Head Coach Matt Ulmer enters his seventh season in 2023, having led the Ducks since 2017. Last year, Oregon volleyball (26-6, 17-3 Pac-12) reached the Elite Eight in postseason play, and Ulmer received a contract extension that runs through 2027.
The Ducks lost some key players from last season’s run. Kiari Robey transferred to Florida State. Gloria Mutiri and Brooke Nuneviller graduated, so the task off-season was to replace those players - while understanding that a player like Brooke Nuneviller can’t really be replaced.
Oregon had eight players from last year’s team that left or graduated. The Ducks brought in seven freshmen in the 2023 recruiting class and added three veterans from the transfer portal: 6-3 Middle Blocker Onye Ofoegbu (UC Irvine), 6-3 Outside Hitter Gabby Gonzales (Ohio State), and 6-5 Middle Blocker Kara McGhee (Baylor). All three are outstanding players and we’ll see quite a bit of them this season, especially McGhee and Gonzales.
For only the second time in the history of the volleyball program, the Ducks start the 2023 season in the top-ten preseason AVCA ranking, coming in at #9.
Last Saturday, Oregon played their first match of the season, albeit an exhibition against Portland State in MKA. The Ducks had to shake off some rust initially, as they were down 1-6 in the first set before overtaking overtaking the Vikings in the middle of the first set. The Ducks took the first set 25-16 after an incredible set point rally.
Oregon had full control of the match from that point on, and the fans were treated to a look at some of the newcomers. Freshman Setter Cristin Cline came in to give Hannah Pukis a rest in the second set and worked through some initial jitters but did just fine in her first college game. Oregon breezed through the second set, taking it 25-17.
In the third set is where fans got a first look at some other notable freshmen: 6-2 Opposite Hitter Noemie Glover and 6-2 Outside Hitter Alex Acevedo. Both saw significant playing time in the third and fourth set. Glover especially looked like she could potentially pick up where Gloria Mutiri left off; she has a wicked kill shot.
Oregon took the third set 25-20, which would technically win the match; however, since this was an exhibition game, the Ducks and Vikings played an exhibition 4th set. Oregon won that as well, 25-18.
The Vikings played well, considering they were up against a top-10 team. Portland State plays very good defense and that led to some impressive rallies during the match.
After the game, when coach Ulmer was asked about whether he had settled on starters, he said, “I was hoping I could get some more clarity after tonight, but I didn’t...but it’s because of positive depth. We’ve never had this much depth in every position.”
Mimi Colyer and Karson Bacon spoke next, and talked about a new season without Nuneviller. Colyer said that during the winter “...I have not hit a single ball. I passed, and passed and passed and passed and passed...This year I want to be more of an all-around outside (hitter).” Bacon observed that replacing Brooke Nuneviller is not possible; rather, the mantra is for everyone to improve on a part of their game to help bridge the void left by Nuneviller’s departure. “I think that right now we’re really learning kinda who we are as a team without her...just kind of seeing how we play what we need when we’re playing and and just how to figure that out through the game.”
Oregon’s season officially starts on Friday in Hawai’i, at the Rainbow Wahine Classic. On Friday, the Ducks will play #13 San Diego - the first opponent in a challenging non-conference schedule, as eight of their eleven non-conference opponents reached the NCAA tournament last year. All of Oregon’s non-conference games will be played on the road, and the Ducks won’t be back in Eugene until the start of Pac-12 play next month, when they open the Pac-12 portion of their schedule by hosting the Oregon State Beavers on Sept. 22nd.