Oregon Ducks volleyball extended their win streak to 14 in sweeping the Loyola Marymount Tigers tonight in Matthew Knight Arena, 25-17. 25-22, 25-15. The crowd was easily the largest of this season, at nearly 3,500 strong, and it certainly felt like it.
Colby Neal was among the starters tonight, which - while it may have seemed surprising - was a strategic decision. As explained by head coach Matt Ulmer, “(LMU) runs a really fast offense, they try to work the block a ton, so I thought maybe we didn’t need the offense as much with Kiari (Robey)...we needed Colby’s blocking presence - and boy, did she deliver. She had some nice swings on top of that, too, so that was great to see.” As coach Ulmer pointed out, that’s the benefit of having four great hitters that have their own unique skill set to bring to the table.
The LMU Tigers were among the last eight into this year’s tournament - by their own admission they were on the edge of their seats on Selection Sunday - but this is a capable team. The Tigers took #2 seed San Diego State to five sets earlier in the season. They run a fast attack and have an excellent service game. LMU prides themselves on being a very good serve-and-pass team, and they are. The Ducks have better athletes and defended LMU’s serve and attempts to attack the middle, and that’s basically why Oregon prevailed.
The Tigers took a brief lead in the first set, up 1-2, before Oregon rattled off a 6-0 run to send LMU into a timeout. After the timeout, the Ducks were still on a roll; and, as has been the case all season, setter Hannah Pukis did a masterful job of distributing the ball and masking who would attack. When Oregon went up 16-9, Pukis (who was at the right-middle of the net) appeared to set to the hitter on the right. Instead, Karson Bacon ran to the right, in front of the retreating Pukis, and delivered a great running kill. Totally a thing of beauty.
That kind of deception was evident a few points later. LMU serves the ball, and Neal gets the dig to Pukis, and it looks like Pukis is going to set to the left side. Nope. Neal runs left-to-right for the ball set and kill.
A kill by Brooke Nuneviller to follow gave Oregon a nine-point lead; a gap that LMU would not be able to significantly close. Nuneviller closed the set with one of the backcourt kills that she is so good at.
The second set opened up with another Oregon lead, but the Tigers closed in on a 4-0 run to take the lead, 5-6. The Ducks went on their own 4-0 run to regain the lead. LMU was certainly in the set to a larger extent than the first set. Observed coach Ulmer, “We were just unaggressive. I thought we starting tipping the ball more, and we were trying to be more conservative...and that’s not us.”
It took Brooke Nuneviller’s sheer will to force the Ducks into the lead - and not the way you might think. Nuneviller started her career at Oregon on defense, and she willed Oregon into the lead by way of defense. The Ducks went up 10-8 because #5 was a beast on the digs. Then, to go up 11-9, Nuneviller made another insane dig - one of three in the set that were really critical to Oregon not giving the Tigers any momentum.
With Oregon seemingly having the set in hand, up 24-18, LMU held off four set points before a solo block by Hannah Pukis took the second set.
In the third set, LMU tied Oregon 6-6 before taking a lead, 8-10. One never got the feeling that the lead would last, however, and the Ducks went on a 10-2 run that would be the deciding run to take the match. Fittingly, the match ended on a Brooke Nuneviller kill:
LMU’s game strategy of serve and pass was not able to overcome the many weapons that the Ducks possess. The Tigers could only muster a H% of .155 for the match, and their kill percentage was .340. They probably also wish that they did not commit eight service errors, which you can’t really get away with against a really good team over the course of three sets.
Brooke Nuneviller was the star on offense and defense today, as evidenced by her double-double of 13 kills and 11 digs, along with two service aces. Mimi Colyer also finished the match with 13 kills. Colby Neal had a fantastic game with six kills and a hand in five blocks. Gloria Mutiri and Karson Bacon also had five kills apiece.
Georgia Murphy played an understated match, and her 9 digs, 2 assists, and one service ace belie her importance in Oregon’s defense. It’s not just about numbers. If you watch Oregon volleyball, just watch what Murphy does for five or six plays in a row and you’ll see what I mean.
Hannah Pukis had 36 assists, 6 digs, 2 kills, and one solo block. You’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating - because she is that good - the Ducks have one of the best setters in the nation. The setter is a crucial element in volleyball, and Oregon can go deep, in part, because they have a fantastic setter.
Oregon was great on the service line tonight, with 4 service aces and only 5 service errors.
The Arkansas Razorbacks swept Utah State in the earlier match today, setting up tomorrow’s showdown with Oregon. Arkansas placed fourth in the SEC standings this season, ending with a 20-8 record (11-7 in the SEC, which is a very good volleyball conference). Arkansas is led by Jillian Gillen, who leads the team in kills per set (3.66) and aces per set (0.33). Libero Courtney Jackson leads the team with 3.55 digs per set, and setter Hannah Hougue records 5.70 assists per set.
By way of comparison, Brooke Nuneviller books 4.00 kills per set, Hannah Pukis is ninth in the NCAA with 11.24 assists per set, and Georgia Murphy records 3.63 digs per set.