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Oregon Volleyball 2023 Season Review

The Ducks enjoy success again and made a run to the Elite Eight

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

After the disappointment of missing the NCAA Finals in 2022, Oregon volleyball was tasked in the offseason with the need to replace some key components of that Elite Eight team. Kiari Robey transferred to Florida State, and Gloria Mutiri graduated, but it was the loss of Brooke Nuneviller to graduation that posed the biggest issue that the Ducks faced. Without the heart and soul of this Oregon team, how were they going to reassemble and reload, and make another postseason run in 2023?

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

The first step was to get head coach Matt Ulmer locked into a contract extension through 2027. Then, Ulmer and his staff needed to find some pieces through the help of the transfer portal to try and make another run in 2023.

Ulmer made excellent use of the transfer portal in getting a pair of graduate transfers - Kara McGhee from Baylor, and Gabby Gonzales from Ohio State. The addition of these two players would make all the difference in the world toward Oregon’s goal of going deep in the tournament again in 2023.

The addition of McGhee, Gonzales, and Onye Ofoegbu - a MB from UC Irvine added for depth - would give the Ducks the opportunity to not only make another stab at a tournament run, but also provide veteran leadership in helping Oregon’s seven freshmen develop and be ready for 2024.

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

McGhee and Gonzales were senior starters that complemented a starting lineup that included seniors Georgia Murphy, Morgan Lewis, Karson Bacon, Elise Ferreira, and Hannah Pukis.

Oregon next scheduled the non-conference portion of the 2023 season aggressively, with all of the out-of-conference game being played on the road. The Ducks performed well on this extended road trip, defeating then-#13 San Diego, #15 Ohio State, and #8 Pitt. Their only loss in this 11-game stretch was to then-#10 Minnesota.

Oregon began Pac-12 play with a three-game win streak and then fell at home against Washington State. The Ducks won another three and then were swept at home against Arizona State, which wasn’t a bad loss in that they lost to the Sun Devils — after all, ASU did make it to the Sweet Sixteen in this year’s tournament — it was a bad loss in being swept at home.

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

Oregon beat Cal but lost at home against Stanford. While the ASU loss was a bad loss, the Ducks were much more competitive against the Cardinal in a 1-3 loss.

Oregon put together a four-game win streak, during which they avenged their earlier loss to WSU. On the road in the Bay Area, the Ducks again lost to Stanford. The game was a thrill to watch, and Oregon took it to five sets, but could not quite get over the hump and win it.

The Ducks closed out their season on a five-game win streak, and their 26-5 record earned them a #2 seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Back home at MKA, the Ducks hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and swept Southeastern Louisiana and Hawai’i. They were then off to Madison to try and get through the Wisconsin Regional.

Oregon swept Purdue to set up an Elite Eight match against the Badgers. The Ducks faltered against Wisconsin, largely due to their inability to overcome the defense of the Badgers. The key stat in this game was Wisconsin’s 16 blocks vs. just four from the Ducks. (It should also be noted that when Oregon was swept by ASU, the Sun Devils also picked up more blocks than the Ducks).

Oregon’s season ended in Madison with the Ducks having reached the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. Their final record stands at 29-6.

For the final 2023 season stats, Mimi Colyer was the kills leader with 459, and was also the service aces leader with 43. Morgan Lewis finished with 351 kills, and Gabby Gonzales ended with 347 kills.

Kara McGhee was the blocks leader with 149, and Karson Bacon had 130 blocks on the year.

A handful of players picked up post-season honors, highlighted by Oregon’s outstanding setter, Hannah Pukis.

That closes this chapter on what may have been the best team that Oregon has put on the volleyball court. With so many seniors departing, the Ducks will have a very different look next season. Coach Ulmer has remarked over the season on how good the youngsters we have not seen play are — Kate Thibault and Noemie Glover notwithstanding, because we did see some play from them this season — and we’ll see in the future who steps up and becomes next season’s stars.

Ulmer made great use of the transfer portal in the offseason last year. If he can find that kind of success again, Ducks volleyball fans will be in for a treat in 2024.