Texas sweeps Oregon to win first national championship since 1988
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Texas waited a long time for this moment. This time, the Longhorns made sure they seized their opportunity to take home the ultimate prize, sweeping Oregon 3-0 (25-11, 26-24, 25-19) to claim the Division I Women’s Championship trophy at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.
The Longhorns, competing in their fourth semifinals in the last five years, finally broke through to capture the championship after some narrow misses. It is the Longhorns second NCAA title, and first since 1988. Texas also played in the 1995 and 2009 championship matches, losing to Nebraska and Penn State, respectively.
“We’ve been to this thing a lot of times and we’ve finally broken through because of what this program stood for,” Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I’ve always believed we’ve been doing it the right way but sometimes you have to get lucky.”
Texas (29-4) didn’t need too much luck against the Ducks in the title match. The Longhorns posted a .438 hitting percentage -- a championship match three-set record -- and out-blocked Oregon 15-1.
“They played awesome,” Oregon head coach Jim Moore said. “They played very, very well. Blocked great, passed great, and they deserve [it] -- well earned victory for them.”
Texas junior outside hitter Bailey Webster set the tone for the Longhorns with the first kill of the match. She knocked down five kills in the first set en route to a .714 hitting percentage and a dominant Longhorns’ 25-11 victory.
Texas showed off its blocking ability, recording seven team blocks to Oregon’s zero in the first set, including five by freshman middle blocker Molly McCage. The Longhorns also out-hit the Ducks .400 to -.083, as Texas committed just one attack error to Oregon’s 12. Ducks' senior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma – the AVCA National Player of the Year -- did not register a kill in the first set, but did collect five errors in nine attempts.
“I've been in this situation where it's the first time to the finals or first time to the final four and you can get glossy eyed,” Elliott said. “When we put that kind of pressure on teams blocking-wise, young ladies can get dug all night long, but when they start getting blocked, it sends a different message and sends a little bit of panic.”
Bergsma re-established her presence in the second set with five kills, helping the Ducks claim a 17-13 advantage before a Texas timeout. The Longhorns came out of the huddle and scored four consecutive points to tie the score, prompting Oregon to take a break and regroup.
“This is where our team grew so much [this season],” Elliott said. “They learned how to take good quality swings, be patient and put a tremendous amount of pressure on teams and make them be great the entire night. We're okay with kind of keeping the ball in play sometimes, but making them be perfect. It becomes overwhelming with our block, digging the transition and it gives us a lot of opportunities to score and put pressure on teams.”
The two teams battled back-and-forth and Oregon held a 23-21 advantage before Texas sophomore outside hitter Haley Eckerman delivered an ace on a jump serve, giving the Longhorns back the momentum.
“She got one of those aces right there,” Moore said. “And that was just bad timing, because saying we need to scoot up, we need to scoot up and we weren't scooting up. That was a little frustrating.”
Webster finished off the Ducks in the second set, knocking down two kills to secure a 26-24 win heading into the break.
Texas did not relent in the third set. Oregon called a timeout at 14-9 and rallied to score three points, but Elliot brought his team together for another break to end the run. A double-block by Khat Bell and Hannah Allison sealed a 25-19 victory for Texas in the third set, and the confetti came pouring down on the Longhorns.
Webster was voted the Most Outstanding Player after leading the Longhorns with 14 kills, while hitting .500 with four block assists in the match. Eckerman added 12 kills and five digs and freshman middle blocker Molly McCage added eight block assists. Senior Sha-Dare McNeal notched eight kills and four block assists while hitting .471 in her final collegiate match.
“This team got into a zone and there was a lot of confidence,” Elliot said. “You could start seeing towards the end of the year. And we've got just great balance and great team play and we've got some amazing athletes.”
Texas won 23 of their last 24 matches after starting the season with a 6-3 mark.
“We had a rough stretch in the beginning of the year trying to figure out our lineups, but we always believed,” Elliott said. “The great thing about coaching is that if you have enough experience you can be patient because you know what you’re going to get in the end. This has been a long time coming.”
Oregon, playing in the championship match for the first time, finished its best season in program history with a 31-5 record.
“Obviously it didn't end the way we wanted it to,” Bergsma said. “But I think we proved a lot of people wrong on this, I mean, this adventure to the finals, breaking a lot of Oregon records. Hopefully we set the bar really high and the teams can just continue to build on our success.”
The crowd of 16,448 was the second-highest attendance for a championship match.