Third-seeded Texas sweeps Oregon for NCAA volleyball title
The Longhorns won 25-11, 26-24, 25-19.
Texas (29-4) has been a recent regular at volleyball's Final Four, making its fourth appearance in five years and playing in its first title game since 2009, when the Longhorns lost to Penn State in five sets after leading 2-0.
This time they took care of business for their second title in four tries, recording their third sweep in the past four matches. When it ended the Longhorns swarmed the court to celebrate, with sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell jumping on coach Jerritt Elliott's back.
"I've been in this thing a lot of times and finally we broke through," Elliott said about winning his first title as a coach. "This has been a long time coming."
But the Longhorns ended up making quick work of the Ducks by dominating the net, outblocking Oregon 15-1. Texas also outhit the Ducks .438-.202.
Leading the way was Webster, a junior and first-team AVCA All-American outside hitter. She finished with a .500 hitting percentage and helped the Longhorns on defense with four blocks in being voted the tournament's most outstanding player.
Webster was part of a Texas effort that shut down AVCA Division I player of the year Alaina Bergsma, whose nine kills were also matched by nine errors. Many of her attempts were blocked as the Longhorns' defense keyed on her.
"All I remember about this match is that we did the whole thing together," Webster said. "I really think we won this because we were such a team out there."
Liz Brenner and Katherine Fischer each had 13 kills for fifth-seeded Oregon (30-5), which made its first title-game appearance.
"I don't know what it means to Texas; I know that it hurts for us to lose it," Ducks coach Jim Moore said.
A crowd of 16,448 attended the game, the second-largest for an NCAA tournament final.
Texas beat Oregon for the third time in four meetings.
Oregon had hoped to use up-tempo offense and solid defense to put Texas in a quick hole and not allow the Longhorns' dominant hitting game to get going. That was asking a lot considering Texas led the nation in hitting percentage (.322) coming in and used it to dominate Michigan in the first and fourth sets on Thursday.
Lost in all the talk about the Longhorns' offense was their strong defense, which they showed in the opening set. Texas built a 12-4 lead behind four blocks including two each by Webster and Molly McCage.
Texas often had two defenders at the net ready for Oregon returns and at one point had almost as many blocks (seven) as Oregon points (eight).
The Longhorns quickly closed out a 25-11 win, led by Webster's five kills and three blocks.
"We all wanted it really badly, and sometimes that can get in the way of your play," Fischer said of the Ducks' first-set play.
The second set was more even, although Oregon held several small leads thanks to five kills by Fischer and three by Ariana Williams. But Texas wiped out a 17-13 deficit with two Webster kills and a block and kill by senior Sha'Dare McNeal, who finished with eight kills and four block assists.
The Longhorns tied it again at 23 as Webster scored three of the Longhorns' final four points for a 26-24 win and a two-set advantage.
"I think it was just timing the hitters and knowing their shots," McNeal said of Texas' blocking.
Having been in this position just three years ago, Texas methodically finished off Oregon in the third set.
The Longhorns' left side helped build a 9-6 lead before Webster returned to help make it 14-9. Oregon answered with three straight points to close to 14-12, but Texas closed with an 11-7 run as Webster, Bell and McCage sealed the net and Haley Eckerman added two kills down the stretch.
Sarah Palmer contributed eight digs for Texas.
Bailey said the Longhorns didn't discuss their last title game appearance, adding that their focus was on closing out the match.
"We were just positive the whole time and acting like nothing had happened before," she said. "We just took it one point at a time."
That simple approach by Texas provided a long-awaited championship.
"To me, getting to the Final Four is one of the hardest things to do in sports," Elliott said, "and to get there four out of five years says a lot about where our program is. I've talked to so many great coaches and I just said, `what's the key?'
"They said, `just keep getting back to the Final Four and giving yourself a chance."'
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