyball as well as entertainment, and coupled with the outstanding KFC Yum! Center, this weekend proves to be set up for all of the hype and excitement matches of this caliber warrant. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012 NCAA Regional Semifinal Preview!

 by Jen Armson-Dyer

Jennifer Armson-Dyer is currently the Director of Operations for the Badger Region Volleyball Association, and previously worked for eight years as the Media Relations director for the Penn State men’s and women’s volleyball programs. Armson-Dyer played volleyball at Northwestern University, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism, and currently lives in Milwaukee, WI with Marquette Assistant Volleyball Coach, Craig Dyer and their son, Liam.

Only 16 teams remain on the road to the ultimate prize in NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball. Twelve of the 16 seeded teams advanced but there will be a new champion this year as defending title-holder UCLA was knocked off in the second round. Only one regional contains four seeded teams (Omaha) while three of the six remaining Big Ten teams will head to West Lafayette, Ind. There are heated rivalries, there are first-time meetings. And there should be a lot of great volleyball.

All of Friday’s NCAA Regional Semifinal matches will be broadcast on, while all of Saturday’s NCAA Regional Final matches will be televised on ESPNU.

West Lafayette, Ind., Regional
Hosted by Purdue University at Mackey Arena
• #1 Penn State vs. #16 Kentucky - 5:00 p.m. ET – Making their 10th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals, the Nittany Lions improved to 76-26 in NCAA action with wins over Binghamton and Bowling Green last weekend. Penn State owns a 5-1 all-time record against Kentucky, who defeated East Tennessee State and Ohio State last weekend to advance to its second-straight Regional Semifinal. Ariel Scott (3.64 kps), Dominique Gonzalez (3.54 dps) and Katie Slay (1.35 bps) lead Penn State while Whitney Billings (3.00 kps), Stephanie Klefot (3.92 dps) and Alexandra Morgan (1.08 bps) lead Kentucky.

• #8 Minnesota vs. Purdue - 7:00 p.m. ET – The Gophers punched their fourth-straight ticket to the NCAA Regional Semifinals with wins over Liberty and Creighton last weekend while the Boilermakers are the Cinderella of this bracket, taking out Colorado State and ninth-seed Florida State in a five-set thriller to advance to its sixth Regional berth in the last eight seasons. Minnesota leads the all-time series 44-28, with the lone meeting this season a 3-1 Gopher win in Minneapolis. Katherine Harms (4.10 kps), Ashley Wittman (2.82 dps) and Tori Dixon (1.03 bps) lead Minnesota while Ariel Turner (4.42 kps), Carley Cramer (4.18 dps) and Anna Drewry (1.02 bps) lead Purdue.

The winners of each of Friday’s matches will meet on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.

Omaha, Neb., Regional
Hosted by the University of Nebraska at the CenturyLink Center
Tournament Central:
• #5 Oregon vs. #12 BYU - 5:00 p.m. ET – After defeating Northern Colorado and Dayton last weekend, Oregon is making its third trip to the NCAA Regional Semifinals under head coach Jim Moore while BYU is making its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2007 after taking out New Mexico State and Oklahoma last weekend. BYU leads the overall series between the two teams, 9-1, with the last meeting a Cougar win in 1998. Alaina Bergsma (4.92 kps), Haley Jacob (4.37 dps) and Canace Finley (0.76 bps) lead Oregon while Jennifer Hamson (4.07 kps), Ciara Parker (3.46 dps) and Nicole Warner (1.81 bps) lead BYU.

• #4 Nebraska vs. #13 Washington - 7:00 p.m. ET – In what has turned out to be one of the biggest rivalries in the postseason, Nebraska and Washington will meet for the fourth time in eight seasons on Friday night. Three of the four all-time meetings between the Huskies and Huskers have come in the NCAA tournament. UW won its first national title in 2005 by sweeping the Huskers, while Nebraska knocked the Huskies out of the 2008 tournament in five sets after being down 0-2 and Washington topped Nebraska 3-1 in 2010. Gina Mancuso (3.43 kps), Hannah Werth (3.19 dps) and Hayley Thramer (1.19 bps) lead Nebraska while Krista Vansant (4.00 kps), Jenna Orlandini (4.13 dps) and Amanda Gil (1.81 bps) lead Washington.

