Oregon defended seemingly everything Sunday, but especially its home court.
In turning back Washington State in five sets in a Pac-12 volleyball match at Matthew Knight Arena, the 12th-ranked Ducks (9-3, 2-0 Pac-12) put up some astounding defensive numbers to complete a sweep of the opening weekend of conference play with the 22-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-23 and 15-12 victory over the 22nd-ranked Cougars (9-3, 0-2).
“We have to protect Matthew Knight Arena,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “If you want to end up over .500 (in the Pac-12) you have to win at home. And if you’re over .500 in the Pac-12, you’re a top 20 team.
“I’m thrilled and for us we want to build a fan base ... we want them to think they left feeling that they got their money’s worth.”
The 1,638 in attendance should agree with that. Neither team ever led by more than six points all afternoon, and that came in the opening set. The score was tied 27 times, including 11 times in the fourth set. The cumulative point totals were 109 for Oregon, 107 for the Cougars.
And, oh, that defensive performance. Oregon was credited with 103 digs, the first time since 2014 the Ducks have reached triple figures in that statistic. Freshman libero Brooke Nuneviller had 35 of those digs, the first UO player to reach 30 in a match since 2015.
She was augmented by 28 digs by Lindsey Vander Weide, who also had 22 kills, with three other Ducks in double figures for digs in the match. Vander Weide raised her career total for digs to 1,014, only the 11th UO player to surpass 1,000 for a career.
“Effort is infectious,” Ulmer said. “Brooke on defense at the beginning was really good, and it just set the tone for everybody.
“We’re defensive minded this year. Everybody in the back row for us is really into it. I don’t have to beg anybody to play defense.”
Good thing, because WSU sets some high standards in that area, leading the Pac-12 in lowest hitting percentage by opponents.
The Ducks finished at .181, only the third time this year they’ve been under .200 and the first time they’ve won anyway.
The Cougars recorded 93 digs and also were credited with 14.5 blocks.
“It’s the matchup I expected,” Ulmer said. “They have the No. 1 defense in the conference, and you can see why.”
Oregon led 6-2 in the first set but the Cougars used a pair of 6-1 runs to build a 17-11 advantage before the Ducks scored six of eight points to get within 24-22 before a WSU block ended the set.
The Ducks used a 7-1 run for a 15-12 lead in the second set but WSU scored the next three points to knot the match. A kill by Ronika Stone, who finished with 16 for a .378 hitting percentage, and her service ace sparked a 5-1 run that put Oregon in the lead for good as the Ducks overcame a .094 hitting percentage in the set to even the match.
WSU broke from a 20-20 deadlock in the third set with three consecutive points, the first two on UO hitting errors and the final on a ball that went out of bounds off an Oregon block.
Vander Weide did the heavy hitting for the Ducks in the fourth set as the UO senior had nine kills plus a service ace.
“The sets and passes were really good,” Vander Weide said. “I just kind of felt the groove and August (Raske) was setting me really well.”
Raske finished with a season-high 59 assists, to go with her 14 digs and five kills.
The final set turned Oregon’s way with four consecutive points, two on service aces by Brooke Nuneviller, for an 11-9 lead and after trading the next five points, a WSU double-hit and Brooke Van Sickle’s kill closed out the marathon match.
“As a libero you can’t score, you stop scoring,” Nuneviller said of her role. “I can score points for my team (on serves).”