COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 13, 2012) – Fifth-seed Oregon and third-seed Texas captured NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship semifinal victories Thursday evening to set up an intriguing title match on Saturday at 7 p.m.
In the first semifinal match, third-seeded Texas (28-4) rallied past unseeded Michigan (27-12) 25-11, 21-25, 23-25, 25-12, 15-11. Texas, which also won the 1988 NCAA Division I championship, ended Michigan’s magical run through the postseason. Texas was playing in the national semifinals for the fourth time in five years and now has reached the title game four times, most recently a heartbreaking five-set loss to Penn State in 2009.
Bailey Webster led Texas with 18 kills to go with a block assist. Haley Eckerman totaled 16 kills and two blocks, while Sha’Dare McNeal collected 13 kills on 21 attacks, four block assists and 12 digs in the victory. Khat Bell produced 11 kills on 20 attacks, one block solo and six block assists for 15 points. Hannah Allison set the Longhorns to a .316 hitting efficiency on 53 assists to go with her three individual kills, six block assists and 11 digs. Molly McCage tallied four kills, one block solo and five block assists.
Michigan was led by Lexi Erwin’s 26 kills on a match-high 87 swings. Claire McElheny contributed 15 kills and three block assists, while Jennifer Cross was credited with eight kills, eight blocks and eight digs. Molly Toon totaled eight kills and five blocks in the loss. Lexi Dannemiller set the Wolverines with 52 assists to go with 11 digs, three block assists, two aces and two kills.
In the second semifinal, Oregon (30-4) upset top-seed Penn State (33-3) 21-25, 30-28, 25-22, 25-19. Oregon was making its first national semifinal appearance. Penn State, with five NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship titles already in hand, reached the national semifinals for the fifth time in six years with titles in all five appearances.
Liz Brenner paced Oregon with 17 kills, 17 digs, two aces and four block assists. Liz Brenner added 16 kills, 12 digs and an ace for the Ducks, while Alaina Bergsma chipped in 16 kills, 15 digs, three block assists and an ace. Canace Finley contributed six kills on 12 attacks and six block assists. Lauren Plum set 51 assists to help the Ducks to a .170 hitting efficiency to go with nine digs, two kills and two block assists. Haley Jacob charted 20 digs in the victory.
Ariel Scott led Penn State with 18 kills and five block assists, while Deja McClendon added 14 kills, three aces, nine digs and two block assists. Katie Slay tacked on six kills, one block solo as part of eight total blocks. Nia Grant was credited with six kills, two block solos and three block assists. Micha Hancock totaled 45 assists, 12 digs, three kills on seven errorless attacks to help the Nittany Lions to a .165 hitting efficiency. Dominique Gonzalez tallied a match-high 22 digs in the loss.
The opening semifinal was a twist of sets as Texas controlled the three sets it won, but struggled in its two set losses. Michigan led 4-2 early in the opening set, but Texas erupted for a 12-1 run to establish a 14-5 lead and causing the Wolverines to burn both timeouts early. Texas rolled to the 25-11 victory, allowing Michigan to score only once on its serve after the initial 4-2 score. Webster scored a team-best six kills with a block in the opening set as the Longhorns hit .469. Michigan was held to seven kills with seven errors in the first set.
Michigan opened the second set with a 4-1 advantage, but Texas roared back to knot the score at 6-all. Michigan scored three unanswered to take a 15-12 margin at the media timeout. Michigan expanded a 20-19 advantage to 24-20 and finished the set at 25-21 on Erwin’s 11th kill of the match. Michigan hit .268 for the set and limited Texas to a .189 hitting efficiency.
Erwin served an ace to give Michigan a 16-13 cushion in the third set, the widest margin of the stanza. However, Texas answered with three unanswered points, including two Michigan attack errors, to level the score at 16-all. Texas called its second timeout trailing 21-18 and Michigan extended the lead to 23-19. The Longhorns saved two set points to close to 24-23 and force the Wolverines into a second timeout. Erwin gave Michigan the set at 25-23 with a kill, her 20th of the match and seventh of the set, and the Wolverines were just one set away from continuing their magical postseason run.
Texas gained an early 8-4 advantage in the fourth set and controlled the set at 16-10 on a block by Allison and Bell. The Longhorns never relented down the stretch, forcing the fifth set with a 25-12 victory in which they hit .455 to the Wolverines’ .026. Texas tallied four blocks in the fourth set as part of a stifling defensive display.
Using its momentum from the fourth set, Texas scored the first four points of the fifth set – including a block and ace – leading to a Michigan timeout. Michigan answered with four of the next five points to narrow the deficit to one, 5-4. Michigan pulled even at 8-8 on a McElheny kill prompting a Longhorn timeout. Texas came out of the break with the next three points, including two Webster kills around a Michigan attack error, to secure an 11-8 lead. Kat Brooks served an ace yield match points at 14-10 and McNeal ended the match with a kill at 15-11.
For the second semifinal, Penn State took a 7-3 lead early thanks to four Oregon errors. Oregon came back to tie the set at 10-all and traded points until swinging the lead to its side at 18-17 on a Penn State attack error. Penn State scored three straight points on Oregon errors, and Penn State added consecutive blocks by Slay for a 24-20 Nittany Lion advantage. Slay ended the set with a slide at 25-21. Penn State totaled six team blocks in the opening set and Oregon committed 11 attack errors.
Bergsma scored a kill around two Penn State errors to yield a 3-0 Oregon advantage to start the second set. The Ducks continued the pressure by forcing Penn State into a timeout trailing 8-3 following a Fischer kill. Hancock left the match with a lower leg injury and Penn State trailing 9-4. By the time Hancock returned to the court, the Ducks raised their lead to 16-9. Oregon doubled-up Penn State at 20-10, but the Nittany Lions rattled off seven unanswered points with three kills from Scott, two blocks by Slay and capped by a Courtney solo block at 20-17. Penn State closed to 23-22 and then saved two set points to tie it at 24-all on a Scott and Grant block assist. The same block combo put up another block to take the lead at 25-24. Oregon saved three set points took the lead back at 28-27 on Plum and Williams block. Oregon ended the set 30-28 with a Brenner kill to avoid losing a set it led by 10 points.
Oregon broke a 6-all tie in the third set with a 4-0 run and took a 15-11 advantage in to the media timeout. Penn State battled to tie the set at 19-all following a Grant block and McClendon ace. Scott followed an Oregon timeout with a kill to give the Nittany Lions a 20-19 lead. However, it was short-lived as Fischer scored consecutive kills to reverse the lead to Oregon at 21-20. The Ducks extended their lead to 23-21 with a Penn State attack error and Fischer kill. Oregon capped the set at 25-22 on consecutive kills from Fischer and Williams.
Oregon served four quick aces to help establish an early 9-3 lead in the fourth set. Penn State turned in three straight points to slice the gap to 9-6 punctuated by a McClendon kill. However, Oregon followed with back-to-back points to up the margin to 11-6. Brenner and Finley tallied back-to-back kills, then combined for a block to reach for the Ducks to take a 15-7 margin at the media timeout. Oregon punched the lead to 23-14 with a Williams and Plum block. Bergsma gave Oregon match point at 24-16 with a deep kill. Penn State saved three match points before Plum put down a setter dump at 25-19.