Oregon just quacked things up in Minneapolis.
The 15th-seeded Ducks stunned second-seeded Minnesota 21-25, 41-39, 25-14, 26-24 on its home court Friday, ending the Gophers’ hopes of playing in next week’s NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship in the nearby Target Center.
And, yes, that 41-39 score in the second set is correct. For that matter, if Oregon goes on to win the national championship, the Ducks might consider T-shirts that say “41-39,” it was such an incredible occurrence considering the circumstances.
Oregon’s was the only upset of the eight round-of-16 matches that left a Saturday schedule full of subplots on ESPNU of:
— Wisconsin at Illinois: Wisconsin and Illinois split their Big Ten matches this season, winning in four on each other’s home court.
— Oregon vs. Nebraska at Minnesota: In the season-opening tournament at Nebraska, the Huskers swept Oregon. Defending-champion Nebraska, which has won two of the last three NCAA titles, is trying to get to the national semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
— Texas at BYU: The last time they played in the NCAA Tournament, in 2016, Texas ousted the Cougars in five in the third round in Austin. Before that, BYU pulled the huge upset in the 2014 national semifinals. What’s more, Texas thought it, not BYU, should have had the No. 4 seed in this tournament.
— Penn State at Stanford: These two storied programs have simply played some epic NCAA Tournament matches in the past, although Stanford swept their regular-season meeting
The four winners will meet at the aforementioned Target Center on Thursday in the national semifinals.
The scores are worth repeating: 21-25, 41-39, 25-14, 26-24, as Oregon improved to 23-10, while Minnesota’s season ended 27-4.
“It was two really good volleyball teams, playing high level volleyball,” Oregon coach Matt Ulmer said. “And it was just, who’s going to make plays at the end?”
Ultimately, it was decided in the second set, one in which Oregon held a 21-18 lead before Big Ten-champion Minnesota surged ahead 25-24. Before it ended, Oregon had nine set points, Minnesota seven more, and it ended in a manner fitting of the set.
Minnesota appeared to win 39-37, but Ulmer challenged a call, won, and it was tied 38-38.
“I had no idea if that ball was down or not, I’m really happy Matt challenged it because that got us back in the game, but you never know when it’s close like that,” Oregon’s Lindsey Vander Weide said.
“I thought it was critical, yes, and I didn’t think we responded particularly well,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “I thought Sam was pretty confident that she pancaked that ball and that we got it. So we thought we’d won it. A little bit of a bait and switch there. But that’s the way that it works out, and we got our hearts broken a little bit. It took us a while to recover, I think that was clear. The start of the third set would be indicative of that.”
Minnesota regained the lead on a Stephanie Samedy kill, but Willow Johnson tied it for Oregon. At that point, with Oregon out of rotations, 5-foot-9 sophomore Brooke Van Sickle moved to the front row. Van Sickle, a tremendous athlete with a whip of an arm, responded with back-to-back kills.
Ronika Stone led the Pac-12’s Oregon with 20 kills — including the match-winner — hitting .500 after having just two errors in 36 swings. She had an assist, two aces, three digs and five blocks, one solo. Vander Weide had 17 kills, two assists, an ace, a block and 18 digs. Johnson had 15 kills, hit .333, and had an assist, 10 digs and five blocks. Brooke Nuneviller not only had 25 digs, but the freshman libero had nine assists and three aces. Lauren Page had nine kills and six blocks, two solo, and Van Sickle had two other kills, three assists, two aces and 16 digs.
Setter August Raskie not only had 60 assists, but 10 kills in 18 swings to hit .444, 11 digs and an ace.
“We decided at the beginning of this game that no matter what we were going to be fearless in everything that we did,” Raskie said, “so I think that just helped us to be disciplined and just play with no fear through all of those points.”
“This is really important,” Ulmer said. “It’s important to get into these matches against the best teams in the country — Minnesota is maybe the best team in the country — and just fight and be fearless, and go after it.”
Alexis Hart led Minnesota — which lost at home for the first time this season — with 20 kills, hitting .340, to go with three digs and two blocks. Samedy had 17 kills, four blocks and 24 digs, Adanna Rollins had 14 kills, 13 digs, an assist and an ace, and Regan Pittman had 12 kills, five digs and three blocks, two solo. Taylor Morgan added seven kills and five blocks and setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 55 assists, a kill and 10 digs.
Earlier, seventh-seeded Nebraska (27-6) ended No. 10 Kentucky’s season — again.