The winners of each of Friday’s matches will meet on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.

Austin, Texas, Regional
Hosted by the University of Texas at Gregory Gym
• #6 Southern California vs. Wichita State - 6:00 p.m. ET – With wins over Fairfield and St. Mary’s, USC advanced to its fifth NCAA Regional Semifinal in seven years and its ninth in 12 years under head coach Mick Haley, who also coached Texas to the 1988 National Championship. Wichita State will be making its first-ever NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance after wins over Arkansas and #11-seed Kansas. This will be the first meeting between the two schools in the sport of women’s volleyball. Samantha Bricio (4.10 kps), Natalie Hagglund (5.03 dps) and Alexis Olgard (0.97 bps) lead Southern California while Emily Adney (2.95 kps), Jackie Church (4.48 dps) and Ashley Andrade (0.95 bps) lead Wichita State. 

• #3 Texas vs. #14 Florida - 8:00 p.m. ET – Texas is making its 19th appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals with wins over Colgate and Texas A&M last weekend, while Florida advanced to its 21st berth in 22 season under head coach Mary Wise with wins against Tulsa and College of Charleston. The Gators lead the all-time series between the two schools, 12-6, with the last meeting a three-set Longhorn victory earlier this season in the Big Four Tournament at Penn State. Haley Eckerman (4.51 kps), Sarah Palmer (3.42 dps) and Khat Bell (1.38 bps) lead Texas while Ziva Recek (4.01 kps), Taylor Unroe (4.42 dps) and Chloe Mann (1.16 bps) lead Florida.

The winners of each of Friday’s matches will meet on Saturday at 9:00 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.

Berkeley, Calif., Regional
Hosted by the University of California, Berkeley at Haas Pavilion
• Michigan vs. Michigan State - 8:00 p.m. ET – The third time is the charm for the in-state rivals as the Wolverines and Spartans square off. Both squads upset their seeded hosts last weekend, with Michigan downing Tennessee and 10-seed Louisville and Michigan State taking out San Diego and defending national champions and #7 seed UCLA. It’s the second-consecutive Regional Semifinal for the Wolverines and the fifth in program history while the Spartans advance for the first time since 2007. Michigan State leads the all-time series with Michigan, 48-37, and both teams won in straight sets on the road this season. Lexi Erwin (4.12 kps), Tiffany Morales (3.80 dps) and Jennifer Cross (1.25 bps) lead Michigan while Lauren Wicinski (4.42 kps), Kori Moster (4.66 dps) and Alexis Mathews (1.21 bps) lead Michigan State.

• #2 Stanford vs. #15 Iowa State - 10:00 p.m. ET – One of only two teams to advance to all 32 NCAA Tournaments (the other is Penn State), Stanford swept both Jackson State and Western Kentucky to keep its drive for its seventh NCAA title alive. Iowa State, winners of its last 12 matches, defeated IPFW and North Carolina to advance to its fifth Regional Semifinal in program history. This will be the first meeting between Stanford and Iowa State in the sport of women’s volleyball. Carly Wopat (2.85 kps, 1.45 bps) and Kyle Gilbert (4.52 dps) lead Stanford while Victoria Hurtt (3.10 kps), Kristen Hahn (5.40 dps) and Tenisha Matlock (0.68 bps) lead Iowa State.

The winners of each of Friday’s matches will meet on Saturday at 11:30 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.

Looking ahead to Louisville and the NCAA National Semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 13 at either 7:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. ET, the winner of the West Lafayette Region (Penn State, Kentucky, Purdue, Minnesota) will face the winner of the Omaha Region (Oregon, BYU, Washington, Nebraska) while the winner of the Austin Region (Texas, Florida, Wichita State, USC) will take on the winner of the Berkeley Region (Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa State, Stanford). Both matches will be televised on ESPN2. The NCAA National Championship match will be on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET, live on ESPN2.

What are your thoughts? What is YOUR upset of the weekend?