Oregon fine despite weekend sweep

In collegiate volleyball, it is difficult to put a positive spin on an 0-2 weekend. This is particularly true in the midst of the Pacific-10 Conference season, when every match counts as these immensely talented teams scramble to the top of the pile. This past weekend for the Oregon volleyball team proved to be an exception to this rule.

As head coach Jim Moore pointed out a day after their loss to USC, the team really did not play badly over the weekend. Losses are losses, to be sure, but the Ducks’ performance was really much better than their 0-2 record made it look.

On Friday against UCLA, Oregon was actually ahead 23-17 in the first set and seemed primed to take a 1-0 advantage. Some costly attack errors allowed UCLA to crawl back into the set and eventually come away with a 1-0 lead in the match. That stunning first set loss likely had an effect on the team’s play in the second, which they also lost.

So really, it was missed opportunities that doomed the Ducks in the first two sets against UCLA and not necessarily bad play. This is encouraging going forward; the Ducks could very well have won the first two sets on Friday had they been able to capitalize on that 23-17 advantage.

Even more encouraging was what occurred in the next two sets. The Ducks simply refused to give up, and fought right back to tie the match at two sets a piece. Senior Sonja Newcombe was particularly impressive during this stretch, willing the team along with countless clutch kills. Other teams could have easily packed their bags and gone home after falling behind 0-2, but in what has become a recurring theme this year, the Ducks pushed back.

They didn’t have quite enough to finish off the match, as they fell in the deciding fifth set. Still, the way they responded to adversity was a true testament to this team’s fortitude. Admittedly, the loss to USC is a bit tougher to put a positive spin on. Any 3-0 loss is tough to swallow, but the Ducks were out-scored by a mere six points and lost by only two in each of the three sets. Most of their team numbers were strikingly similar to those of USC: a .252 hitting percentage (compared to USC’s .264), 46 assists (compared to USC’s 50), and three service aces (compared to USC’s five).

The fact that the Ducks’ numbers were so similar to USC’s is also remarkable given that star middle blocker Neticia Enesi only touched the ball 15 times. Moore saw this as a big problem, and it is safe to assume that if Enesi had seen a few more sets, the outcome of the match could have been completely different.

Basically, this match could just as easily have gone 3-0 in Oregon’s favor. It did not, and USC certainly deserved to win. What will be important for the Ducks and their fans to remember is how close they were, and to use this weekend as motivation against Oregon State this Friday (not that they’ll need much after their last matchup with the Beavers).

The Ducks should also feel very lucky to have one of their star players in a groove right now. Newcombe, the reigning American Volleyball Coaches Association and Collegiate Volleyball Update player of the week, has been nothing short of outstanding lately.

Saturday’s match against USC marked her third straight with 20 or more kills, and she has also had at least 10 digs in five straight contests.

Moore believes that her play will carry over into Friday’s contest against Oregon State, and that the team will follow her lead in terms of both leadership and performance. I wholeheartedly agree; this is an undeniably talented team that is capable of just about anything when they are on their game, and Newcombe seems to be the type of player that can make everyone around her better.

Though the final scores may not indicate it, the Ducks did not lay a goose egg this weekend. Had a few more breaks gone their way, we might actually be talking about a second straight weekend sweep. Now, all the Ducks can hope for is revenge against the Beavers this Friday. Luckily, the Ducks are a lot closer to clicking than they might look.

Sometimes, you just have to look outside the win/loss column.

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