No. 11 Oregon Falls to Illinois in Five Sets


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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - After an early two-set lead, the No. 11 University of Oregon volleyball team succumbed in a five-set affair to host Illinois Saturday evening in the final of the State Farm Illini Classic.

The Ducks (2-1) had impressive hitting marks in the first two sets (.462, .444), but then sputtered in the final three sets (.095, .114, .176). The Illini, who received votes in this week's national poll, conversely went from hitting .077 and .067 the first two games to .303, .245 and .250 in its victorious sets.

Among Duck individuals, senior outside hitter Gorana Maricic led the kills column (16), and senior middle blocker Kristen Forristall totaled a .529 hitting mark based on her 10 kills. Junior setter Nevena Djordjevic ended with 49 assists on her 129 set attempts, and senior Katie Swoboda led the team in digs (34), just ahead of junior outside hitter Sonja Newcombe (29).

In set one, UO jumped out to 4-0 and 8-1 leads, forcing Illinois to call a timeout after the latter score in the nearly silent Huff Hall. The respite did little to slow UO who still led 16-6 at the Illini's second timeout - a stretch in which UO still hadn't committed an attack error yet (and finally came with an 18-8 hitting miscue by Maricic). At set's end, all six UO starters had kills, with Maricic and Meyers totaling four and three, respectively. On defense, four different players had three or more digs, including seven by Swoboda, while Enesi had two blocks.

In the second set, the Ducks rattled off another 6-0 start that quickly escalated into a 15-4 lead. Illinois responded with a 12-8 run to bring the score back to a more respectable 23-16 margin, but a Maricic kill and UI attack error cemented another convincing 25-16 UO win. Five Ducks had multiple kills, including four by Newcombe (in seven attempts) and three by Maricic. On defense, Enesi came up with four more block assists and Maricic had two.

The third set proved the most exciting of the tourney, although it was hard to tell the exact score since the main scoreboards went out, forcing the crowd of 1,500 to squint at the elementary P.E. class flip version on the scorer's table. No team led by more than three points until the Illini went up 24-20 late, but the Ducks rallied with four straight points for the10th tie of the set at 24-24 - and the last two points on strong serves by junior reserve Amanda Westrick. However, the second Illini timeout finally reinvigorated the home squad who came up with two straight points for the 26-24 win. Newcombe had five more kills in her 17 attempts, and Forristall had three kills in her five attempts, but the defense failed to net a block.

The tension in the air continued to increase in the fourth set as Oregon led 11-5, before Illinois used a 10-3 response midway through the set to tie matters, 19-19, then went ahead 20-19. A kill by Maricic halted the run momentarily before the Illini tapped a 5-1 run to win the set, 25-21, with their last three points on kills by tourney MVP Laura DeBruler.

In the deciding fifth set, Illinois opened with a 4-0 run that forced a Duck timeout and then another when it extended its lead to 6-1. That led to four straight points by Oregon on kills by Newcome and Marici and a block by Meyers and Forristall to make it 6-5. However, the Illini went back on a 4-2 run to lead, 10-7, with three of those points on kills by Kylie McCulley. The two teams traded points to make it 10-8, then consecutive kills by Maricic cut it to 11-10, but Illinois had two points of its own to go back up, 13-10. The Ducks came right back with three straight points of their own on a kill by Enesi and two attack errors by the Illini's DeBruler. However, the latter player redeemed herself on a kill for the 14th point, and the game winner came immediately after by Johannan Bangert.

"We came out great the first two games and played very well," Oregon head coach Jim Moore said. "Then, game three we came out tentative and without the same life and fire. We had good blocking in games one and two, but we weren't as focused the last three. To their credit, they did a great job, too, and also slowed the pace down. They capitalized on our timidity and applied pressure to us. College volleyball is about who applies the pressure. They also started to dig everything under the sun although part of it was us continually hitting it to the same place."

For Illinois (3-0), DeBruler racked up 31 kills and a .279 mark - second-best on the team behind Abby Nelson (.286, six kills). Hilary Haen and Lizzie Bazzetta had 30 and 26 assists, and Ashley Edinger had team highs in digs (20) and two service aces (2). Afterwards, the coaches and media had even more good news for Haen and Edinger who were tabbed with DeBruler to the all-tourney team.

The home blue and orange's win marked their 18th title in the 25th edition of the tournament with their lone losses in previous tourney finals to Rice (2005), Florida (2001), Stanford (1994, 1990), BYU (1987), San Jose State (1986) and Missouri (1984).

Earlier Saturday, UO opened with a three-set sweep of North Carolina, 25-19, 25-16, 25-19. The Ducks trailed only once in the match with its early 3-1 deficit in the second set, and its defense held the Tar Heels to a .066 hitting mark overall. In comparison, UO combined to hit .286, including a .387 mark in game two (17 kills, five errors, 31 attempts). In her second career start for UO, senior and second-year Duck Marija Milosevich posted seven kills - one off her career high (8) from last year's Sweet 16 match vs. UCLA. The Ljig, Serbia native paced the team in hitting (.438).

The night before in UO's tourney opener, the Ducks won, 3-1, vs. No. 23 New Mexico State by scores of 25-19, 25-23, 22-25, 25-17. The victory was the fourth straight season-opening win under head coach Jim Moore, and its sixth overall vs. a top-25 team under the fourth-year mentor.

Three Ducks were tabbed to the seven-person all-tournament team - Maricic (2 matches, 26 kills, 2.89 avg., .254), Enesi (3 matches, 26 kills, 2.17 avg., .340, 26 blocks, 2.17 avg.) and Newcombe (32 kills, 2.67 avg., .191).

Looking ahead, the Ducks travel to the Jayhawk Classic next weekend to face Central Florida and Kansas on Friday, September 5 and Utah Valley on Saturday, September 6.

QUICK QUACKS: Fourth-year head coach Jim Moore's overall record is now 53-42, and his non-conference Duck record is 34-3 ... Saturday's loss lowered UO's mark to 1-2 vs. Illinois all-time with the Illini winning their previous meeting in 1987 (8-15, 15-12, 10-15, 2-15).

Article courtesy of Oregon athletics.

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