Ready To Spring Into Action
It was around lunch time Wednesday that the Oregon volleyball program found out its first opponent in this year's NCAA Tournament.
The 10th-seeded Ducks will face Notre Dame in the second round on Thursday (9 a.m. PT, ESPN3). Owing to its seed, Oregon had a first-round bye for the event being held in Omaha, Neb., and had to wait for the result of Wednesday's match between the Irish and Army.
Thus, the Ducks had less than 24 hours between finding out their opponent and taking the floor Thursday morning. For UO coach Matt Ulmer, though, that wasn't a big concern.
"I've kind of said it all year — it's not so much about the opponent with our group; it's really about us," Ulmer said. "We have talent, and we do a lot of things well. If we play well, we can play and beat anybody."
The Ducks (14-4) will hit the floor Thursday following a layoff of nearly two weeks since wrapping up the regular season. In the race for the Pac-12 title entering the final weekend of conference play, Oregon split two matches at Arizona State and settled for second place in the standings.
As was the case in each of the team's previous three losses, the Ducks suffered their defeat in the opening match of the weekend, then rebounded with a victory. Now that they're in NCAA Tournament play, Oregon can't afford to start slow.
Lose Thursday, and there won't be a chance to rebound later this week.
"I like where our focus is right now," Ulmer said. "A lot of things we've been tinkering with — blocking, service pressure, offensive rhythm — it's the best it's been all year. Now, can we show up (Thursday) and play our style and act like nobody's watching and do what we do? We will see."
The Ducks are making their ninth appearance in the last 10 NCAA Tournaments. But after missing the event in the fall of 2019, and after last fall's season was moved to this spring, it's been three years since Oregon took the floor for a postseason match. Of the current roster, only Brooke Nuneviller and Taylor Borup have tournament experience.
The extended layoff since the regular season ended has only heightened the Ducks' anticipation for Thursday's match.
"I've never played volleyball this long, and been into volleyball this late in the season," transfer Gloria Mutiri said. "That alone is exciting. …
"Having the confidence of having that extra few practices is everything. I feel really secure, really confident."
The Ducks travelled to Nebraska on Monday, and settled in for a quarantine period before being able to take the court for practice Wednesday morning.
Ulmer said that practice was the best day of what has been the best week all season for the Ducks.
"I like that trend," he said.
The Ducks will look to maintain that momentum when they finally return to competition Thursday, for a long-awaited appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
"This is big-deal stuff," Ulmer said. "All those club tournaments and high school games and parents driving you around, it's all for this. I think they're ready to go."