Matt Ulmer thinks Oregon got what it deserved.
The Ducks’ reward for finishing tied for second in the Pac-12 Conference was a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the chance to play two more games at home. However, the bracket at Matthew Knight Arena this week won’t give Oregon a comfortable route to the Sweet 16.
Oregon (20-10) opens at 7 p.m. Thursday against New Mexico State (24-7), the runner-up in the Western Athletic Conference that won the conference tournament. No. 25 Baylor (19-8), the runner-up in the Big 12, plays Hawaii (18-8) in the opening game at 4:30 p.m.
The winners of both matches face off at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I think it is very difficult, but you are the 15th seed so you should get that compared to others,” Ulmer said. “I think we will have three great volleyball matches here this weekend and fans are going to enjoy it.”
Oregon finished the regular season with wins at Washington and Oregon State to finish 13-7 in the conference. The Ducks received the second-to-last national seed.
“I thought it was between us and a few other teams,” Ulmer said. “Our RPI was a little worse, but I thought we checked a lot of other boxes. We had 11 top-50 wins and four in the top 25. We had a pretty good resume. If you finish second in arguably the best conference in the country, you should have a seed.”
New Mexico State won its final four games in the regular season before adding two wins in the conference tournament. Senior outside hitter Tatyana Battle and 6-foot-5 junior middle blocker Megan Hart were named first-team all-conference.
“Very athletic, big blocking team with a 6-5 middle who will pose some problems for us,” Ulmer said. “They are a real solid team and real confident so it will be an interesting first-round match.”
Baylor may have been in contention for a national seed after it won seven of eight matches to end the regular season with the lone loss in that stretch to No. 5 Texas.
Sophomore outside hitter Yossiana Pressley and junior middle blocker Shelly Fanning were all-conference picks for the second consecutive year. Presley led the conference with 4.83 kills per set.
“Baylor is really physical with two of the more dynamic hitters in the country,” Ulmer said.
Oregon beat Hawaii twice in Honolulu during September. The Ducks won 25-18, 25-23, 25-22 before following up the next night with a 25-23, 25-10, 22-25, 23-25, 25-10 victory.
“Defensively, Hawaii is very strong,” Oregon junior Ronika Stone said. “The first match we swept them and the second went to five when we felt like we couldn’t get a ball down. They are crazy good, but we have to worry about New Mexico State first. They have some big hitters.”
Oregon is making its eighth straight postseason appearance while hosting for the first time since 2014.
“The atmosphere here has been great all year,” UO senior Lindsey Vander Weide said. “This year has been the most fans we’ve had and the fact we have the NCAA Tournament, I think we will have more fans. It will be a crazy atmosphere.”
Ulmer is unsure if junior Taylor Borup, who has not played in nearly two weeks due to an ankle injury, will be able to return this weekend, but said it is possible.
“I think we are playing very well right now, we are in a good space,” Ulmer said. “I think we are focused and excited. We are really happy to be here and not on a plane right now. We are pretty healthy, so I think we are prepared.”