Coming off a home loss to No. 3 Stanford, Oregon continued its battle through the toughest part of the schedule on Sunday afternoon, hosting a top-25 squad for the third time in three games. The 19th-ranked Cal Golden Bears marched into Matthew Knight Arena and swept the match over the Ducks in three sets, winning 25-14, 25-18, 25-21.
The match started off with aggressive play and both sides trading blows as Oregon was able to match Cal’s intensity and rhythm. Senior Ronika Stone had a lightning-quick kill, and things looked to be going well in the first set for the Ducks. However, the aggressive play by Oregon gave way to inconsistent serving and hits that sailed out of the back of the court.
Several miscommunications on the defensive end led to seven straight Cal points and a 16-7 deficit for Oregon in the first set. Head coach Matt Ulmer took a timeout following two blocks by Cal and an Oregon violation.
“There was a lack of maturity,” Ulmer said of his young team that features only three seniors. “We’re making poor decisions, which only gets worse with stress.”
Later in the set, a long rally ended in a block by Cal, shutting down any hopes for Oregon getting back into the set. Despite dropping the set 25-14, Oregon had 11 kills while Cal had 9, hinting at the sloppy mistakes by the Ducks that put them in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
Cal picked up right where it left off it the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Oregon battled back with two kills by outside hitter Taylor Williams, leading to four straight points to take the lead, 6-5. The Ducks couldn’t keep the Bears’ offense at bay for too long, however, and they quickly fell behind 11-6.
After sophomore outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller sustained a long rally with two incredible digs, the Oregon offense failed to execute once again, which seemed to drain the Ducks of any intensity they had at the start of the match. The serves of Cal setter Jade Blevins proved to be too much to handle and kept Oregon from gaining any momentum in the second set, which Cal ended up winning 25-18.
The theme continued in set number three, when the usually consistent libero Georgia Murphy missed a serve to begin the frame. Cal’s lethal offensive combo of Mima Mirkovic and Lauren Forte was on display as the Bears took an early 6-3 lead. As the set continued, the Ducks were able to find the rhythm they had been looking for, and Matthew Knight Arena tried to rally the home Ducks.
It looked as though Oregon might salvage a set when Stone put away a kill to make the score 20-18. The Ducks didn’t quite have the offensive strength to finish the set, as Cal took five straight points powered by back-to-back blocks, and closed the set with another block to win 25-21.
The Ducks seemed to be worn down from the weekend of play, and failed to find their groove in the match. Oregon’s offense hit only .135, while Cal was able to hit at a .269 percentage. Willow Johnson put up a team-high 10 kills for the Ducks, and Bailee Huizenga led the Cal bunch with 13.
“Right now we have pieces, we don’t have a team,” Ulmer said after the game. “One bad thing led to another, and nobody did anything about it until the third set.”
This wasn’t one of Oregon’s strongest performances, but Ulmer still has hope for the future. The head coach concluded that the loss was not for “lack of effort”, and his team needs to use this experience in the future.
“We get a chance to go practice and watch film, and then get some momentum and growth.”
Oregon will look to gain that momentum and play as a team in its upcoming trip to Washington to play in Pullman, followed by a trip to Seattle to play the Huskies.