Road to the title: How Oregon volleyball can net a championship

Head coach Jim Moore counsels the team on their technique midway through the set against the Cougars. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Head coach Jim Moore counsels the team on their technique midway through the set against the Cougars. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Matt Walks on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 3:20 pm.

Well, this is what the Ducks have been waiting for — the home stretch.

Oregon volleyball earned itself a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket, drawing a first-round matchup with Northern Colorado here in Eugene. The Ducks hope the home-court advantage is enough to get them through the first round, a feat they failed to do during last season’s disappointing postseason.

Here’s the road they would need to take to the title.

Assuming there are no upsets in the first set of rounds, the next seeded opponent Oregon could face is No. 12 New Mexico. The Lobos ended the season 20-13, but the team dropped eight of their last 10 down the stretch after a promising start.

A win there could put the Ducks in a regional showdown against No. 4 Nebraska (23-6). Like Oregon, Nebraska finished second in its conference — in this case the Big Ten. The Huskers have a storied history of volleyball success, too. Nebraska is the second-winningest Division I program in the nation and has seen more All-Americans than any other school in the country.

Advancing down the bracket further isn’t productive this early in the postseason, but on the other side of the bracket await reigning champion No. 7 UCLA and this year’s Pac-12 champ, No. 2 Stanford. The Ducks swept the Bruins near the end of the season but still haven’t cracked the Cardinal. Stanford won both head-to-head matchups against Oregon in the regular season.

The cream of the crop in this year’s bracket, however, is Penn State.

The No. 1-seeded Nittany Lions are enjoying one of the biggest runs of dominance in the sport. Before UCLA’s title win last year, Penn State had won four-straight titles, a stretch that included back-to-back 38-0 undefeated seasons. They dropped just two games this year, including one to the aforementioned Huskers. With their postseason experience, they’ll be the odds-on favorite as the Dec. 15 title game approaches.

If the Ducks do make the title game, they may get a karmic boost. The championship game is slated to be played in Louisville, Ky., where the Oregon women’s cross country team won a national championship earlier this year.