Oregon needed that.
After suffering through a stretch of futility that Oregon hasn’t faced in recent years, the 24th-ranked Ducks were understandably elated after a 25-20, 25-17, 23-25, 21-25 and 15-13 marathon victory over 18th-ranked Utah on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.
“I hope this gives us confidence moving forward,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said, “that if we do good things, we can have success.”
Oregon had lost six of its previous eight matches. The Ducks had seen Oregon State rally to victory in the Pac-12 opener on Friday night. And after winning the first two sets against the 18th-ranked Utes, the outlook wasn’t promising when the match went to a fifth set, especially when Utah led 13-12 after an attack error by Oregon (5-6 overall, 1-1 in the Pac-12) before the Ducks salvaged the win with three consecutive points to close out the afternoon to the delight of the 3,860 in attendance.
“We forget what it feels like (to have success),” UO senior Ronika Stone said. “We really needed this to remember how it felt ... to have this one go our way, this feels really good.”
Ulmer stressed that even in recent defeats, Oregon played well for stretches though not always to the end of matches. Well, this was the Ducks again doing some of that, winning the first two sets and ahead by three points in the third before a sudden collapse.
“It was getting too comfortable,” Stone said of taking the first two sets. “We have to know that we have to finish.
“I think we‘ve learned a lot of lessons so far, too many in fact. You’re going to make errors, and with every point there’s a new lesson. We’ve learned the same lessons over and over again.”
The coach acknowledged some of his player had “the look of deer in the headlights” as they saw another match possibly slipping away but composed themselves enough to make a go of coming back, though they did lose the third and fourth sets.
The fifth set went back and forth, with nine ties and three lead changes. The last of those came on a kill by Stone for a 14-13 lead over the Utes (9-4, 1-1) before the last of her 16 kills closed out the match.
Willow Johnson led Oregon with 18 kills and Brooke Nuneviller matched Stone’s 16 as setter Kylie Robinson spread around her 57 assists, matching her season high. Johnson and Nuneviller each had 13 digs, and Johnson’s all-around impact also included five service aces.
Think having Johnson back after missing a half-dozen matches with an injury doesn’t make a difference?
“She’s a great hitter but there were so many other areas where we missed her,” Ulmer said. “She got a lot of runs for us (with strong serving) and she made some really nice digs for us.”
Dani Drews led the Utes with 22 kills while Kenzie Koerber recorded a double-double with 11 kills and 13 digs.
The question now becomes can the Ducks keep it up as the gantlet of the Pac-12 only grows more challenging. Next weekend, the Ducks play host to No. 1 Stanford on Friday and 21st-ranked California on Sunday and then it’s a trip north where both Washington and Washington State are likely to be ranked teams before USC and UCLA arrive in Eugene.
“That’s who we play, we always play good teams,” Ulmer said of the upcoming conference schedule.