In the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Friday, the University of Dayton volleyball team lost their first two sets to Pepperdine, then staged a miracle comeback after halftime to win the game, 3-2. So last night when Dayton kicked off its second round matchup against Oregon by losing the first two sets – by the exact same scores as the night before, no less – some small part of every spectator in attendance had to be wondering if history was about to repeat itself.
Unfortunately for the Flyers and their fans, the Ducks were not reading from the same script. Instead of bearing witness a second improbable Dayton victory, the fans at Matthew Knight Arena were treated to yet another 3-0 blowout victory by the hometown Ducks.
When asked to deliver some opening remarks at the postgame press conference, Oregon head coach Jim Moore opted for a bit of deadpan instead. “I don’t really have a statement,” he began. “Um, yay.”
In a way, Moore’s understatement was the perfect summation of his team’s season to date. When a team wins 80.6% of its sets, leads the country in offense, throttles its opponents to such a degree that sportswriters wear out thesauruses in a fruitless search for new ways to say “dominating,” and plays at such a high level that extraordinary performances are the rule and not the exception, “yay” is as good a way to put it as any.
Rather unjustly lost in all the excitement for the Ducks is that the Flyers put in one hell of a performance. Had they played nearly any other team in the country last night, they’d be making hotel reservations in Omaha for the Sweet 16, right now, instead of commiserating with one another on the long trip back to Ohio.
“There were some plays in the first four points [where] I knew it was going to be a bad night for Dayton,” said Moore. “In the first four points there were, all four of those balls could have landed and not one of them landed… It was just unbelievable anticipation [by Oregon] and just absolute being ready.”
The first set got off to a promising start for both teams, with each squad aggressively blocking attacks at the net and making cat-quick digs and attacks all over the court. However, only the Ducks’ point total seemed to benefit at the end of every volley, and in record time they built themselves a solid 18-7 lead. Flyers outside hitter Rachel Krabacher and setter Samantha Selsky soon redoubled their offensive efforts in an attempt to fight their way back into the game, but were only able to close within eight points before the Ducks coasted to a 25-15 win, thanks in no small part to a six-kill effort by outside hitter Liz Brenner.
“Liz was on right from the beginning,” said Moore afterwards. “[The] first couple swings, I went ‘uh-oh’ because when Liz gets it right directly over her right shoulder, that’s when she can bring it, and no one likes playing defense when she can do that.”
Not to be outdone, Brenner’s teammate and fellow outside hitter Alaina Bergsma took over in the second set, earning eight kills in all. This time around, the Flyers were able to close within two points of the Ducks at 19-17, but despite a phenomenal effort by Krabacher, who scored five kills by herself in the penultimate set, the visitors were once again unable to slow Oregon down before their host secured the win, 25-20.
Dayton’s best performance of the day – in terms of scoreboard results, at any rate – didn’t occur until after halftime. After failing to force even one tie in the first two sets, the third began with no less than eight tie scores and two lead changes, but only up until the 11-11 mark. After that, Oregon once again took control of the game (Brenner and Bergsma were both responsible for five kills apiece) and soon had the set and the match sewn up by a final score of 25-28.
Next up, Oregon has the next few days off before the team has to fly to Omaha to play 16th-ranked BYU in the next round of the NCAA Tournament.