The moment of truth for Jim Moore came as Oregon neared the end of a difficult month of matches in October.
Back-to-back home losses to USC and UCLA to conclude the first half of the Pac-12 season gave the Ducks a 10-9 overall record and 4-6 in the conference.
If Oregon was going to salvage its season and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth, then it was time for a change.
After resisting the suggestion by his staff for weeks, Moore finally conceded and switched Oregon’s offensive system from a 5-1 to a 6-2, which utilizes two setters and allows for three hitters in the front row at all times.
“We’d been going back and forth and debating it and I was the one who kept saying ‘No, no, no,’” Moore said. “I knew we weren’t getting anything out of the back row and we had figured that out the week before and that was frustrating. We had no reason to stay with the 5-1.”
Considering the results, it might have been wise to make the switch earlier.
The Ducks have thrived in the 6-2, finishing the season with five wins in their last seven matches to secure their fifth straight postseason bid. They’ll play No. 6 Wisconsin in Madison at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in a first-round match.
“We’re playing the best we’ve been playing all season,” senior outside hitter Martenne Bettendorf said. “I think that if we continue to keep playing like this we’re going to go pretty far. I think we’re going to be a really hard team to beat in the tournament and Wisconsin’s going to have a really hard time with us.”
Since switching to the 6-2 for the final 10 matches of the season, Oregon has outhit its opponents .249-.189, as opposed to getting outhit .258-.218 in its first 10 matches of Pac-12 play.
The Ducks have also seen an improvement in their blocking, with an average of 2.16 blocks per set in the 6-2 instead of 1.7 in the 5-1 against conference opponents.
“At first it’s kind of a big transition because you have to get used to two tempos (from different setters) in the same game at the same time,” freshman all-Pac-12 outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide said. “But I like the transition because I think our blocking has been a lot better so that’s been easier for the passers, which means we have better passes, better sets which turns into better hits for me.”
Oregon ran the 6-2 all of last season when it went 23-10 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The reasoning then was it took some pressure off freshman setter Maggie Scott, who was rotating with senior Shellsy Ashen.
Now Scott is rotating with freshman August Raskie, who has steadily improved since seeing her playing time increase starting with a loss to Utah on Oct. 30 when the Ducks debuted the 6-2. Their first win in the new system came a day later against Colorado.
“We’re for sure playing a lot better with that,” Moore said. “I can’t completely explain why, but we have definitely been playing better since then.”
Moore said he was reluctant to move away from the 5-1 because never has a team won a national championship playing the 6-2.
“You run out of subs, you don’t have the same type of rhythm, and I didn’t think August was ready,” Moore said.
She looks ready now.
Raskie has averaged 5.30 assists per match — Scott is averaging 9.83 overall — since the switch after having just 15 assists total in the first 10 Pac-12 matches.
She has developed a rapport with sophomore outside hitter Taylor Agost, who has seen her hitting percentage rise from .203 in the first half of conference play to .305 in the 6-2.
“We’ve built a great connection,” said Agost, who is paired with Raskie through her three rotations. “She sets me awesome, she sets me nice and high which gives me a big approach and allows me to hit over people which has been my strong suit this year.”
Middle blocker Kacey Nady has also seen her hitting efficiency improve in the 6-2. She hit .288 in the first half of the Pac-12 season and.305 in the second half.
Same goes for Bettendorf, who was hitting .168 in the first 10 Pac-12 matches and then hit .248 in the second half.
“It’s definitely taken some pressure off me,” Bettendorf said. “I don’t have to be in there all six rotations. I can just worry about hitting and blocking.”
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