Oregon tops Nebraska, advances to NCAA semis

ERIC OLSON AP Sports Writer Published:

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- In a season of milestones, Oregon's volleyball program achieved yet another one, and the Ducks did it in the most difficult of environments.

Pac-12 player of the year Alaina Bergsma had 23 kills in a dominating performance, and fifth-seeded Oregon advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the first time with a four-set victory over fourth-seeded Nebraska in the Omaha Regional final.

The Ducks lost the first set 15-25, then won the next three 25-22, 25-18, 25-17 before a pro-Cornhusker crowd 9,382 strong at CenturyLink Center.

"Obviously, I feel very honored, and we talked a lot about our alumni and people who came in to really turn this program around," Bergsma said. "A couple years ago, Oregon wasn't even in the top half of the (Pac-12). So for us, it means a lot, just being that team that finally got it turned around. That proves to the nation that we're a team to be reckoned with."

The Ducks (29-4), who were playing in their first regional final, head to Louisville, Ky., to play top-seeded Penn State on Thursday.

Bergsma was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player after hitting .429 and making only two errors on 49 swings against the Huskers.

"Oregon was just better, and they have a player a level above any player we have, and she brought it tonight," Nebraska coach John Cook said of Bergsma. "She'll get my vote right now for (national) player of the year."

Ariana Williams added 13 kills and Katherine Fischer 12 for the Ducks.

Oregon used strong back-row defense to keep alive long rallies, and Bergsma, Williams or Fischer usually were there to end them.

The Ducks hung tough in the fourth set after Hayley Thramer's kill and Morgan Broekhuis and Thramer teamed up to block Bergsma for an 11-9 Nebraska lead. Oregon coach Jim Moore called timeout to regroup.

"That's where I think they showed their toughness," Moore said. "They sat down and nobody was going crazy, nobody was worried. They thought 'one at a time, one at a time, one at a time,' and that's what they did."

With thousands of people in red on their feet and chanting "Go Big Red," Oregon and the Huskers traded points. There were perhaps 50 people dressed in green or yellow behind the Oregon bench, some holding "Fear the Ducks" signs and others holding up their hands to form the signature "O."

"It was tough," Williams said. "There are a lot of people, and they're all cheering for Nebraska. We just thought they were cheering for us - 'yeah, go Oregon.' It was fun to play in front of such a big crowd."

Gina Mancuso and Morgan Broekhuis had 16 kills apiece for Nebraska (26-7), which hit .621 in winning the first set. The Huskers hit no better than .217 in any of the following sets.

"It shows you can't get complacent and be happy winning one set in volleyball," Nebraska setter Lauren Cook said. "You have to win all three."

Moore, in his eighth season at Oregon, has quickly turned the Ducks into one of the nation's most prominent programs.

Oregon was just 24-64 with two conference wins the three seasons before his arrival in 2005. Since then, the Ducks have gone 97-59, and their second-place finish in the Pac-12 this season was their highest ever. Their 29 wins is a school record.

Now it's on to Louisville.

"Obviously, people (back home) are going to be excited," Bergsma said. "Our phones are blowing up. It's something that has never happened for our program, but we know we're not done yet."