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Friday A Chance to Build Momentum

Oct 28, 2021

Two reverse sweeps in a period of 10 days have taken Oregon volleyball on a roller coaster ride.

On Oct. 14, the Ducks were within a set of sweeping Washington and taking command of the Pac-12 race. The Huskies stormed back to win, sparking a streak of 11 sets dropped by the Ducks – a streak that continued through the first two sets at USC this past Sunday, until Oregon itself stormed back with a reverse sweep.

Suddenly, a UO team that seemed to have lost its way appeared to get back on track.

"Any time in sports when things aren't going your way, it feels like a slow-turning bus," UO coach Matt Ulmer said. "I thought it was really important that we started playing better. It felt like Oregon volleyball again."

In the wake of the comeback at USC, just what exactly "Oregon volleyball" looks like from a personnel perspective is to be determined. Ulmer tinkered with his lineup over the final three sets last Sunday, and the next look at the lineup he'll deploy will come when the No. 17 Ducks host No. 19 Utah in Matthew Knight Arena on Friday (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

After spending much of the season in a 6-2 rotation, using two setters, the Ducks stuck with setter Elise Ferreira in a 5-1 rotation to come from behind at USC. Brooke Nuneviller, Taylor Borup and Gloria Mutiri handled an even bigger load offensively than usual, and Daley McClellan and Elise Agi were called upon off the bench to help the Ducks put more service pressure on the Trojans.

Will those lineup changes be in effect Friday against the Utes?

"Everything's always day-to-day around here," Ulmer said. "It just shows there's another way we can win, another way we can have success. Moving forward, you're just more comfortable if change has to happen."

Increased service pressure was something UImer has looked to get from the Ducks over the last few weeks. He uses a baseball pitching analogy to describe what he wants to see – not fastballs thrown safely down the middle, which can get hit even harder than they're thrown, but a variety of pitches that paint the corners of the plate. Even if that results in a few balls – service errors – rather than strikes.

"If you don't put service pressure on teams, they can run their offense; it gets tough," Ulmer said. "It's not good for us if we don't get them uncomfortable in serve receive."

Oregon's struggles with service pressure began around the last time the Ducks faced their opponent Friday. They suffered their first conference loss of the season at Utah on Oct. 3, having gone 3-4 in a seven-match span beginning that day. Yes, five of those seven opponents have been ranked in the top 25, but that's life in the Pac-12.

"We haven't had any easy matches," Ulmer said. "If you're going to turn this thing around, you have to go beat a tournament team."

Last Sunday at USC might have been a turning point in Oregon's season. Friday against Utah, the Ducks will get another chance to take a step in a positive direction.