Ducks Elite in Consecutive Seasons

MADISON, Wis. — For the first time in program history, the Oregon volleyball team has advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.

A year after coming within a point of the Final Four, the Ducks will have another chance at reaching collegiate volleyball’s final weekend after sweeping Purdue on Thursday in a Sweet Sixteen match hosted by Wisconsin. The UO women (29-5) will take on their region’s top seed, the host Badgers, in an Elite Eight matchup on Saturday (5 p.m. PT, ESPNU).

Oregon enters Saturday having swept all three of its NCAA Tournament matches, and four straight overall. The Ducks hit .364 against the strong defense of the Boilermakers on Thursday, winning 25-14, 25-19, 29-27.

After dominating the first set, the Ducks trailed 18-15 in the second and 18-16 in the third. But they finished off each of the final two and advanced to play Saturday night.

“I just thought we never really let anything fluster us,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “We made a handful more errors in the third set; credit to them, they upped their service game and put more pressure on us. … They pushed us there, but we just kept going.”

Morgan Lewis continued her hot streak for the Ducks, notching 14 kills. Mimi Colyer was lethal attacking out of the back row and also finished with 14 kills, Gabby Gonzales added 10 kills with six digs and three aces, while middles Karson Bacon and Kara McGhee combined for 13 kills with 10 blocks.

Georgia Murphy was incredibly dynamic at libero, finishing with 13 digs, and Hannah Pukis had 42 assists with 10 digs, her 23rd double-double this season. Colyer had 11 digs, finished with her 12th double-double.

Gonzales played through a lower leg injury that required enough treatment in the days leading up to the match that Ulmer referred to the team’s athletic trainer, Mary-Grace Testa, as “the MVP of the week.”

“It’s always tough,” Gonzales said of battling through, “but my teammates around me, they make it so much easier. I know I can always lean on them. If I’m struggling, I’ve got so many people — on the court, off the court, staff — that I can look to and they can help me in any sort of way. I’m surrounded by such a great group of people here.”

How It Happened: The Ducks grabbed momentum from the outset of the match, and seemed determined not to let it go most of the first set. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead with three early kills from Lewis, and their sideout percentage remained a perfect 100 until Purdue scored consecutive points for the first time in the match to close within 21-11.

Bacon had a kill and McGhee had a solo block to make it 23-11, and though Purdue answered with three straight, an error and then a kill from McGhee gave Oregon the opening set.

Lewis had four kills in the set, Bacon had three kills with three blocks and Colyer also had three kills.

“I thought they came out a little tentative in the first set,” Ulmer said of the Boilermakers. “But then they settled down and, everything we thought we were gonna get from them, we got after that.”

The Boilermakers put together their longest run of the first two sets early in the second, scoring five straight to lead 13-9. The Ducks answered with three in a row, getting an incredible pancake dig from Murphy during that run to keep the match close.

“She’s a little fireball,” Gonzales said. “I love when she gets those crazy digs. I mean, she’s always solid, she’s always great. And when she does that it fires us all up. It’s just so great to see.”

Purdue maintained a slight edge, and opened up some cushion at 18-15. But the Ducks then scored five in a row, a run that included another highlight-reel dig from Murphy and two points out of the back row by Colyer. After Purdue scored to end that run, Oregon scored another five in a row to finish off the set on a 10-1 run. The last 5-0 run included two more blocks by McGhee, and yet another point from Colyer out of the back row.

“We were doing really well and firing on all cylinders in the front row; having me in the back row was just something that gets everyone else open,” Colyer said. “And I think Hannah was doing a really good job finding me … And it just made our offense a lot harder to stop.”

The third set was back and forth early, until a 6-1 run by the Ducks that included three kills from Lewis and gave them a 13-10 run. Purdue scored five straight to go up 16-14, and later a three-point run by Oregon capped by a kill from Colyer put the Ducks up 23-21. A kill by Bacon broke a 23-23 tie and set up match point, but Purdue stayed alive and the Ducks finally clinched the set on their fifth attempt at match point.

Up Next: The regional No. 2 seed Ducks face top-seeded and host Wisconsin on Saturday (5 p.m. PT, ESPNU).

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