One down, one to go.
The Oregon volleyball team took care of business with an impressive 3-0 sweep of Northern Colorado in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday before a crowd of 3,038 at Matthew Knight Arena.
With the 25-14, 25-19, 25-18 victory, the Ducks improved to 26-4 overall, and easily advanced to tonight’s second-round NCAA match against Dayton at 8 p.m. The Flyers (27-4) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Pepperdine in the opening match.
The Ducks simply had too much firepower for the Bears (24-11), who finished fourth in the Big Sky Conference but secured the automatic NCAA bid by winning three straight matches in the conference tournament.
UO senior Alaina Bergsma, the Pac-12 player of the year, was her usual dominant self with 15 kills and a .483 hitting percentage. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter had only one attack error.
“It was really fun because we had a big crowd tonight,” Bergsma said. “We could definitely feel the excitement. It gave us a real homecourt advantage, for sure. They were even fighting for some calls.”
As the No. 5 seed in the tournament, the Ducks were determined not to repeat last year’s one-and-done performance in the NCAAs, and despite relaxing a bit in the second set, they were in complete control throughout the match.
The only time Oregon trailed was after a serving error to open the third set.
Still, it wasn’t quite enough for coach Jim Moore, who has guided the Ducks to the postseason in six of the past seven seasons.
“I think we can play at a higher level,” he said. “It may be nitpicking, and I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky, but I think (this team) is really good, and I think we need to play that way every single second.”
Oregon took control of the match midway through the first set.
With the score tied at 11-all, senior defensive specialist Kellie Kawasaki came in to serve, and before she was done, the Ducks had reeled off a 9-0 run to forge a commanding 20-11 lead. Kawasaki finished the match with three service aces.
“Kellie sparked that run,” Moore said. “For me, it was special because she has accepted her role. She could be a starting libero for a whole lot of teams in this country, and she comes in and serves and scores a lot of points.”
The Ducks focused their defense on stopping UNC’s Kelley Arnold, a 6-2 left-handed outside hitter. They proved successful, limiting the three-time all-Big Sky selection to 11 kills and a .257 hitting efficiency.
“We knew they would rely on No. 17,” Bergsma said. “I think we slowed her down and that really helped us.”
As a team, the Ducks hit .318 for the match, compared with just .107 for the Bears, the 15th time this season they’ve surpassed the .300 mark. Moore gave junior setter Lauren Plum high marks for her decisions on ball distribution.
“We might have been a little too reliant on Alaina,” he said. “But Lauren did a really good job. It was like, ‘sorry, we’ve got the Pac-12 player of the year and we’re going to set her,’ which I thought was a good choice.”
Junior Ariana Williams and sophomore Liz Brenner added nine kills each for the Ducks, and freshman Canace Finley had six kills and hit .444. Plum finished with 40 assists and Brenner led the team with 13 digs.
Oregon dominated every statistical category: 44-22 in assists, 48-42 in digs, 8-3 in blocks and 6-3 in aces.
“I thought the block did a really good job,” Moore said. “We touched a lot of balls and they had to cover a lot more (ground).”
The Ducks will now turn their attention to Dayton, the Atlantic 10 champion that is making its sixth straight trip to the NCAAs. The winner of tonight’s match at Matthew Knight Arena advances to the NCAA regional in Omaha, Neb., Dec. 7-8.
“It’s a long season,” said Plum, the Pac-12 setter of the year. “But this is the tournament, and we’re happy that we’re finally where we want to be, and we still have a long ways to go.”