Cathy Nelson's Weekly Wrap-Up
Oct. 5, 2006
A Big Win for Oregon
The Pac-10 match of the week last week featured teams that had yet to win a conference match. With their first win over the Beavers since 2002 the Ducks got into the win column, leaving Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona as the only teams without a conference win. If getting the win wasn't enough, this victory was even more special as it was the first win over Oregon State for Oregon's three seniors. Those seniors - setter Heather Madison, middle Erin Little and opposite Kristin Bitter - came up big against OSU. Madison led the team with 31 assists, Little had 10 kills and 15 digs and Bitter contributed 9 kills and 2 blocks, both of which came when the Ducks needed them most in game four. The reason the Ducks won, however, has a much to do with the improved play of freshmen starters Sonja Newcombe and Neticia Enesi as with the play of the seniors. Newcombe and Enesi struggled in their first weekend of Pac-10 play, with Newcombe hitting only .048 against the Los Angeles schools, with 17 kills and 22.5 points in both matches. Enesi did not fare much better, hitting .074 with 16 kills and 21 points. The Beavers brought out the best in the duo, as Newcombe led the Ducks with 19 kills and hit .289 and Enesi chipped in 9 kills on .367 hitting.
The Beavers were led by their freshman outside hitter Rachel Rourke, who hits a heavy ball and came up with 18 kills, but with 10 errors hit only .186. Her hitting percentage was actually not so bad on a night when Oregon State hit only .125 as a team, and taking into consideration the inconsistency of the Beavers setting. It seemed that in nearly half of Rourke's 43 swings she was hitting well off the net and adjusting her approach to erratic sets. Setter Camilla Ah-Hoy is a freshman and not used to running a 5-1 offense - she set and hit in a 6-2 offense in both high school and club ball - so her learning curve is steep at the moment.
In last week's column I said it would be the play of the seniors that would determine this match, and while Oregon's seniors played well, Oregon State needed more from their leaders. Senior captain Brittany Cahoon did her best, netting 13 kills and 4 blocks and at times seemed to be the only Beaver with energy on the floor. But limited production and attempts for her fellow captain Abby Windell hurt this team - Windell had only 3 kills in 12 attempts.
What does this win mean for Oregon, and the loss for Oregon State? For the Ducks it is a step in the right direction, and the chance to gain some confidence. 'Winning this one gives us confidence,' Little said. 'We know that if we play hard, we can succeed.' Coach Jim Moore had these thoughts. 'I'm not sure this is a `breakthrough' win for us. But we absolutely had to win this match and we've never been in that situation before.' More of that situation will be headed toward the Ducks this weekend, as surely Saturday's match at Washington State is another must win if Oregon wants to move up the Pac-10 standings. Oregon State will continue to struggle with so many young players on the floor. At one point during game four the Beavers had five freshmen and one sophomore on the floor. It does not matter how good those young kids may be, it is very, very difficult to win with that much youth on the floor. Coach Terry Liskevich is willing to take his lumps now, knowing the payoff is in the future. Unfortunately for Beaver fans, Oregon State will struggle to find wins on its difficult and challenging Pac-10 schedule.
Rivalry Match Part II
Last week it was the Civil War, this week it is the Big Spike in Northern California when California visits Stanford. Stanford has dominated this series, owning a 38-2 conference record against Cal, but Cal's two wins came in the past three years. In 2003 California won its first ever conference match against Stanford in five games, and then proved it was not a fluke and did it again in 2004, also in five games. The bad news for Bear fans is that both of Cal's wins came at home - the only time it beat Stanford in Palo Alto was way back in 1979. But Palo Alto is the scene of this week's Pac-10 match of the week, and a very critical match for each team.
