The Ducks are moving up the food chain. After beginning the season as the 20th ranked team in the nation by the AVCA, the University of Oregon’s women’s volleyball squad has since improved seven spots to 13th overall thanks to a ten-day trip to Ohio in which they participated in two back-to-back tournaments and earned themselves a 6-0 record at the time.
“Ohio was really fun. It was pretty hard, those ten days on the road, but we did what we came there to do,” said middle blocker Ariana Williams. “It was a pretty successful road trip.”
Head coach Jim Moore also expressed his appreciation for finally having the home court advantage after the Ducks’ lengthy road trip. “If I could play every single match at home, I’d do it at home, but nobody will come here and play us,” he said after the game. Moore also commented briefly on the difficulty of scheduling opponents for his team to play in Eugene. “I can’t get those teams to come here and play us. I mean, we’ve been to Ohio State twice and they still won’t come back. I’ve had so many people say they’re coming and they won’t come.”
On Wednesday night, the Ducks’ extended their undefeated streak to 7-0 by defeating the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (5-3) at Matthew Knight Arena in four sets.
Outside hitters Alaina Bergsma and Katherine Fischer set the pace for the night with a series of quick strikes in the opening set that had the Gauchos scrambling to catch up before losing the set to the home team, 25-17. The two seniors were Oregon’s second and third-highest scoring players for the game, with 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Williams also heavily contributed to the winning effort with 8 kills and a pair of blocks.
The Ducks’ star hitter, sophomore Liz Brenner, was a solid contributor throughout and finished the game as her team’s top scorer (15 kills). However, her best hit of the night came midway through the set two with a perfectly aimed attack to the back right corner of Santa Barbara’s court to put Oregon up 12-5.
Towards the end of that set, the Gauchos began to show signs of life. After trailing by a score of 18-9, UCSB rallied late after head coach Kathy Gregory took a timeout to give her players what appeared to be an understated but forceful speech. Whatever it was that Gregory said, it worked. From that point on, her players took to the court with renewed purpose. Spearheaded by the combined efforts of junior outside hitter Leah Sully and freshman middle blocker Britton Taylor, the Gauchos outscored Oregon in the second half by five points before ultimately losing the second set, 25-20.
As the teams returned to the court for the third set, the Oregon fans in attendance began to cheer even louder in anticipation of a clean sweep. But even though the Ducks led by two sets, the momentum was clearly on Santa Barbara’s side. The teams traded points for the first few volleys, but it wasn’t long before the Gauchos took the lead for good and began steadily adding to their margin of victory.
On the other side of the net, the Ducks looked uncharacteristically rattled by this change in fortune. With his team trailing 9-13, Moore called a timeout to deliver a speech of his own. However, after watching his players give up yet another point to Santa Barbara after returning to the court, a visibly frustrated Moore immediately called a second timeout to give his players another impassioned talking to. The Ducks eventually righted themselves thanks to a string of kills by Brenner, but it proved to be too little, too late as the Gauchos won the set 18-25.
Oregon went on to win the fourth set 25-16, but it was a much closer affair than its final score would seem to indicate. The final set of the night consisted of a series of long, hard-fought volleys in which the skills of the liberos – senior Haley Jacob for the Ducks and freshman Taylor Formico for the Gauchos – were tested to their limits. Over and over again, what appeared to be sure kills were foiled by players diving across the hardwood floor to thrust an outstretched arm between ball and court.
On offense, Sully, Taylor, and junior Katey Thompson did their best to keep Santa Barbara in the game, but the Ducks managed to stay a step ahead throughout thanks to a scoring assault led by the duo of Bergsma and Brenner. Bergsma also added an ace in the set, her second of the night and tying her with junior setter Lauren Plum for the team lead in aces for the game.
After the game, Moore was understandably annoyed with his team’s up-and-down performance, particularly in the third set. “We weren’t very consistent, and that’s the one thing I can’t tolerate – we can’t tolerate,” he said. Throughout his postgame comments, the tension in Moore’s jawline and the edge in his voice gave off the distinct impression of a coach brooding over the exact number of wind sprints he planned to run his players through in their next practice. “I thought we had a good start and then we didn’t sustain it.”
Next up, the Ducks will stay at home to play the St. Mary’s Rattlers on Monday the 10th. The game is scheduled to start at 7:00 PM at Matthew Knight Arena.