A year ago, it was in the NCAA regional final at Kentucky. This time it was 25-17, 25-20, 25-23, as Mikaela Foecke led a balanced attack with 14 kills. She hit .303 and had an ace, 10 digs and three blocks. Lexi Sun had 13 kills, an ace, seven digs and a block. Lauren Stivrins had eight kills, two digs and three blocks as Nebraska won its 11th match in a row.
“I thought our team came out and really focused, dialed in, and well prepared,” said Nebraska coach John Cook, whose team rallied from being down 22-18 in the third set. “I think Kentucky struggled with our serve and blocking defense the first two sets, so I give a lot of credit to our team and our preparation for that. We’re the number one defensive team in the country and until you play us it’s hard to deal with that. I thought we showed great resilience in set three, making that comeback, so great job with that. This team, as I said, has been building all year and learning how to win these close matches. We were losing those back in October. So they did a really great job, and that’s a lot of the Big Ten preparation right there.”
Kentucky, which went unbeaten in the SEC, ended its season 26-5. The Wildcats, who hit a season-low .165, got seven kills each from Leah Edmond, Brooke Morgan and Caitlyn Cooper.
The 14th-seeded Illini (31-3) overpowered No. 14 Marquette 28-7) 25-19, 25-21, 25-16 to get into a regional final for the first time since 2011. That year, Illinois lost in the national title match to UCLA.
Big Ten runner-up Illinois hit .354 against Marquette. Jacqueline Quade led with 12 kills, four digs and a block, while Ashlyn Fleming had 10 kills, hit .467, and had an assist, two aces, three digs and a solo block. Ali Bastianelli had seven kills in 10 swings with one error to hit .600 and had three blocks, one solo.
Setter Jordyn Poulter had three kills in seven errorless swings to hit .429, had 38 assists, an ace, six digs and two blocks.
Moving on, Poulter said, “I think it’s great for the program, all the support we’ve received this season and into the post season. The crowd that we had for an 11 a.m. match, that was incredible. I think we are very happy with where we are at right now. Just taking it one day at a time.”
Marquette, which finished second in the Big East, got 14 kills from Allie Barber, who hit .379. Hope Werch and Jenna Rosenthal had seven kills each.
“This group is just terrific, and I feel incredibly honored to be able to work with these guys,” Marquette coach Ryan Theis said. “They are all terrific kids and even better people, it’s been so fun to work with them for the last two years. We try to have fun with it, and I hope they’re having a great experience.”
In the second match, sixth-seeded Wisconsin (25-6) steamrolled San Diego of the West Coast Conference (18-13) 25-13, 25-16, 25-10, hitting a season-best .515.
The Big Ten’s Wisconsin got nine kills from Dana Rettke, who had no errors in 13 swings to hit .692. She had an ace, five digs and five blocks, two solo. Tionna Williams and Molly Haggerty had eight kills each and Grace Loberg had seven, hitting .600 after having one error in 10 attacks. She added eight digs, two aces and four blocks. Williams, who hit .482, had 10 blocks, one solo.
“It’s the elite-eight match, so everybody is going to come out swinging as hard as they can,” Williams said of Saturday’s match against Illinois. “Illinois we know, we’ve seen them a few times already. We know what they’re about, we know that they are a great team. They are going to come out hard, especially having a home court advantage. It’s going to be a grind, definitely, but it’s going to be a fun match.”
San Diego hit .045. Katie Lukes led with seven kills but hit negative. Addie Picha had five kills, and in the third set, senior Lauren Fuller — who had four kills — went down with an apparent knee injury. USD was already short-handed after libero Kelli Barry was injured in practice Thursday.
After the lopsided first set, fifth-seeded Texas had to earn every point, but ultimately the Big 12 champion came away with 25-10, 27-29, 29-27, 25-19 victory over Michigan of the Big Ten (24-10).
The Longhorns (23-4) move into a regional final for the 13th year in a row.
Micaya White, who appeared to sprain her ankle when she landed on a Michigan player’s foot while getting a kill near the end of the second set, came back and led Texas with 21 kills. She had an ace, 10 digs and four blocks. Yaazie Bedart-Ghani had 15 kills, hit .464, and six blocks, and Logan Eggleston had 17 kills, hit .364, and had two aces, nine digs and two blocks. Texas hit .317. Brionne Butler had seven kills, an assist, two aces, four digs and nine blocks.
Carly Skjodt led Michigan with 16 kills, an assist, two aces, nine digs and a block. Paige Jones had 12 kills, but hit .065 for the Wolverines, who hit .152 as a team. Katarina Glavinic had nine kills, a dig and six blocks and Cori Crocker had four kills, two digs and seven blocks, one solo.
