SportsVolleyball

Ducks face difficult test



Dave Martinez

As the No. 15 Oregon volleyball team prepares to host No. 14 California and No. 5 Stanford this weekend, some might be tempted to call this one of the biggest
moments of the season so far.

Head coach Jim Moore doesn’t see it this way, preferring not to look too far ahead.

“We really need to win the first point,” said Moore. “Right now my only concern is about how do we win the next point, and so that’s where our focus needs to be. You can’t think big picture.”

Indeed, every point will be hard-fought this weekend against two of the Pacific-10 Conference’s strongest teams.

California features outside hitter Hana Cutura, one of the premier players in the Pac-10. The 6-foot-4-inch senior from Zagreb, Croatia, has twice been named an All-American, and leads the Pac-10 this year in both kills per set (4.74) and points per set (5.29).

“Hana’s going to get kills, there’s no question about that whatsoever,” said Moore. “She’s a great player. She’s going to score points and she’s going to get kills, but we have players who will score points and get kills as well.”

Against a team with such a dominating player in Cutura, it can be tempting to concentrate solely on stopping her. Moore will look to avoid this strategy.

“You can’t just automatically stack three hitters on her because everybody else is going to be able to put it on the floor with nobody up,” Moore said. “We’ll just do the best we can handling her when she’s in the front row.”

Despite Cutura’s imposing presence, the Ducks won their final matchup with the Golden Bears last year in four sets. Senior outside hitter Sonja Newcombe put together a double-double with 14 kills and 13 digs, while senior middle blocker Neticia Enesi had 8 kills and 7 blocks. Junior outside hitter Heather Meyers had 12 digs, and senior setter Nevena Djordjevic added 40 assists.

On Cal’s side, Cutura had 19 kills but was held to a mere .185 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Mindi Wiley had more success against the Ducks, hitting .571 with 13 kills and 8 blocks.

The Golden Bears are off to a 2-3 start in the Pac-10 this year, and are coming off of a split with the Washington schools last weekend. After a 3-0 loss to then-No. 3 Washington in straight sets on Friday, California bounced back the next day against Washington State and won in three sets.

Awaiting the Ducks after their showdown with California will be Stanford. The Cardinal is fresh off of a dramatic five-set victory against previously unbeaten Washington, and has now won four straight matches.

Middle blocker Janet Okogbaa was also named Pac-10 player of the week for her play against both Washington schools last weekend. The senior was instrumental in Stanford’s upset of Washington, hitting .528 with 21 kills and seven blocks.

Stanford has proven to be a constant nuisance to the Ducks over the years and has won an astonishing 39 straight matches against Oregon.

“We think of it as just another match,” said senior libero Amanda Westrick. “But if we end up beating them that would be a huge defeat because the three years I’ve been here, we’ve never beaten Stanford.”

The most recent matchup between Stanford and Oregon near the end of last season was tightly contested, and the Ducks eventually fell in four sets. Newcombe hit .359 with 18 kills, Enesi added 11 kills, and Djordjevic had 54 assists. Meyers played a key role on defense with 10 digs.

Still, Moore doesn’t pay much attention to matches in the past.

“That was last year, and they’re a dramatically different team (this year),” Moore said. “We were right there with them, it was a great match.”

This year, the Ducks want to be more than “right there,” and the seniors have worked very hard in practice to prove that.

“We’ve had two really good days (in practice), and to the seniors’ credit I really think it’s been them,” said Moore. “Nev (Djordjevic) came in yesterday and today and did some extra stuff on her own to make sure she was doing things right technically, and it helped her tremendously. Then Sonja and Teesh (Enesi) stepped up big time, and just made sure
everybody had a lot of energy.”

“We’ve been playing really hard and getting after things,” said Westrick. “We feel pretty good going into this weekend.”

In terms of sheer talent, the Ducks can hang with just about any team. The key to this weekend will be execution.

“If we stay consistent and just pass the ball and serve the ball, I think our offense will be able to run its course,” said freshman outside hitter Jocelyn Levig.

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