No. 16 Oregon faces tests in Bay Area

Shawn Hatjes

If nothing else, last weekend proved that the Pacific-10 Conference race for women’s volleyball is still very much up for grabs.

No. 16 Oregon (16-6, 6-6) will look to add even more parity to the conference race this weekend when it travels to the Bay Area to face off with No. 7 Stanford (16-7, 9-4) and No. 12 California (15-8, 8-5).

Though the Ducks were disappointed with their showing last Friday in a 3-1 loss to Arizona, they rebounded nicely against Arizona State the next day, refueling their confidence a bit going into these crucial matchups.

“We were really disappointed with the way we played against Arizona,” freshman libero Kellie Kawasaki said. “Our confidence was definitely down after Friday night, but after Saturday that gave us a little confidence back.”

Also adding to Oregon’s confidence is the fact that it defeated both Stanford and California last month in Eugene.

The Ducks overwhelmed the Golden Bears on Oct. 16 by a score of 3-0, hitting an astonishing .402 as a team. Senior outside hitter Sonja Newcombe set the pace with 13 kills and a .545 hitting percentage, while senior middle blocker Neticia Enesi hit .667 with 11 kills.

Newcombe and Kawasaki each had 10 digs, and sophomore outside hitter Dana Stephenson hit .500 with 3 blocks. In short, it was a complete team effort.

There was no letdown the next day, as the Ducks earned a 3-2 victory, their first over Stanford in 20 years. Newcombe and Enesi again carried the team, finishing with 26 and 21 kills respectively. Enesi hit .514, while Newcombe hit .362 and also added 24 digs.

Despite this past success, head coach Jim Moore has implored upon the team to put it out of their minds.

“We’re going to have to play absolutely lights-out to be able to even compete against these two teams,” Moore said. “What happened before has nothing to do with what’s going to happen this time.”

“(Those wins) definitely helped us,” Enesi said. “But they’re not going to let up just because we did beat them.”

Both Stanford and California will be hungry for revenge in their second matchups with the Ducks. The Golden Bears head into the weekend riding a wave of momentum after defeating then-No. 4 Washington last Saturday in five sets for their third straight win. Star outside hitter Hana Cutura had a day to remember, hitting .299 on her way to 33 kills (a career-high) and even adding eight digs to the mix. The senior from Croatia leads the Pac-10 with 5.10 kills per set and 5.59 points per set. The Bears’ 8-5 conference record is good for fourth, just ahead of the Ducks.

The Cardinal dropped to third in the Pac-10 standings after losing 3-0 to Washington last weekend. The team managed to right the ship quickly, sweeping then-No. 24 Washington State 3-0 the next day. Senior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa hit .400 with 7 kills, while junior outside hitter Alix Klineman hit .298 and led the team with 18 kills. Okogbaa’s .376 hitting percentage is good for fourth in the Pac-10.

As usual, the Ducks are focusing more on their own side of the court than their opponents. After all, what Stanford and California do will not matter if the Ducks do not execute on their side of the court.

“We really want to win the serving-passing competition,” Enesi said. “We’re just going to work on our own side, take it one step at a time as we always do.”

Moore was encouraged by what he saw in the Ducks’ serving last Saturday, and stressed that it must continue against Stanford and California.

“We actually served very well on Saturday,” Moore said. “We served tough, we served to spots, we served where we were supposed to, so I’m very pleased with that.”

Defense will also be key, particularly against such formidable hitters as Cutura and Okogbaa.

“We’ve been really trying to work on our defense and blocking,” Kawasaki said. “As long as we get up a good block and pursue the ball, I think that will help us.”

In this regard, having seen both teams once before will certainly help the Ducks.

“After already playing the hitters, I kind of know their tendencies a little better,” Kawasaki said. “It’s easier for me to read the balls.”

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