Both teams are 3-1 in the Pac-10 conference and just one game behind the two remaining undefeated teams - USC and UCLA. Having two losses only three weeks into the conference season will make it very difficult to stay in the hunt for a Pac-10 championship. Yes, teams have won the Pac-10 championship with two losses, but in the conference's 20 year history it has happened only two times. Washington won it's first ever conference championship in 2004 with two losses, while USC and Arizona tied for the Pac-10 title with 16-2 records in 2000. That was the first conference title for USC who went on to win two more in 2002 and 2003, and the only conference title in Arizona's history. Those thoughts may seem more important for Stanford, which was picked to win the Pac-10 by the coaches before the season began than for Cal which was picked fourth. However, Cal is off to one of the best starts in school history and its ranking at No. 7 is the second best ever for this program (Cal reached No. 5 in 2003).
There are two primary differences between Cal and Stanford, and both favor the Cardinal. First, Stanford features a lineup with no freshmen seeing any significant playing time. It has experience everywhere, although it does rely heavily on last year's freshman class - four sophomores are among its starting eight. When it comes to these tough matches there is something to be said for experience, and having been there before. This Stanford team has that advantage. Even one of the most highly-recruited players in the county last year - Janet Okogbaa from Florida - can't find her way into this lineup. California, on the other hand, is relying on some freshmen, albeit talented ones, when they step on the court. Freshman outside Hana Cutura has started since day one for Cal, but did sit out last weekend's matches with a sore foot. In her place came another freshman, Cat Dailey, who led the team in kills in her first ever start. Freshman defensive specialist Kristen Kathan is also being used frequently in the back row. None of those players have been on the floor at Maples Pavilion during a big match, and they could very easily be intimidated. The Golden Bears are getting great leadership from senior setter Samantha Carter and senior libero Jillian Davis, but in order to get a win Friday night the freshmen will have to contribute.
The second difference is that Cynthia Barboza is back. And healthy. She is as good a player as there is in this conference and seems to be gaining confidence in her surgically repaired knee as the season has progressed. In the 10 matches the Cardinal played before the conference season started Barboza averaged 4.03 kills per game and hit .310. In the four Pac-10 matches they have played since, her numbers have been considerably higher - 6.08 kills per game with a hitting percentage of .321. In its loss to Washington, on a night when Stanford struggled, Barboza came up with 25 kills in only three games and hit .345 for the match. When she went down with the injury last year she was a lock for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a strong candidate for national freshman of the year honors. Her teammate Foluke Akinradewo won the Pac-10 award and Penn State's Nicole Fawcett the national award, but Barboza is back to show that she is once again among the nation's elite.
Cal counters with its own great player - Angie Pressey. The 5'8' junior is undersized for this conference but makes up for it with her jumping ability, overall athleticism, and attitude on the court. She was the first Cal player ever to be named to the first team All Pac-10 as a freshman, a feat she repeated as a sophomore. She is one of the top players in the conference, and the battle of the outsides should be a fun one to watch Friday night.
Hot in LA
And I am not talking about the weather, but about the volleyball teams at UCLA and USC. Who can remember the last time both programs were this good? It seems like in the past it was one or the other. When UCLA was the dominant team in the Pac-10 in late 80's and early 90's the Women of Troy were good, but not challenging the Bruins for top status. From 1988-1990 UCLA had three consecutive 18-0 seasons in the Pac-10, while USC finished fourth each of those years, hovering around the .500 mark in conference play. UCLA won Pac-10 championships again in 1992 and 1993 - USC was third and then fourth those seasons. When USC had its great run from 2000-2003, with three Pac-10 championships and a second place finish, UCLA was third, fourth, then fell to fifth with a 9-9 record before rebounding to tie for third in 2003 at 12-6. Now here they are - two of only five teams in the county that remain undefeated and both ranked in the nation's top four. Of course, they are the last rival match to be played in the first half of the conference schedule, so each team has four matches to play until they square off Friday, October 20 at USC. If they can remain undefeated, that match could be the most anticipated USC/UCLA match up of all time. If one or both teams stumble along the way, it will still be a match that could determine the Pac-10 champion. It just makes the matches that stand between them - at the Arizona schools this weekend, hosting California and Stanford the next - all the more intriguing.