The bottom line comes down to more than wins and losses for Oregon volleyball coach Matt Ulmer.
Making that point perfectly clear last weekend in Salt Lake City — at the risk of a possible forfeit — might be just what the Ducks needed as they hit the midpoint of the Pac-12 season.
With three key players back from a week’s suspension for violating a team rule on the road trip to Colorado and Utah, 16th-ranked Oregon put together a solid performance for a 25-12, 25-22, 25-22 victory over California on Friday night before 1,685 at Matthew Knight Arena.
“I liked our energy tonight,” Ulmer said. “I thought we played pretty clean the whole night. Cal was playing with a lot of confidence ... so I’m happy to get this win against them.”
The Ducks (13-6, 6-3 Pac-12) won for the fourth time in five matches and beat the Golden Bears (10-10, 2-7) for the ninth consecutive time, behind 12 kills each from senior Lindsey Vander Weide and junior Ronika Stone, and 36 assists from senior August Raskie.
Oregon was coming off a 3-1 loss at Utah where junior Willow Johnson, sophomore Brooke Van Sickle and freshman Brooke Nuneviller dressed but didn’t play. When junior Taylor Borup injured her right ankle with the Ducks trailing 2-0, Ulmer was down to six players.
The second-year coach wasn’t going to burn any redshirts or grant any temporary stays of suspension should Oregon lose another player. Instead, Ulmer said Friday night, he was ready to forfeit if his ranks shrank to five.
It didn’t come to that, with the Ducks fighting back and nearly pushing the Utes to a fifth set. The residual effect then showed up against Cal in three players bouncing to return.
“They were back in practice on Tuesday, and they looked pretty fresh to me, so I guess that was a perk of it,” Ulmer said. “Can’t say I planned that part, but … it was really nice to have them back in there.”
Johnson and Van Sickle, who was thrust into a hitting role at 5-foot-9 with the 6-4 Borup on the bench in a protective boot, each had 10 kills as Oregon hit .417 in the opening set and .368 on the night. Van Sickle also finished with 12 digs for her first double-double, and Nuneviller contributed four assists and 16 digs.
“We looked like we were all very focused, and that’s what you hope for in response to what happened this past week,” Ulmer said. “I like our maturity (and) I like where we’re going, so I just want to see it continue.”
The Ducks breezed in the opening set, never trailing, as Johnson led the way with five kills. The second set was stickier with eight ties and four lead changes before a Golden Bears point was reversed by video review for a 20-20 tie, and Oregon finished it on Vander Weide’s fifth kill of the set.
The third set was tight throughout before Stone capped it with a touch kill and a full swing for the final points. Ulmer said he was particularly pleased to see Stone and August working so well at the net.
“Ronika’s one of the most dynamic hitters in the country, so just getting her feeling good again and playing with confidence is a big deal,” he said. “Now we can take that over against Stanford.”
Ah, the Cardinal. Ranked second and winners of 15 straight, they may arrive suitably irritated for Sunday’s 11 a.m. brunch match with the Ducks after last-place Oregon State came close to taking the Pac-12 leaders to a fifth set in Corvallis.
Stanford (17-1, 9-0) had lost just two of 26 conference sets before Friday night. It leads its all-time series with Oregon 64-4, including winning the last 11 meetings.
“Stanford is obviously a very good team,” Ulmer said, “but we’re playing well, and if we can serve and pass, we’ve got a shot against anybody.”