Ducks outside hitter Taylor Borup (17) goes for the spike. Oregon Ducks volleyball takes on University of Arizona at Matthew Knight Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Feb. 12, 2021. (DL Young/Emerald)

Georgia Murphy dove for a dig to save the Ducks from losing the game’s longest rally. Murphy’s dig set up a kill from Karson Bacon to give the Ducks a slight lead in the third set on their way to earning their first victory against a ranked opponent.

The No. 11 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions three sets to zero on Friday night. Team defense was the key to the Ducks’ victory; they combined for 16 blocks, forced 25 attack errors, and held Penn State to a .176 hit percentage.

In a battle between two of the nation’s most talented squads, the Ducks separated themselves in the first set. Their offense forced the Nittany Lions into a slew of attack errors, and a kill from Gloria Mutiri flew across the right side of the pin to give Oregon a 14-9 lead.

However, Penn State began to correct its attack errors, cutting the lead to two prior to the first break in play.

The timeout proved beneficial for the Ducks, who regained their momentum. Three kills from Brooke Nuneviller extended the lead to 23-16. Nuneviller has separated herself as a top offensive star in the Pac-12, and her quest for player of the year is off to a strong start. She currently leads the Ducks in kills and had five in the first set tonight.

The Ducks took the first set 25-16 after Abby Hansen’s kill found the corner where no Lion could return the hit.

In the second set, it was Penn State that shot out to the initial lead, with a kill from Abbie Holland making the score 9-7. The Nittany Lions expanded their lead to three as a four-hit challenge from head coach Matt Ulmer was unsuccessful.

But, the Ducks surged back behind their defensive studs: Hansen and Karson Bacon. A 10-2 run started with two roofs from Bacon and was capped off with two more from Hansen giving them a 24-20 lead.

Bacon led both teams with four blocks through two sets.

Taylor Borup drove Elise Ferreira’s set into the ground between the outstretched arms of two Nittany Lions defenders. The Ducks took the second set 25-21.

Entering the third set, the Ducks’ momentum from their second set comeback helped close the door on the Nittany Lions. The score remained close throughout the set, but the Ducks’ defense continued to pose a strong threat.

Mutiri provided a kill and a block, giving Oregon a 19-15 lead. She usurped Bacon as the game’s block leader with six, but Oregon used a team effort on defense to outplay Penn State.

Nuneviller’s ninth kill set up match point, but Penn State fought back to tie the score at 24. A subbing mistake that caused the Ducks to change formation and put Becca Morse in the front and Morgan Lewis in the back opened the door for a comeback.

A sense of angst overtook the fans at Matthew Knight Arena with the Nittany Lions forcing a win-by-two situation.

But, Borup stepped up and rewarded the Duck faithful with a game-winning kill to complete the sweep.

“We really needed Taylor today,” Ulmer said. “She showed toughness and leadership, providing big kills when we needed it.”

The Oregon volleyball team improves to 6-0 and plays host to Minnesota on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Aaron Heisen is a writer from Venice Beach, California. He enjoys covering Oregon sports including basketball, football, baseball and softball. When he’s not writing, he’s playing basketball, reading, watching movies, or spending time with his family.