LOUISVILLE, KY — It is the classic sports matchup — the up-and-coming program versus the standard all others are judged on. That is the story that once again will come to being when the Oregon Ducks take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday evening for a chance to play for the National Championship.
The Nittany Lions have ten Championships to their name and three in a row from 2008-10, while the Ducks prior to this year had never made it to an Elite Eight and as of yet have that piece of hardware missing from their trophy case.
The man who currently leads Penn State, Russ Rose, is enjoying his 33rd year at the helm whereas Jim Moore, an accomplished coach in his own right has just entered his 8th for Oregon.
However, as different as the two programs appear to be on the surface, their roads to Louisville this year for the Final Four have been remarkably similar.
Both squads enjoyed successful regular season campaigns, Oregon boasted a record of 25-4 leading up to the tournament, and Penn State entered tournament play with a record of 29-2.
In addition, both the Ducks and Nittany Lions are in the midst of sizable winning streaks and are arguably playing their best volleyball of the year and peaking at the right time.
Penn State, similarly to Oregon, was awarded the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament on their home court and took care of Binghampton and Bowling Green in straight sets respectively. On the West Coast, the Ducks welcomed Northern Colorado and Dayton to Matthew Knight Arena and also took care of both their foes in straight sets as well.
After two opening round victories, the teams advanced on to play in the Sweet Sixteen, Penn State traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana and the Ducks finding themselves bound for Omaha, Nebraska.
It was here that both units came across their most rigorous challenges of the tournament thus far. For the first time in the NCAA tournament, the teams did not win in straight sets; Penn State lost a set to Minnesota, and Oregon lost one to BYU and one to Nebraska as well.
Entering this match, the Nittany Lions will no doubt be favored over the Ducks; they are the No. 1 seed in the tournament and are battle-tested in the rigors of the tournament. However, Jim Moore’s team will not be intimidated by the pedigree and history associated with the Penn State program.
In the most recent meeting between the two schools which occurred in last year’s season opener, the Ducks went on the road to State College and defeated Penn State 3-1. Not only did Oregon stun the Nittany Lions at home, the loss also ended Penn State’s NCAA record 94-match home winning streak.
When asked what about Penn State made them so good and such a challenging matchup, Oregon’s Katherine Fischer immediately mentioned their physical nature of play.
“They’re definitely a physical team,” Fischer said. “They’ve got a lot of hitters that are bigger and superior to other teams in the country.”
Come Thursday evening, we will find out if the Ducks are capable of neutralizing this physical play and pulling off yet another surprising upset, this time on a much bigger stage