Back Home And Looking To Rally
A team with the ambitions that Oregon volleyball possesses has to prove it's worthy of those ambitions every single time they take the floor.
For the most part, the Ducks have done so this season, as they're off to a 12-2 start this fall. But any exception is a cause for concern, and the Ducks experienced one in their most recent match, a four-set loss Sunday at Utah.
The UO women will look to regain momentum when they host California in Matthew Knight Arena on Friday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network), before testing themselves against another nationally prominent program in No. 17 Stanford on Sunday (noon, Pac-12 Network). The Ducks enter the weekend ranked No. 14, after beating No. 24 Colorado to open last week before losing at the No. 19 Utes.
"That could have been a really nice win for us," UO coach Matt Ulmer said. "But it wasn't meant to be. We're not quite ready for that. So back to practice, back to film, trying to get better."
Oregon's hallmarks so far this fall have been outstanding defense and versatility on offense. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in both blocks per set (2.83) and digs per set (16.20), and also opponent hitting percentage (.138). Offensively, five Ducks average at least two kills per set, although none is in the top 10 of the conference; Brooke Nuneviller is 11th in the Pac-12 with 3.44 kills per set, and Taylor Borup is the only teammate in the top 25, at 25th (2.55).
Neither the outstanding defense nor the offensive versatility was at peak performance against the Utes. Ulmer said only Morgan Lewis and Karson Bacon played with the aggressiveness he hoped to see offensively. And what Ulmer termed "wimpy" serving by the Ducks allowed Utah to function too efficiently on offense for the UO defense to take over.
"We've had matches where people have shown up, or phases of our game have shown up," Ulmer said. "But I don't think we've had a complete performance yet."
The silver lining is, there are still eight weekends of conference play for the Ducks to tighten up their play prior to the postseason. And the Ducks are healthier this week than they were a week or two ago.
If the defense wasn't as impactful at Utah, that was no fault of libero Georgia Murphy. She's second in the Pac-12 with 4.71 digs per set, and last week she returned from a shoulder injury to average a phenomenal 5.63 digs per set against Colorado and Utah.
And Nuneviller continues her recovery from a lingering ankle injury.
"She doesn't feel quite as confident, but she's so good and she means so much for us," Ulmer said. "She's fighting her way through it, and hopefully we can get her back to full strength soon."
Ulmer said leaders like Nuneviller and Murphy helped set the tone when the Ducks returned to practice Tuesday. He hoped to see a team that wasn't satisfied with its performance at Utah and was looking to perform up to its own standards, "which they did," he said.
The Ducks, third in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.266), know what that kind of level looks like when it shows up in matches. Four different times this season, Oregon has hit at least .300 while holding the opposition under .100, including against Oregon State on Sept. 22 in the conference opener.
It all starts with service, where Ulmer wants to see a change from Sunday's "wimpy" approach at Utah.
"I expect to see a very different attitude from us this weekend," Ulmer said. "And I'm looking forward to that."