Oregon may be the best team in the country when siding out, Husker coach John Cook said, and the Ducks got their transition game going after Nebraska couldn't miss in Game 1.
Ironically, Oregon's .345 attack percentage in the opener was its highest all match, but the Ducks' offense remained steady. Meanwhile, the Huskers' attack began to falter in their 15-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-17 loss.
“I think our defense, after Game 1, we just said 'enough is enough' and started leaving everything out on the floor,” said regional MVP Alaina Bergsma. “One of our themes each game is 'empty the tank.' We just stayed right on our bases and let them make the mistakes that they made.”
After one attack error in Game 1, Nebraska made 18 in the final three and never hit better than .217 after the first set.
“They were a big block, and I just don't think we were hitting open spots at certain times,” Husker senior Gina Mancuso said. “Sometimes we were great. But they hustled for balls and didn't let anything drop.”
Oregon's blockers might not have always gotten stuff blocks, but they usually got enough of a touch to allow for an easy pass to Lauren Plum, one of the country's best setters. That kept the Ducks in-system, and meant big trouble for Nebraska on Saturday.
“I can't say enough about our passing,” Plum said. “Our passing was fabulous and let me set anyone I wanted to. It's really hard to stop any one of these guys on the end of the pin.
“I'm just really grateful for the passing game we had tonight. I'm really proud of these girls just putting the ball to the floor every time I needed them to.”
Oregon wins middle matchup
As with many other matchups Saturday, Husker middle blockers had the advantage in Game 1 before Oregon's middles took over.
Most noticeable was the disappearance of Husker Meghan Haggerty. The freshman from Glen Ellyn, Ill., had five kills on six swings in Game 1, but had three kills and four errors on 15 attempts the rest of the match.
Junior middle Hayley Thramer led the Huskers with five blocks, but hit .167.
The most impressive middle blocker of the night was Oregon's Ariana Williams, who had 13 kills and hit .500 to complement Bergsma's big night.
“We just had no answer for her. She's a nice player,” Cook said of Williams. “We had Meghan going as good as her for a while, but then Meghan faded out.”
Third option was first rate
With All-Pac-12 outside hitter Liz Brenner having an off night, the Ducks got a clutch performance from senior Katherine Fischer.
Brenner had nine kills with six errors on 43 swings, but the 5-foot-10 Fischer stepped up with 12 kills and hit .367, giving Oregon a third potent attacker.
“The other one that snuck up on us was Fischer,” Cook said. “She had 12 kills. Those are kind of silent kills that could go unnoticed, but she had some big swings for them when they needed it.”
Can't keep up with Ducks' runs
The Huskers found themselves on the wrong end of some streaks Saturday, as they committed some crucial errors at key moments.
Trailing 18-17 in Game 2, Haggerty sent a serve way long and Thramer fired an attack wide on the next rally to give the Ducks a three-point lead.
Oregon led 19-17 in Game 4, then scored the final six points of the match. Mancuso and Thramer sent swings out of bounds in the run, and the Ducks went up 22-17 when Brenner and Canace Finley combined to stuff Mancuso.
“We were getting a little out of system, and normally we're really good out of system,” Cook said. “Tonight, we just couldn't execute. They were trying, but in a regional final there's such little room for error. You've just got to make those plays.”
— Jeff Sheldon