Ducks stumble against UCLA, USC

Momentum can be a fickle sort of thing, and the No. 12 Oregon volleyball team learned that the hard way this weekend on the road against No. 18 USC and No. 13 UCLA.

Just a week removed from two important victories over California and Stanford, the Ducks fell in consecutive days to the Trojans and Bruins, dropping their conference record to 4-5.
The Ducks came out firing in the first set against USC on Saturday and took an early 16-9 lead. The Trojans fought back, and eventually tied the set at 23. After an attack error by junior outside hitter Heather Meyers, USC took a 24-23 lead and had a chance to close out the set. Freshman outside hitter Katherine Fischer kept the Ducks alive with a kill, but the Trojans hung on to win the set 26-24.

“We have to have a better grasp of putting the match away and going to the right people in those stressful situations,” Moore said.

The Trojans’ momentum carried into the second set as they jumped out to a 19-12 advantage. This time, it was the Oregon’s turn to climb back into the set. Meyers, Newcombe, and senior middle blocker Neticia Enesi rattled off three straight kills to cut the deficit to four.

After four errors and some key kills from Newcombe and Meyers, USC led by one, 23-22. Fischer’s attack was then blocked, giving the Trojans a 24-22 advantage and set point.

An attack error by USC sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter trimmed the lead to 24-23, but junior middle blocker Audrey Eichler ended the set with a kill and gave the Trojans a 2-0 lead.

The Ducks would not give in, and the third set proved to be even closer. The two teams traded points back and forth until the Trojans reached match point at 24-22. Newcombe then came up with a clutch kill, her eighth of the set, followed by a service ace from freshman libero Haley Jacob to tie the score at 24. From there, the Trojans were stopped four more times with match point by four Oregon kills, three of which by Newcombe.

“Sonja really swung at crunch time (Saturday),” Moore said. “That was huge. She didn’t take safe swings when the match was on the line. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but she certainly demonstrated how its done.”

In the end, Newcombe’s efforts were not enough, as the Trojans won the set 30-28 and came away with a 3-0 match victory. Newcombe finished with a .442 hitting percentage, 21 kills, and 10 digs. Meyers also had a double-double with 13 kills to go along with 13 digs and a .303 hitting percentage. Enesi hit .467 with 9 kills on only 15 attempts, ending a streak of four straight matches with at least 10 kills.

Jupiter led the way for the Trojans with 19 kills, seven digs, and three service aces. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Williams hit .500 with 12 kills, while senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin had a double-double with 10 kills, 13 digs and a .391 hitting percentage.

Friday’s match against UCLA proved to be far closer. The Bruins proved to be particularly error-prone early in the first set, and the Ducks jumped to a 23-17 lead. Undaunted, the Bruins rattled off four consecutive points before a Meyers kill gave Oregon game point at 24-21. The Ducks would not score again in the set. A kill by sophomore middle blocker Amanda Gil brought the Bruins to within two, and four straight Oregon attack errors gave UCLA a 26-24 first set victory.

“I think there we may have lost focus,” Moore said. “I think we panicked a little bit there, but you replay that 100 times and we probably win it 99.”

In the second set, UCLA broke away from a 14-14 tie with three straight points and never looked back from there, winning 25-18. Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Ducks weren’t ready to go down without a fight.

Oregon bounced back and won a closely contested third set 25-22, and in the fourth set Newcombe ended with two straight kills to win it 25-22. Still, the Ducks could not complete the comeback in the deciding fifth set. UCLA never trailed and eventually won the set 15-9, and the match 3-2. Newcombe finished with 22 kills and 23 digs, Meyers had 15 kills and 19 digs, and Fischer threw in 15 kills of her own with 13 digs.

UCLA’s defense lived up to its considerable hype, holding the Ducks to a .184 team hitting percentage and just one service ace. Sophomore libero Lainey Gera ended up with 22 digs, senior outside hitter Kaitlin Sather had 20 digs, and Gil added 10 blocks to a 14-kill day.

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