Spike Night women's volleyball preview: Oregon State at No. 9 UCLA

OSUBeavers.com, UCLABruins.com

Who: Oregon State at No. 9 UCLA in Pac-12 women’s volleyball action

When: Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Oregon and Pac-12 Los Angeles, with Anne Marie Anderson and Tammy Blackburn on the call.

The penultimate weekend of Pac-12 play serves up a matchup featuring an improving Oregon State team looking to hinder the hopes of UCLA’s Pac-12 championship aspirations.

The Story so Far: Oregon State (11-16 Overall, 4-12 Pac-12)

On paper, it doesn’t look like Oregon State has much of a chance. The Beavers are in 10th place in the Pac-12 and have no shot of making the NCAA Tournament, while UCLA is tied for first and playing at home, where it has won four straight, two of them against ranked teams still in the hunt for the conference crown. If that’s not enough, UCLA swept Oregon State in Corvallis this year and is 57-3 all-time against the Beavers.

But let’s make the case for the Beavs. This team is playing considerably better than it was when it lost in three to the Bruins a month ago. After starting conference play 1-10, the Beavers have won three of their last five, including knocking off then-No. 23 Washington State in four sets in Pullman. While they lost to Washington and Utah, the Beavers took a set off Washington on the road and got at least 22 points in each set of the three-set loss to the No. 16 Utes. Plus, the team is coming off a thrilling five-set win over Colorado, taking six of the last seven points to claim the fifth 15-13.

So while the season will end before December this year for the Beavers, first-year head coach Mark Barnard has the Beavs going in the right direction.

The Season so Far: No. 9 UCLA (21-5 Overall, 12-4 Pac-12)

Last week, there were four Pac-12 teams atop the league with four losses. Now, there are just two – Washington and UCLA. The Bruins wrapped up a four-match road trip 3-1, winning their last three and capping it off with a five-set win at Stanford, a team it was tied with for first.

UCLA now returns home to play the Oregon schools and finishes up with three of its last four in Los Angeles. While the Bruins will be significant favorites to win Wednesday, they will really have to earn that Pac-12 championship in their final three matches – Oregon, at Washington and USC at home. As it stands right now, that trip to Seattle could very well decide the conference.

In addition to Pac-12 implications, these final four matches are about NCAA Tournament placement as well. With the top-remaining seeds now hosting the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in addition to the first two rounds, UCLA can put itself in a position to potentially host all the way up to Columbus, Ohio, the site of this year’s Final Four. It would be hard to see a 25-5 team that won the Pac-12 outright not getting a very high seed, which is what UCLA’s credentials would be if it wins out. It might not be a top-four seed, but it will be close.

Three Players to Watch: Oregon State

  • #15 Mary-Kate Marshall (6’1 Outside Hitter, Junior)- She has had the leading arm for Oregon State ever since she got to campus, and that certainly hasn’t changed this year. Marshall leads the team with 4.05 kills per set (second in the Pac-12) and is coming off a 21-kill, 14-dig performance against Colorado. With 31 more kills, the 2014 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year will move into fifth all-time at Oregon State for career kills and has an outside chance of topping the list by the time she wraps up her collegiate career (it’d take a pretty big effort her senior season, but it could happen).
  • #11 Lanesha Reagan (5’10 Outside Hitter, Redshirt Sophomore)- Another Beav coming off a double-double (16 kills, 13 digs against the Buffs), she has 11 double-doubles on the season and is second to Marshall with 3.30 kills per set. She’s also effective defensively, as her 2.65 digs per set are second on the team.
  • #5 McKenna Hollingsworth (6’0 Setter, Redshirt Sophomore)- Hollingsworth is the team’s most frequent setter, averaging 8.43 assists per set. Like Marshall and Reagan, Hollingsworth is also coming off a double-double, posting 32 assists and 12 digs against Colorado.

Three Players to Watch: UCLA

  • #5 Torrey Van Winden (6’3 Opposide/Outside Hitter, Freshman)- The newly-minted Pac-12 Freshman of the Week put up some monster numbers against Stanford, going for 19 kills, eight digs, four blocks and two aces while hitting .381 in the five-set win over the Cardinal.
  • #11 Taylor Formico (5’7 Libero, Senior)- One of two in the Pac-12 and one of 34 in the nation to average at least five digs per set (she’s second behind Oregon’s Amanda Benson in the conference), Formico is one dig away from 500 for the season and recently moved into third on UCLA’s all-time list in the dig department.
  • #3 Reily Buechler (6’1 Outside Hitter, Junior)- Buechler is first on the team in total kills with 312 and one of three Bruins to average three kills per set. She was very impressive in the Stanford match, going for 18 kills and nine digs on a .394 attack percentage.

Three Notes to Know

1. When they met in Corvallis- The Bruins made quick work of the Beavs at OSU, taking the match in three sets (25-14, 25-21, 25-20). Out-hitting the Beavers .266-.146, the Bruins were led by Torrey Van Winden, who had 14 kills on a .444 hitting percentage to go along with six digs and three blocks. Taylor Formico was stout in the back row, amassing 22 digs (7.33 per set). Lila Toner had 13 kills (.393 attack efficiency) and nine digs to pace the Beavs.

2. Huge head-to-head win disparity- UCLA’s 57-3 all-time edge over Oregon State is good for tied for the third biggest win differential in Pac-12 all-time head-to-head matchups. Stanford is 61-0 against Oregon State and 58-3 against Arizona State, while the Cardinal is 58-4 against both Oregon and Washington State and UCLA is also 57-3 against Oregon.

3. Getting to know Mark Barnard- He might be the first-year head coach of the Beavers, but Barnard is no stranger to Corvallis, having spent the previous 11 seasons as an assistant and associate head coach under Taras Liskevych. A native of Australia, Barnard has spent the past two offseasons as the head coach of the Australian Women’s National Team, aka the “Volleyroos.”

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