A little over a month ago, Oregon Ducks volleyball was trying to adjust to the temporary loss of their star setter, Hannah Pukis, to injury. After having dropped three in a row to the Washington schools on the road, the Ducks traveled to Southern California. Oregon lost the first game of the SoCal trip to USC (a very good team and third in the Pac-12 standings) before gritting out a win against UCLA in five sets.
That game was the first victory of Oregon’s current 10-game win streak, as tonight the Ducks battled from behind against a Bruins team that was giving their best shots. Regardless, Oregon prevailed; 25-18, 25-27, 16-25, 25-22, 15-10.
It was a plucky win by an Oregon volleyball team that is playing great ball, and winning matches even when they’re not playing their best all of the time. That, and tonight the Bruins were playing out of their minds - finding crazy success at the service line and defending impossible shots time and again.
The Ducks jumped out to an early lead, but UCLA made them work right away. The first kill of the game came at the hands of Gloria Mutiri, after the first of many rallies we would see in this match.
Oregon went up five at 9-4, but UCLA charged back with an 11-3 run that put them in the lead, 15-12.
The Ducks scored four in a row to retake the lead, however, ending their run with the blocking of Hannah Pukis and Karson Bacon.
After UCLA responded with two points, Oregon went on a 9-2 tear to put the set away.
In the second set, great defense by the Bruins coupled with some miscues by the Ducks caused Oregon to fall in an early hole. In spite of some ties, UCLA pulled ahead by mid-set, with great defense and success in serving.
The Bruins went up 11-18 before the Ducks knocked off three points to close the gap. UCLA went on a run of their own to distance the gap, including contributions from their own freshman, Grayce Olson.
Down 18-24, the Ducks saved seven set points to tie it up, 24-24.
Alas, UCLA would be successful on their ninth(!) set point to take set #2.
After nearly winning the second set, Oregon stumbled and faltered in the third. The sides tied 6-6, but attack errors by Oregon coupled with less than stellar defense put the Ducks in a bind from which they would not be able to extract themselves.
UCLA served six aces in the third, five of which were reception errors due to Oregon’s defensive struggles.
Once again, the Ducks had their back to the wall. Once again, the Ducks showed the character of this team - that they are never out of any match.
The Bruins built a tenuous early lead, leading 4-5, and Oregon rattled off four points to take the lead.
The Ducks played with better vigor, tightening up their digs and blocks.
Mimi Colyer, who had been in a bit of a funk in the first half of the match, finally settled in and rattled off a succession of kills that, along with Brooke Nuneviller, put the Ducks to set point. Then the Bruins fought off four set points!
Finally, a Kiari Robey kill sent us to the deciding set.
The fifth set began ominously, with Mokihana Tufono’s eighth service ace - again, off a reception error.
In spite of this reception error, Oregon played the inspired defense that they rediscovered in the fourth set and matched everything the Bruins sent their way. In pulling ahead - and serving their own aces - the match began to feel like it was Oregon’s to lose.
After being tied 8-8, the Ducks went on a commanding 7-2 run, sending UCLA packing.
Tonight the Oregon Ducks were not quite as sharp on the service line as they have been the past few games. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The Ducks did have nine service errors on only four aces, but the perspective is most assuredly distorted by UCLA’s 11 service aces with five service errors. To be fair, those are pinball numbers, and one would be hard-pressed to come up with another instance where the opposition has served on Oregon like that. Said coach Matt Ulmer, “That’s the most service pressure anyone has put on us all year...and it just really messes with our rhythm.”
In spite of starting the first part of the match somewhat off-kilter, Mimi Colyer finished strong with a double-double of 17 kills and leading the Ducks with her 19 digs. Colyer’s two aces were half of the Duck total for the match. For a freshman like Mimi Colyer to put up those kinds of numbers on an “off” night speaks volumes to her upside. And let’s just get this out of the way - Colyer is the best freshman in the country.
Brooke Nuneviller was on fire when it counted tonight. She brought yet another double-double with 19 kills and 10 digs, and even though she only had one service ace to show for it, she was a champion on the service line tonight.
Gloria Mutiri brought it, and brought it in a big way - 15 kills and a .455 H%, which lead the team.
While they may not have been in double figures, the eight kills apiece for Kiari Robey and Karson Bacon are significant. Tonight, both had a knack for pulling off a kill when it was very much needed. Robey was a monster on defense as well, with six block assists.
Hannah Pukis came away tonight with a hard-fought double-double of 59 assists and 12 digs. Georgia Murphy contributed 14 digs on the night.
The Ducks hit .261 on the match to .202 for the Bruins.
Oregon next welcomes the USC Trojans. USC is a top team on the serve - the best in the Pac-12. Oregon will need to have a better game on defense and in utilizing the passing lanes against the #3 team in the Pac-12...and they know it. USC topped Oregon in four sets when they met last month, so the Ducks are looking to even-up the series and win their 11th match in a row.