No. 12 Oregon volleyball has overcome many obstacles in the last year, highlighted by the coaching change that took place back in May. But despite the offseason difficulties, the Ducks have stayed focused on this season and have jumped out to a 9-3 record to begin the year.
In the last month, the Ducks went on a seven-match winning streak against University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Loyola Marymount, Northern Illinois, Cal Poly, No. 23 Wichita State, Duquesne, and Oregon State. Their streak ended in a loss to No. 11 UCLA back on Sept. 22 which put the Ducks record at 8-2 and 1-1 in the Pac-12.
“We didn’t respond defensively,” head coach Matt Ulmer said. “The very first match of the year we got out against Nebraska by two, we haven’t been out-dug in a match since. UCLA out-dug us by 15, so that’s really where we broke down. We have to create more pressure with our floor defense, and that is something we have been really strong at this year.”
That loss provided a valuable lesson for Oregon as they enter ever-competitive Pac-12 play.
“Getting frustrated on those little plays is what killed us in the end,” Ronika Stone said. “We know how good we can be and we can’t let teams take control of the game like [UCLA].”
Following their loss to UCLA, the Ducks traveled to Salt Lake City to play No. 15 Utah. Oregon brought a solid fight for the Utes throughout the five-match series. With the teams tied at 2-2 going into the final set, Oregon maintained a close game battling seven match-point rallies. Sophomore Willow Johnson’s two swings earned the Ducks a 21-19 set win, sending them home with a 9-2 record.
“We know we can do better as long as we play our game,” junior Lindsey Vander Weide said. “We just have to come back with all the energy and all the fight.”
The following day Oregon traveled to Colorado looking to repeat its intensity from the night before. Although they maintained a close game on the scoreboard, Colorado was quick to take the lead and end up defeating Oregon 3-1.
Next up on the Ducks’ schedule is a home game against No. 1 Stanford, who is also defending national champions. With tough competition this upcoming Friday, Oregon knows what it must do to prepare.
“When you play great teams you learn a lot more about yourself,” Ulmer said. “I like the aggression I’m seeing, and I know they’re hungry to get back on the court.”
While two of Oregon’s three losses this season have come over the last week, the play of several players has been a silver lining. Senior libero Alex Hojnar reached a career-high of 19 digs against Utah, and Vander Weide ended the match against Utah with her team-best sixth double-double of the season with 19 kills and 10 digs. As far as Oregon’s focus on Stanford, the Ducks will need to step up their defense and be ready for the quick attacks on Stanford’s side on the net.
“For us, it’s about consistency, we have a lot of moving parts,” Ulmer said. “It’s just more opportunities for us to get better and deal with pressure. Every opportunity we get is an opportunity to grow.”
Follow Daphne Martin on Twitter @daaphnemaartin