Although the postseason for NCAA volleyball doesn’t begin until Dec. 3, the Oregon volleyball team must take an every-game-is-a-postseason-game approach in order to earn a tournament berth.
Due to some serious struggles in Pac-12 play and the inability to finish out close matches throughout the season, the Ducks are now on the verge of missing the tournament for the first time since 2010. Oregon did, however, get a huge boost last week when they went down to Southern California and defeated then-No. 9 UCLA in five sets for their third win in five matches.
Oregon has four more regular season matches before the NCAA volleyball selection show takes place on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. on ESPNU; if the Ducks hope to hear their name called, they’re going to have to shine in those four matches. Luckily for them, two of those four matches are against teams ranked in the top 25.
The Ducks will host No. 2 Washington on Friday before taking on No. 24 Arizona State on Wednesday, Nov. 25. The first game of the homestretch is Wednesday, Nov. 18 against Washington State, and the regular season finale against Oregon State is Friday, Nov. 27.
As of Nov. 16, Oregon is unranked in the top 25 and sitting at No. 53 in the latest RPI ranking, despite being a perennial top-25 team since 2012. The tournament takes the top 64 teams in the country so while Oregon might seem safe right now, thats not the case if it slips in its final four games.
Three wins would nearly guarantee the Ducks a spot in the tournament, but three losses would give the Ducks the same odds of being left out. That being said, Oregon is going to have to earn an upset against one of the ranked teams to heighten its RPI.
The big question comes if the Ducks go 2-2 over those four games. That record will leave the Ducks very vulnerable, depending on who the wins come against. If one of the wins is against a ranked team, it betters Oregon’s chances, because it would mean the Ducks went 2-2 against top-25 competition over the final three weeks of the season.
If Oregon is going to make this late season push in the confines of Matthew Knight Arena, this young team is going to have to learn how to close out sets to earn match victories. Within Oregon’s last five losses, the Ducks have played 17 sets and lost by just five points in 10 of those sets. This team has no problem getting off to a good start, but when it comes to crunch time at the end of sets, it get tenser and plays not to lose, rather than to win.
“We start to play timid,” freshman Lindsey Vander Weide said after Oregon’s 3-1 loss to UCLA on Oct. 23. “Instead of pounding the ball, we try to take some off and it goes into the block.”
This is a squad with immense talent. Vander Weide (potential Pac-12 freshman of the year) and senior Martenne Bettendorf have a chance to be first-team all-Pac-12 players, and junior Amanda Benson is the best libero in the conference. Oregon has depth and can attack from all offensive positions, so the inability to finish out sets comes down to a mental aspect, head coach Jim Moore said after two devastating losses earlier in conference play.
“It’s real disappointing,” Moore said after Oregon’s 3-2 loss to Colorado on Oct. 2. “We’re just really struggling with confidence.”
“Just real disappointed that we couldn’t finish,” Moore added after the UCLA loss. “We didn’t put the ball on the floor at crunch time.”
Oregon has a chance to make the tournament, but in order to do so, confidence and the ability to finish out sets must reign supreme.
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka