Oregon would have probably had more of a challenge in an intrasquad match than the Ducks did in overwhelming Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena to conclude play in the Oregon Classic volleyball tournament.
In sweeping the Golden Lions 25-10, 25-13, 25-7, the 18th-ranked Ducks (4-2) never trailed in a set and were knotted only twice, at 1-1 in each of the first two sets.
Oregon finished with a robust hitting percentage of .455, led by Sumeet Gill’s mark of .857, the highest by a UO player since 2014, on 12 kills. Fellow middle blocker Ronika Stone added 10 kills while hitting .412 and Willow Johnson hit .667 on her eight kills. The Ducks also had 11 service aces, five by freshman Camryn Tastad against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-6).
“I thought we were just really consistent,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “You could just see the confidence grow.”
While there was a mild shakeup to the starting group Saturday, in sweeping four home matches this week the Ducks appeared to take steps forward in settling on a playing rotation for this season, barring injuries.
Do-everything senior Lindsey Vander Weide will seldom be off the court. The same goes for senior setter August Raskie, who shared the position the previous three seasons, and freshman Brooke Nuneviller figures to be a staple of the lineup at libero, though Saturday she was an outside hitter.
Up front, the Ducks are more than settled on their tandem of middle blockers, with Stone and Gill splitting the position. Johnson should start on the right side, with senior Lauren Page and junior transfer Taylor Borup also in the mix on the front line.
Sophomore redshirt Brooke Van Sickle is a prime backup, either on the front line or as a defensive or serving specialist, with sophomore Kyra Hanawahine and Tastad available on defense or with serving.
That leaves a quartet of redshirts, including junior Jolie Rasmussen, recovering from off-season surgery. The other Ducks being held out are three members of the recruiting class ranked fourth in the nation, which includes Nuneviller and Tastad. The trio not expected to play are setter Kylie Robinson, the highest-ranked recruit ever for Oregon at eighth individually in the class of 2018, along with middle blockers Chandlar Duff and Karson Bacon, the latter ranked 11th in a listing of recruits.
“They would have started on every team I’ve coached except this year,” Ulmer said of the freshmen not playing. “They’re handling that really well. Those are two positions we don’t need right now ... it’s a pretty unique opportunity to get.”
Oregon’s schedule now returns to the demanding way it began in a pair of losses to top-five foes on opening weekend, with the Ducks facing No. 3 Minnesota on Friday and No. 6 Penn State on Saturday at the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge being hosted by Stanford. “I guess we’ll see how much better we’ve gotten next weekend,” Ulmer said. “I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
In Saturday’s other match, Utah Valley (4-3) defeated Long Beach State (3-4) in four sets, 21-25, 25-21, 25-17, 25-19.