In their 3-0 win over the Utah Utes Friday night at Matthew Knight Arena, the Ducks volleyball team extended their undefeated streak to 12-0, reaffirmed their No. 2 AVCA ranking, and generally made things unpleasant for their visiting Pac-12 opponent, the Utah Utes.
However, the biggest winner of the night didn’t even set foot on the court. For head coach Jim Moore, whose eight year tenure has seen Oregon undergo a remarkable transformation from perennial doormat to ascendant national powerhouse, the game also represented the 500th win of his impressive career. To mark the occasion, his players presented him with a signed game ball after the match as the audience cheered its appreciation for his services.
Just don’t expect him to make a big deal of the occasion.
“I’ll do this as long as we don’t talk about me,” Moore said to the waiting semicircle of reporters after the game. “I don’t matter.”
Compared to the Ducks’ dynamic, fast-paced offense, the more defensive-minded Utes appeared hopelessly overwhelmed at times as they woodenly tried to keep up with their higher-octane rival. One of the biggest weak spots for Utah was libero Lea Adolph, who struggled all night to defend attacks that invariably seemed to land just outside her effective radius.
Oregon outside hitters Liz Brenner and Alaina Bergsma established their team’s superiority early by rattling off three quick scores to begin the first set. About midway through the set, Utah outside hitter Morgan Odale came out of her daze to put up some points for her team, but her teammates were unable to follow her example. Despite Odale’s best efforts, Oregon soon had the set under wraps, 25-15.
In set two, the Ducks fell back on old habits by allowing the Utes to lead for most of the early going. But even with their offense stuck in idle, the Ducks were able to tie the score nine times over the course of the set. In keeping with their usual modus operandi, in the second half of the set the home team casually put their foot back down on the accelerator, scoring ten of the set’s last twelve points before taking it 25-21.
After a halftime interlude in which spectators were invited down to the court for a serving contest, both teams returned to the court for set three. As with the first set, the Ducks built a solid early lead and never relinquished it, but this time around the Utes at least made things interesting. The visiting team was finally able to get its blocking game up and running, and for sporadic bursts was able to turn the air above the net into an impassible barrier.
The set also included five service aces (two by Oregon, three by Utah), two of the longest and most unpredictable volleys I’ve ever seen, and an impressively well-disguised scoring attack by Utah setter Cygan Kendall in which she jumped as if to set the ball, then quickly turned toward the net as the ball arrived and lightly batted it past a couple of stunned Oregon players. That said, none of those notable items did much to stop Oregon from jogging to a 25-21 finish to win the set and the game.
Next up, the Ducks stay at home as they take on Colorado at Matthew Knight Arena tonight at 7:00.
All photos – Matthew Heuett/Eugene Daily News