Run Ends in Elite Eight

MADISON, Wis. — Oregon’s season and the careers of some of the most accomplished players in program history came to an end Saturday, as the Ducks dropped a four-set decision to host Wisconsin in an Elite Eight matchup of the NCAA volleyball tournament.

The Ducks (29-6) reached the regional finals in consecutive years, something never before accomplished at Oregon. A year after dropping a five-set match at Louisville, the UO women stayed alive by winning the third set Saturday before ultimately losing, 25-22, 25-22, 25-27, 25-18.

Mimi Colyer had 20 kills and surpassed 1,000 for her career in the match, providing a significant threat out of the back row for the second time in three days. Morgan Lewis added 11 kills and Hannah Pukis nearly posted a triple-double with nine kills, 49 assists and 13 digs. But the Ducks struggled against Wisconsin’s vaunted block, hitting .207 as the Badgers tallied 16 blocks in the match.

“I thought we battled really, really hard, and we left everything we had out there,” UO coach Matt Ulmer said. “You’ve got to win those close sets in the beginning. We didn’t, and that’s the difference. But I think we gave everything we had.”

Gabby Gonzales, Kara McGhee and Karson Bacon each added eight kills, with Colyer the only non-senior to record a kill for the Ducks. Bacon was making her third career appearance in the Elite Eight with Oregon, while Lewis and Pukis, fellow seniors Georgia Murphy and Elise Ferreira and the sophomore Colyer each made her second straight regional finals appearance.

Murphy had 15 digs in her final UO appearance. The back-row tandem of Daley McClellan and Ferreria rotated in and combined for four services aces with 18 digs.

“I’ve been dreading this day whether it was a win or loss — even if we won the championship,” Ulmer said. “I’m dreading the day when I don’t get to see these guys every day. They’re amazing, the seven seniors that are leaving now and just who they are as humans. It’s just the pleasure of my life to be able to be their coach. …

“Definitely, we wish we could have taken that next step. But it doesn’t diminish anything that they’ve done. They’ve been amazing. And they’ve elevated Oregon volleyball to new heights.”

How It Happened: Consecutive kills by Bacon in the opening moments gave the Ducks a 3-2 lead in the first set, but that would be their only advantage. The Badgers scored three straight to take over the lead, and later used a 6-1 scoring run to go up 13-8. A 4-0 run for the Ducks that included both of McClellan’s aces got them within 14-13, and an ace from Ferreira cut the deficit to one again at 17-16. Trailing 23-19, Oregon rallied again and closed within 23-22 on a block by Bacon and Lewis, before Wisconsin closed out the set.

Three kills by Colyer, including two out of the back row, helped Oregon take an early 8-3 lead in the second. Again Wisconsin answered, putting together a 9-1 run to lead 12-9. A 4-0 run that included three Lewis kills plus a block from Lewis and Bacon tied it at 14-14, and a 3-0 run capped by a kill from McGhee got the Ducks back out in front at 19-18. Two kills by Colyer forged ties at 21-21 and 22-22, but the Badgers closed out the set with three straight points.

“I wouldn’t say it was our cleanest match; I don’t think my sets were always in the best places for our hitters to put them in the best position,” Pukis said. “But I think we really fought and that’s kind of what made the difference, is we kept attacking and kept working together. And eventually it started clicking a little bit.”

Pukis’ first kill of the night didn’t come until the second set, but she increasingly looked to score herself and set Colyer out of the back row to get the Wisconsin block off-guard. Colyer had seven kills and Pukis had six in the third set, which Oregon led 7-3 early.

Consecutive points by Pukis got the lead to 10-5, and Ulmer won his fourth challenge of the night on a kill by Colyer that made it 16-11. The Badgers scored three straight to tighten it up, and closed within 22-21. Wisconsin tied it at 23-23, but the Ducks were able to side out on a back-row kill by Colyer and ultimately won it on their third set point.

The fourth set went back-and-forth initially, with Lewis scoring to tie it at 8-8 — the eighth tie of the set. But Wisconsin then scored seven straight to take control, and though Oregon closed back within five at a couple of points, the Badgers maintained the advantage and ultimately ended things on their third try at match point.

Up next: It will be a new-look UO volleyball team that takes the court next season, led by the junior-to-be Colyer.

“I’m excited for Oregon volleyball,” Colyer said. “We have an amazing freshman class right now and I think it’s awesome that — you know, last year, I got to look at Brooke (Nuneviller) and she took me under her wing and I got to just watch her and learn from her — and I think a lot of the freshmen got to do the same with some of the seniors this year.

So I’m just really excited for them to see the court. They’re all so excited to be here, they’re such hard workers and they have been so key in pushing us in practice.”