In a sweep of back-to-back nationally ranked teams, the University of Oregon’s 8th-ranked volleyball team followed up their decisive victory last Wednesday over the 26th-ranked Oregon State Beavers by traveling to Los Angeles two days later to beat the 2nd-ranked USC Trojans on their home turf.
The Ducks are now 11-0 on the season (2-0 versus the Pac-12), which is impressive all by itself, but it’s the way that record has been compiled that makes this team truly special. Nine of their eleven victories have been sweeps – three of them against ranked opponents – and they’ve done it by dominating no matter which team is on the attack.
On offense, the Ducks’ hitters have reached the 10+ kill mark in a game 27 times. The team has also racked up hit percentages of .300 or better in seven games, with players exceeding that mark individually 36 times. Defensively, Oregon has allowed just nine of the other team’s hitters to get ten or more kills and held the opposition to a hit percentage of .200 or less in all but two games. Those hit percentages are even more spectacular when you break them down by sets. As a team, they’ve hit for .300 or better in 19 of the 37 sets they’ve played this season (51.35%), while they’ve held the other team to .200 or less a whopping 24 times (64.89%).
The Ducks also lead the Pac-12 in kills, assists, and hitting percentage. Four Oregon players also appear in the conference’s top ten lists for individual stats: Alaina Bergsma (1st in service aces and points, 2nd in kills), Ariana Williams (2nd in hitting percentage), Lauren Plum (1st in assists), and Haley Jacob (9th in digs). Given the high level of competition in the Pac-12 for volleyball, that’s no mean feat.
“The one thing about volleyball in this conference is, this isn’t college volleyball,” head coach Jim Moore explained in an interview earlier this year. “This is probably the fifth or sixth best league in the world . . . this is as high, as good as it gets at the collegiate level, especially top to bottom.”
The AVCA’s rankings for Division I teams back up Moore’s statement. In their most recent poll, five of the top ten colleges were from the Pac-12: UCLA (1), USC (2), Washington (5), Stanford (6), and Oregon (8). Two other conference members, Oregon State and California, also received votes. Also, in the 31 championship games in women’s volleyball the NCAA has held since 1981, Pac-12 teams have reached the semifinals 28 times and taken first place 14 times. In short, the Pac-12 is king of the hill when it comes to volleyball – and if Oregon keeps playing like it is right now, come this December they’ll be in sole possession of the conference crown.
The team’s strengths were on full display in the Civil War game against the Beavers. In the first set, the Ducks quickly built an 8-3 lead that forced Beavers head coach Taras Liskevych to call an early timeout to regroup. After returning to the court, his players were able to narrow the scoring gap to 11-8, but Oregon’s assault, led by Williams and Brenner, soon had the Ducks steamrolling their way to a 25-12 finish.
Set two began with the teams’ roles briefly reversed, as this time the Beavers jumped out to a 4-9 lead to force Moore to call a timeout to talk the situation with his players. After a second timeout discussion midway through the set, the Ducks’ offense came back to life. But as hard as Brenner and company pushed their opponents, on the other side of the net outside hitters Camille Saxton and Katelyn Driscoll were busy spearheading a Beavers attack that gave as good as it got. Saxton was Oregon State’s best offensive weapon by far and finished the game with ten kills, five blocks, and a service ace, but her best efforts were only enough to fight Oregon to a 24-24 tie. Moments later, Bergsma and Brenner crushed the Beavers’ hopes with a quick-strike point apiece to take the set, 26-24.
After the game, Williams talked briefly about Oregon’s tendency to fall behind early before rallying for a win. “Unfortunately, we are very good at coming back because we usually start behind. But we just focused – focused on each play in front of us instead of letting the plays behind us drag us down.”
In the third set, Williams and her teammates fell right back into their bad habit by spotting the Beavers an early lead. However, after two back-to-back timeouts by Moore, the Ducks snapped out of their momentary torpor and went back on the attack. Again, the Beavers were able to keep pace for a time, but it wasn’t long before Oregon kicked their offense into overdrive, scoring ten of the set’s last eleven points en route to a 25-15 game-winning finish.
Outside hitters Brenner, Bergsma, and Fischer contributed heavily to the Ducks’ offensive efforts in the game, but it was Williams, the stalwart blocker in the middle of the net, who ended up leading the team in scoring for the game. Her final tally: 14 kills, 4 blocks, and 17.5 points.
Overall, this was one of those games where everyone seemed to get in on a piece of the action. Freshman middle blockers Canace Finley and Clelia DeFelice both scored a point each, as did freshman outside hitter Martenne Bettendorf.
Setter Lauren Plum, when asked about the three points she added to Oregon’s tally, responded with a laugh and a broad smile. “I just try to be a threat so that it opens up the other hitters. That’s the main reason why I, like, try to be an offensive threat.”
But amid all that offensive firepower, the best player on the court for the Ducks didn’t attempt a single attack. With star player Haley Jacob unavailable for the game, Moore turned to defensive specialist Kellie Kawasaki to fill in at libero. Whenever Oregon’s hitters began to falter, it was Kawasaki’s heroics on the back end of the court that kept the game from spiraling out of control.
“I think we had more consistent energy throughout, which is tough without Haley,” said Moore. “That was a little bit of my concern was just that overall leadership that Haley brings, and Kellie did a great job and I’m really happy for her in that regard.”
Oregon followed up their strong showing against the Beavers with an even more dominant performance on the road against a much tougher Trojans lineup. In the first set, USC was able to keep the score close early, but after a 5-5 tie the Ducks put their foot on the accelerator and didn’t let up until they’d won, 25-19. Fischer, who was particularly effective in the early going, put on the finishing touches by scoring Oregon’s last four points, all on kills.
In the second set, the Trojans were able to take the lead – once, by one point, and that lead lasted for the span of just one volley. After that, the set was all Ducks as they torched USC for their widest margin of victory on the night, 25-15. The Trojans were able to score just six kills to Oregon’s 16, half of which were courtesy of Brenner, and their hitting percentage for the match was a dismal .036.
But as decisively as the Ducks won those first two sets, the third proved to be a much different affair. Spurred on by the three-pronged assault led by opposite Katie Fuller and outside hitters Sara Shaw and Samantha Bricio, the Trojans pressed the Ducks all night long. All told, the set included six lead changes, and only once did either team trail by more than two points. Bergsma ended the night in prime form, scoring 9 of her team-leading 18 kills in the final set. However, neither she nor any of the other Ducks players on the court scored the game-winning point; that honor went to Bricio, who ended USC’s hopes for a come-from-behind victory by committing a service error to decide the game for Oregon, 25-23.
Next, the Ducks return home to play back-to-back home games, both against Pac-12 opponents at Matthew Knight Arena. On the 28th, Oregon will play Utah at 8:00, and on the 29th Colorado will be in town for a 7:00 game. The Utah game will also be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Network.