Spike Night women's volleyball preview: No. 19 Utah at No. 16 Oregon

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UtahUtes.com, GoDucks.com

Who: No. 19 Utah at No. 16 Oregon

When: Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT, with Rich Burk and Amy Gant on the call.

This week’s Spike Night features a top-20 clash between two upstart squads looking to stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 title.

Since we Last Spoke: No. 19 Utah (17-8 Overall, 8-6 Pac-12)

Not too many people outside of Beth Launiere’s locker room thought that the Utes would still be in the Pac-12 race with six conference matches remaining. But at 8-6 and just two games back of first at the 70 percent mark, that’s exactly where the picked-to-finish-eighth Utes find themselves.

Granted, the Utes are just one game ahead of eighth-place Washington State and are looking up at four teams, but they have a real chance to make some serious noise down the stretch. If Utah can find a way to pull off the oh-so-minor upset of the Ducks, the Utes will be one and half games back of a share of first heading into this final stretch: At Oregon State (3-11 in league), the Washington schools at home (Washington is tied for first, the Cougs have been in free-fall mode as of late), at Arizona (tied with Utah) and home against Colorado (5-9 in league). Utah probably feels like it would have the edge in all of those matches save for Washington, but at least the Utes get the Dawgs at home. As it is, 14-6 might not be enough to get it done, especially since the Utes don’t have an opportunity to give UCLA or Stanford (the other two 10-4 teams) another loss, but there’s still a chance.

At the very least, the Utes are in very good shape to head back to the NCAA tournament after missing out in 2015 with a 10-21 record. Now’s the time for Utah to improve its bracket path by piling up a couple of more resume-building wins, if not stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 crown.

Since we Last Spoke: No. 16 Oregon (17-6 Overall, 10-4 Pac-12)

Oregon hadn’t fallen off the map in recent years, but the Ducks weren’t at their 2012 level when they finished second in the Pac-12 and reached the NCAA finals. This is the first time in the last four years that the Ducks have been serious contenders for the Pac-12 title, and in a four-way tie for first entering the final three weekends, the Ducks have to feel like they have as good of a shot as anybody to take home a conference championship.

The Ducks hit a bit of a bump in the road when they lost three of four after a 4-0 start to Pac-12 play, but Jim Moore’s squad has been on fire since, winning five of its last six and three in a row after getting a tough road sweep of the Washington schools. Included in that was a surprising 3-0 win at then-No. 8 Washington, taking the second set by a whopping 25-8 margin.

However, the road (emphasis on road) to a Pac-12 title is not easy – after playing the Mountain schools in Eugene this week, the Ducks play their final four regular-season matches on the road, and three of them are against surefire NCAA tournament teams in UCLA, USC and Stanford. The good news is that since they face two teams they are tied with for first, the Ducks will have a great shot at an outright Pac-12 title if it can beat the Bruins and Stanford. The bad news is, well, they have to play those schools, and more, all on the road.

Three Players to Watch- Utah

  • #14 Adora Anae (6’1 Outside Hitter/Right Side, Junior)- Simply put, Anae is the most dangerous hitter in the conference, leading the Pac-12 by a mile at 4.72 kills per set (Arizona’s Kendra Dahlke, No. 2 in the Pac-12, averages 4.07 Kps). Recently entering Utah’s top-10 all-time kills list, she’ll move up to No. 8 with seven against the Ducks (seeing as she’s registered at least 11 kills in 19 straight matches, that shouldn’t be a problem). She also leads the Utes with 3.23 digs per set, making her the only player in the Pac-12 to lead her team in both kills and digs.
  • #17 Bri Doehrmann (5’7 Defensive Specialist/Libero, Freshman)- The rookie back-row player has taken on an expanded role as the season has progressed. Averaging 2.04 digs per set for the season, Doehrmann has amassed at least 12 digs in six straight matches (3.61 per set over that stretch).
  • #15 Jessie Openshaw (5’9 Setter, Sophomore)- One of the Utes’ two primary setters (Utah runs a 6-2), Openshaw has four double-doubles (assists and digs) in her last seven matches and is coming off a 16-assist, 12-dig performance in the three-set loss to Stanford.

Three Players to Watch- Oregon

  • #8 Lindsey Vander Weide (6’3 Outside Hitter, Sophomore)- Tenth in the conference in kills per set for the season at 3.27, Vander Weide has been named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week two of the last three weeks. In road wins against the Washington schools, Vander Weide averaged 4.25 kills per set on a .342 hitting clip.
  • #10 Amanda Benson (5’7 Libero, Senior)- Benson is one of two players in the conference to average at least five digs per set (she’s second in the Pac-12 at 5.05). She snapped her streak of consecutive matches with at least 20 digs at seven by posting “only” 17 in the five-setter at Wazzu, a match in which she surpassed 2,000 digs for her career (just the second Duck in school history to do so).
  • #7 Taylor Agost (6’2 Outside Hitter, Junior)- Agost is the only outside hitter in the Pac-12 top 10 in hitting percentage, currently sitting in eighth at .345. She has four 10-kill, .500-hitting outings this season, including an 11-kill, .500-hitting performance against Washington on Friday.

Three Notes to Know

  1. Oregon outlasted Utah in five earlier this year- The Ducks overcame a 2-1 deficit to nip the Utes in five sets in Utah on Oct. 21. In a tightly-contested affair that saw the Ducks and Utes split 27-25 results in the first two sets, Oregon’s Vander Weide had a mammoth performance with 20 kills (.500 hitting), 17 digs and five blocks, while Utah’s Anae had a double-double with 16 kills and 13 digs but hit .000 for the match. Oregon had the advantage at the net, out-blocking Utah 12-5 for the match.
  2. As tight as it’s ever been- How’s this for parity? The 2016 Pac-12 champion will have at least four losses, something that has only happened once before in 2009 – and that was when it was the Pac-10 and teams only played 18 conference matches instead of 20. It’s looking like a good bet that 15-5 will win the league or at least take home a share of the conference crown.
  3. Road, sweet road for the Utes- Ah, the sweet comforts of being on the road. Utah is just 6-5 at home but 11-3 away from Salt Lake City, including an 8-2 mark in true road matches. Five of those road wins have come against ranked opponents, a school record.
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