After beating Oregon 3-1 earlier this season, USC women’s volleyball finished in five sets Sunday in Eugene, Oregon, USA, 21:25, 23:25, 25:20, 25:20, 15:12 def. by the Ducks, 20-9 overall and 12-6 in conference play, dropped USC to fourth in Pac-12 standings with the loss.
As the NCAA tournament approaches, the team’s chances of a tournament spot decrease. This is USC’s best season since 2018 with head coach Brad Keller. The Trojans have two conference games left in the coming week to decide their fate this season.
Matthew Knight Arena was silent as senior winger Skylar Fields opened the first set with a powerful kill down the middle of Oregon’s court. Fields scored three out of four points for her team and took a 4-2 lead.
Oregon saw what Keller described as USC’s “aggressive” playstyle early on and began executing quick back-to-back kills and a block to tie the game early at four points. With the Ducks a point ahead of the Trojans, the Trojans’ fast offense during senior opposing hitter Emilia Weske’s serve push pushed them back to a 16-10 lead.
When Fields’ spikes were blocked by the Ducks, Fields quickly changed their approach to help USC win the first set 25-21. The senior tipped the ball over the net late in the set, and Oregon’s front row unsuccessfully scrambled to the ground to try to keep the ball in play.
The Trojans started the second set with straight kills into the Ducks’ backline. Oregon’s confused back row defenders couldn’t recover until they served four to lead 16-15.
Subsequent exchanges of kills between the Trojans and Ducks resulted in a 20-point tie. The tie came after Fields’ fast set for Weske’s kill was blocked by Oregon freshman Mimi Colyer and junior middle blocker Karson Bacon.
Two points later, graduate Libero Kelli Barry’s dig gave second setter Mia Tuaniga the opportunity to put the ball on Fields. Oregon’s front line missed Fields’ quick swing completely and hit Bacon’s head to make it 22-20 Trojans. Two quick blocks by Oregon for two points propelled the Trojans in contention for a win, but USC held on to the 25-23 win.
The dynamic of the game changed in the third set. USC struggled to maintain a lead over Oregon after nine ties and three lead changes throughout the set. Keller said the team’s mistakes were not a reflection of their playing style.
“We made a few non-USC errors in the third set,” Keller said.
The final tie at 19 points determined which team would win the third set. Oregon’s block messed up the Trojans backline. The Ducks didn’t expect the ball, but quickly regained control of the ball to kill Colyer at 21:19.
Keller took two timeouts to help his team stay focused and secure a win.
“Most of our timeouts are about staying in the moment, what we’re going to do next and talking about the next defensive situation so they can prepare for it,” Keller said. “Cheer up, go ahead and compete.
But Colyer changed USC’s plans. The freshman executed another kill and two serve aces to help Oregon win 25-20 in the third set.
The Ducks took control of the Trojans early in the fourth set and led 3-0 early on. Fields swung her arm back to slam the ball down Oregon’s defense on the next point. Officials thought the quick kill was out of bounds, but Keller challenged the call and won a point for USC.
The Trojans were determined to find a rhythm as sophomore middle blocker Katelyn Smith brushed over the fingertips of Oregon’s blockers to close the Ducks’ lead to 15-11. Later, freshman outside hitter Jordan Wilson, who had 15 kills, jumped a few feet across the floor to slap the ball for a kill, though Oregon still led 19-15.
Although USC struggled through long volleys, there were no ties or lead changes in this set. The Ducks went on to win 25-20.
Keller believed his team was becoming reticent and began to reconsider the way they played.
“That was disappointing,” said Keller. “I felt like as we fell behind, our body language changed and our mood changed, we got cautious instead of playing aggressively.”
After Oregon won the third and fourth sets, the home crowd screamed with excitement to start the fifth set. Nonetheless, USC front row center blocker Kalyah Williams and Fields, from the front row finishing center blocker with completion, traded evenly kills to forge a 4-2 lead.
The Ducks fed on service aces and Trojan attack failures to stall USC’s game. Oregon led 8-6.
Weske, who had 15 kills, vaulted over the right side of the net to slam the ball into Oregon’s court midway through the fifth set despite initially going off-limits. For the third time, Keller defended himself against the officials’ call and was successful. USC was still down a point, 10-9.
When redshirt freshman Oregon middle blocker Colby Neal hit the ball, the ball bounced off William’s head and went near the scoreboard. The impact of the ball brought tears to Williams’ eyes.
When the ball landed on their side, the Ducks continued play, but officials blew the whistle to stop the game. They called it a dead ball because the ball skyrocketed near the scoreboard and gave Oregon a 13-11 lead.
Because there was no camera perspective to show if the ball had hit the scoreboard, Keller’s hands were tied.
“There was no way to contest this and there was nothing I could do about it,” Keller said.
The tense crowd rose when a kill from Colyer touched the arm of a USC defender. Weske returned the favor and let her quick kill touch Oregon’s back row. But Oregon’s final kill hit the corner of USC court to give the Ducks a 15-12 fifth-set win and win the match.
Keller reflected on USC’s execution and what they need to do better to win against Washington on Wednesday night.
“It’s our mentality. We need to learn how to finish games,” Keller said. “We still have two attempts to learn those lessons and hopefully prepare for the tournament.”
USC is away against Washington on November 23 and plays a home game against UCLA on Friday, November 25 to wrap up the regular season.