Oregon volleyball’s quest for a Pac-12 championship began with a Civil War sweep of the Oregon State Beavers at Matthew Knight Arena on Tuesday.
The Ducks started Pac-12 play ranked No. 8 in the nation and were one of seven Pac-12 teams ranked — the most number of teams by any conference.
Oregon has six players averaging more than 1.90 kills per set, and they lead the conference with 14.61 kills per set. The Ducks entered Pac-12 play with a .301 hitting percentage.
“Ideally you’re hitting over .300 as a team,” head coach Matt Ulmer said. “We’re holding teams to .150, so if your plus-minus is 150, then you’re doing a good job. I’m proud of the .300, but I’m really proud of the .150 considering the schedule we’ve had.”
Taylor Agost was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on September 11, and was the only Ducks player to win conference recognition during nonconference play.
“We’re very excited to finally get into the Pac-12 because we have obviously great completion this year,” Agost said.
No. 4 Stanford starts conference play as the highest ranked Pac-12 team. No. 7 Washington Huskies and No. 8 Oregon round out the top-ten. The No. 11 UCLA Bruins, No. 16 Utah Utes, No. 21 USC Trojans and No. 25 Colorado Buffaloes round out the top-25.
The Ducks will play all but two teams currently ranked in the top-25 twice this season. The Trojans will just play at Matthew Knight Arena and the Bruins play the Ducks on Friday in Los Angeles.
“Everybody’s basically top-50, which is a tournament team,” Ulmer said of the RPI rankings. “Every night is going to be tough competition.”
The Ducks played three top-25 teams during their nonconference schedule, including then-No. 1 Texas Longhorns and then-No. 5 Nebraska Cornhuskers to open the season in Gainesville, Florida in the Vert Challenge. The Ducks beat Nebraska, but lost 3-1 to Texas for their only loss of the nonconference schedule. The Ducks swept No. 23 Wichita State at home as part of the Nike Classic.
“We tried to schedule as tough as we could so we never got unaccustomed to what we’re going to get in Pac-12 play,” Ulmer said.
The Ducks had a 10-day break to prepare for conference play. With the break, the team still practiced and spent time together.
“I think it’s good being out on the court and being able to be with my team so we’re connecting on and off the court,” Willow Johnson said leading up to the OSU match. “A lot of us have been hanging out outside the gym, which has been really fun. I think this week break is good, but obviously it’s a good time to focus and get all those nicks out before the first game comes around against OSU.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter: @zlast3445