In the nightcap, with 5,104 inside BYU’s George Albert Smith Fieldhouse, the fourth-seded Cougars (30-1) bounced back from a first-set loss to dispatch Florida (26-7) 23-25, 25-13, 25-17, 25-19.
This is BYU’s first time back in a regional final since making it to the 2014 title match.
“That’s our goal,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “We wanted to be playing tomorrow, so here we are.”
Roni Jones-Perry led West Coast Conference-champion BYU with 17 kills, an assist, two aces, nine digs and two blocks. Kennedy Eschenberg had 11 kills with one error in 19 attacks and hit .526 to go with seven blocks. Madelyn Robinson had 10 kills, two digs and two blocks. And Heather Gneiting had eight kills, hit .333, and had three digs and seven blocks. Setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich had three kills with no errors in eight swings to hit .375, had 44 assists, and added an ace 10 digs and four blocks. Her sister, Lacy, had eight kills, hit .333, and had two digs and six blocks.
Jones-Perry said she told Haddock-Eppich after the last point, “We freakin’ did it.”
Florida of the SEC hit .159. Holly Carlton led with 16 kills, hitting .483, to go with an assist, two digs and four blocks. Paige Hammons had 11 kills, seven digs and a block, and Mia Sokolowski had eight kills, hit .412, and had a dig and three blocks.
“Hats off to BYU,” said Florida coach Mary Wise, whose team lost to Nebraska in last year’s NCAA title match. “They are a very good team who played exceptionally well tonight. After the first set, we knew to be successful, we would need to be so clean and get a little bit of help. After the first set, BYU became very stingy with the points they were giving away. You can see where they are where they are with both their offense and defense.”
The Big Ten’s Penn State (26-7) got past Washington of the Pac-12 (20-13) 26-24, 25-21, 25-21. Nia Reed had 13 kills for the eighth-seeded Nittany Lions, and had three digs and three blocks, one solo. Taylor Leath had 12 kills with one error in 23 swings and hit .478 to go with two assists, an ace, five digs and a solo block. Jonni Parker had 10 kills and five blocks. Setter Bryanna Weiskircher had three kills in four errorless swings, 40 assists, and six digs.
“It was a very challenging match of two equally matched, competitive teams,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said.
Kara Bajema led Washington with 13 kills, two assists, six digs and a block. Samantha Drechsel had nine kills and two blocks, Claire Hoffman added seven kills, an assist, two aces, four digs, and two blocks, and Lauren Sanders had six kills and four blocks.
“I thought it was a high level match,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “It’s our third regional in these last four years, and they all haven’t been a high level on our end. So I’m certainly pleased with the effort that the kids gave.
“In that first set we had our chance, and the third set with the lead that we had—we’re a few plays away.”
Stanford (31-1) had beaten 16th-seeded Washington State (23-10) twice in the Pac-12 this season, in three at Stanford in October and then in four at Pullman three weeks ago. This time, the Cardinal won 25-17, 24-26, 25-14, 25-19 for its 29th victory in a row.
Kathryn Plummer hit just .183, but she led with 24 kills, three assists, two blocks and 12 digs.
“We’re really excited to play Penn State,” Plummer said. “When we first saw the bracket, that was something we were considering. We had to focus on Washington State and the teams before that, but playing Penn State is always really fun.
“They’ve played in this gym before, they’ve had success in this gym, but we’re really excited to battle. They’re playing well at the end of the season, the way they always do.”
Tami Alade not only had 12 kills with no errors in 19 attacks to hit .632, but had nine blocks, two solo. Audriana Fitzmorris had 11 kills, two digs and four blocks, and Holly Campbell had 10 kills, hit .421, and had five blocks. Meghan McClure added seven kills, four assists, two aces, 11 digs and two blocks, and setter Jenna Gray had five kills with one error in nine attacks to hit .444 while dishing 52 assists to go with seven digs and two blocks.
“They really made us earn it,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “Not a lot of teams make it earn it the whole way. I like how we responded.”
Washington State hit .161. Taylor Mims led with 17 kills, an assist, three blocks and 10 digs. Jocelyn Urias had 10 kills, three digs and three blocks and Claire Martin had five kills, hit .400, and had 10 blocks. Ella Lajos had six kills and eight blocks.
“Maybe if we were playing any other team some of those balls would have done down,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said.
“Everyone fought hard,” Martin said. “Like (Greeny) said, they’re No. 1 for a reason.”