Two weeks ago, Washington and Oregon were tied for 2nd place in the AVCA polls thanks to their undefeated records. Not long thereafter the Ducks lost their first game of the season, dropping them three places in the rankings and leaving their conference rivals with the distinction of being the last remaining undefeated team in the nation.
As it turns out, Washington’s streak didn’t have long to live. When the Huskies arrived in Eugene Saturday night, the Ducks took the opportunity to share their pain with their Pac-12 adversary by hand-delivering them their first loss, 3-1.
And all it took to pull it off was a paltry combined seven lead changes, nineteen tie scores, 149 points, and 295 attacks.
“It was pretty much a dogfight,” head coach Jim Moore said after the game. “I thought we were out of it . . . we were horrible in game two, and in the middle of game three I was like, I didn’t know how it was as close as it was, ‘cause we were ugly. But then, you know, somehow they just dug deep and came back and turned it around.”
The frenetic pitch of the game was firmly established in the opening volleys of the first set. After a tight back-and-forth struggle through the first twelve points of the game, Washington began to build up a comfortable six point lead thanks to the blocking prowess of their front row and a pair of aces served by setter Katy Beals. Huskies middle blocker Amanda Gil received the lion’s share of the blocking credit on the stat sheet for the game, but the effort was a collaborative one between Gil, fellow middle blocker Kelcey Dunaway, and outside hitters Kaleigh Nelson and Kylin Muñoz.
To their credit, Oregon managed to fight their way back into the game and gradually chip away at Washington’s lead – so gradually, in fact, that they didn’t manage to tie the score until late in the set, 24-24. Moments later, the Ducks capped off their 26-24 comeback win when outside hitter Alaina Bergsma and middle blocker Ariana Williams scored a kill apiece to deafening choruses of cheers from the fans in attendance.
Washington returned the favor in the second set. After trailing for the majority of the set, the Huskies’ blockers once again took control and in short order had frustrated the Ducks’ hitters, who began to play more recklessly as they watched attack after attack turn into points for their opponent.
It wasn’t long before a string of kills by outside hitter Krista Vansant had the sizeable contingent of Washington fans in attendance trying their level best to match the volume of the Ducks fans’ celebration after the first set (for the record, they fell well short of the requisite decibel level, but not for lack of trying).
“We just started setting the ball tight and low,” said Moore. “Part of it was the hitters as well, but we got way out of synch, and then we’re going to get blocked.”
After a brief intermission involving the usual semi-embarrassing competitions inflicted on random spectators, the teams returned to the court to play what may very well have been the most exciting, high-intensity set the Ducks have played at home all season long. Washington got the party started with a blitz of kills and blocks that had Oregon’s defenders scrambling all over the court just to keep up. A two-pronged attack led by outside hitters Bergsma and Katherine Fischer on the periphery of the Huskies’ court held the point gap to a manageable three to four points in the early going, but it would have been for naught had Moore not called two key timeouts in the latter part of the game to settle his players and make some adjustments.
“All we kept saying was ‘calm down, refocus, go,’” said Moore. “You’ve got to focus on the play that’s in front of you, you can’t worry about what’s behind you.”
Whatever he said to them, one of his star hitters clearly took his message to heart. Of the last seven points scored by the Ducks en route to a 25-22 finish, five were off of kills by Bergsma.
“Our offense was getting a little bit slower in the second set,” explained Bergsma afterwards, “and the sets were high… [so] by bringing it back down we were able to beat the block by just being fast.”
By comparison to the third set, the fourth was almost a denouement. Washington still managed to earn multiple points off of blocks, but Oregon soon countered that by speeding up the already breakneck pace of their offense.
Outside hitters Bergsma, Fischer, and Liz Brenner did their usual great job of racking up points off kills, but the offensive efforts of Williams deserve special attention. For whatever reason, her twisting, low-elevation attack style seemed to give the Huskies a great deal of trouble no matter which part of the net she contested. Including the final score in the Ducks’ 25-17 victory in the fourth set, a full two-thirds of Williams’ eighteen attacks resulted in points for her team.
“It feels really good to come back,” said Williams after the game. “We were kind of out of rhythm and down after Stanford, and now we’re back in rhythm and doing really well.”
Next up, the Ducks will enjoy a few days’ respite before traveling to play No. 35 Arizona State on Friday the 19th and Arizona State on Saturday the 20th.
|SET SCORES||1||2||3||4||Team Record|
|Wash (1)||24||25||22||17||16-1 (7-1)|
|Oregon (3)||26||20||25||25||16-1 (7-1)|