Losing the first set of a match has usually been ominous for Oregon’s victory chances.
Instead, it meant nothing Sunday as the Ducks came back for a 21-25, 25-14, 25-16 and 27-25 victory over UCLA in a Pac-12 volleyball match in front of 2,298 in attendance at Matthew Knight Arena.
How much does the first set really mean in a best-of-five match?
The 16th-ranked Ducks (16-8 overall, 9-5 Pac-12) had been 1-7 this season when they dropped the opening set while the No. 22-ranked Bruins (12-9, 7-7) entered Sunday’s match 10-1 when they had opened a match with a set victory.
And so there it began Sunday, the Bruins taking the opening set from the Ducks.
“I thought we started pretty easy so they had a lot of good looks,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “I was not very kind to our team after the first set in the huddle. I really liked our response after that.”
Who wouldn’t? The Ducks had an 11-1 run during the second set when they posted a .353 hitting percentage. Oregon outscored the Bruins 13-2 to take a 19-11 lead in the third set. There was nothing quite like that in the final set, though with the Bruins at match point Oregon scored three consecutive points to complete the day on a pair of kills by Willow Johnson and a block by Ronika Stone.
“Ronika was really special on the blocks ... it was fitting that she got the last block,” Ulmer said. “If Ronika wasn’t blocking like she did, we’d still be out there playing in the fifth set.”
Stone was credited with being in on 12 blocks, to go with her team-high 12 kills. Two other Ducks also recorded double-doubles, with Brooke Van Sickle getting 11 kills while hitting .357 along with 16 digs and August Raskie had 46 assists and 11 digs. Brooke Nuneviller had 25 digs as the Ducks finished with 77, their fourth-highest total of the season.
The Ducks also matched their second-highest total of the season in service errors with 10, but Ulmer said the number is anything but a concern to him.
“It’s important for us to miss serves. We can’t just keep serving in,” he insisted. “It’s like throwing fastballs for strikes all day,” which makes it too easy for the opponent.
“I want us to be aggressive,” he added. “We were very unaggressive (in a loss) against USC on Friday and we were very aggressive today.”
Oregon led the first set 16-14 before the Bruins scored five of the next six points. UCLA’s lead was 22-21 before scoring the final three points of the set.
In the second-set victory. Oregon was up 11-9 when the Ducks ran off eight consecutive points in an 11-1 run that upped the margin to 22-10.
Oregon used its 13-2 run that included consecutive service aces by Raskie to take control of the third set before the Bruins responded with the next four points. The Ducks then scored six of the final seven points to wrap up a 2-1 lead in sets.
The Ducks had to fend off a series of UCLA rallies in the fourth set. Up 13-7, three mishits by the Ducks helped the Bruins score seven consecutive points for a 14-13 advantage. Ahead 22-18, Oregon soon found itself returning serve with UCLA at set point before consecutive kills by Johnson and the final block by Stone ended the match.
Stone said the key factor for Oregon being so dominant in key stretches was “just knowing how good we can be.”
The win kept Oregon tied with Washington State for third in the conference and a game behind USC for second place with six matches left in the regular season.
The Ducks play at second-ranked Stanford on Thursday before a match Saturday at California. Oregon then returns home for matches against Utah and Colorado before wrapping up the regular season with road matches at Washington and Oregon State.