Horns hope fourth time's the charm
Experienced Texas looks to hold off newcomer Oregon
Get ready for a knock-down, drag-out battle on Saturday when Texas and Oregon clash in the Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship match at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., with the NCAA title on the line.
Texas will be seeking its first NCAA championship since claiming the trophy in 1988, and this group of Longhorns is looking to make a permanent mark in the record books after advancing to the semifinals four times in the last five years.
“This being my senior year, [winning a championship] would mean everything to me,” Texas senior Sha’Dare McNeal said. “Being here for the third time and not being able to finish it off with a title has been kind of devastating to me. Winning my senior year would be awesome.”
The Longhorns will be playing in their fourth NCAA title match in program history. They fell to Nebraska in 1995 and Penn State in 2009.
The Longhorns are hitting .379 in the postseason, well above their nation-leading season average of .322. Junior outside hitter Bailey Webster leads the Texas attack in the national tournament, posting a .451 hitting percentage along with 4.56 kills per set, but she knows she cannot win it alone.
“We need the whole team to win and the passing, defense and distribution amongst the hitters has helped everything out,” Webster said.
Texas setter Hannah Allison has plenty of weapons, and likes to spread out the Longhorns offense. Four players tallied double-digit kills in the Longhorns’ five-set win against Michigan in the semifinals.
“They’re going to be able to do things that many teams we have faced cannot do,” Oregon senior libero Haley Jacob said. “But they are human, on the other side, and they’re going to make mistakes and do the same things that others teams do. That works both sides.”
Oregon will counter with a fast offense and some weapons of its own, highlighted by AVCA National Player of the Year Alaina Bergsma and AVCA First Team All-America setter Lauren Plum. The Ducks lead the nation with 16.0 kills and 14.9 assists per set, along with a .296 hitting percentage.
“There are certain things that you can do and try to take some of [Bergsma’s] tendencies away, but it’s not like we’re going to shut her down,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We just have to control and play level and do a good job of controlling her, not that it means we need to have her hit in the negatives. We just need to keep her within check and do the things that we need to do to be successful and get our defense set up behind the block.”
“I think they just run a really quick offense so we just have to focus on that,” Texas junior libero Sarah Palmer said. “Obviously, Bergsma is a big part of their offense so we are going to key in on that. She’s basically one of the bigger players on the team so we’ll see where she’s at, get our blocks set up and play defense around the block.”
Oregon is playing for the national title for the first time in program history. While some may consider the Ducks the underdogs in the match, they have certainly proven they belong in the championship after defeating Nebraska in the regional semifinals and No. 1-seed Penn State in the semifinals to advance.
“I don’t consider us an underdog,” Jacob said. “We knew what we could do. There weren’t any questions in our mind so, no, I don’t think we’re the underdog.”
Texas and Oregon have not played each other since 1984, but the Longhorns lead the series 2-1.