(Photo: Trey Lanthier/WCSN)
After a four-match home stand, No. 18 Arizona State hits the road to Eugene, Ore., to square off against the No. 11 Oregon Ducks.
The Ducks are coming off of a road split, knocking off No. 17 UCLA in four sets after falling to No. 18 USC in another four-set match. Oregon was led by the efforts of senior outside hitter Liz Brenner in the victory over the Bruins, as she tallied 16 kills to go along with 19 digs.
Oregon also swept No. 15 Arizona on Wednesday, once again behind the play of Brenner, who tallied her 13th double-double of the season.
“They’ve established this tradition of excellence,” ASU head coach Jason Watson said. “They also play the game really, really fast. They’re going to set the ball incredibly fast to their outside hitters.”
ASU managed to scrape out a split of their own, recovering from a straight-sets loss to No. 3 Washington to come back from a two-set deficit against Washington State, winning in five sets. Junior outside hitter Macey Gardner led the way as usual, racking up 25 kills and a career-high 23 digs against the Cougars to help her team to victory.
Last weekend also saw the return of ASU’s junior middle blocker Whitney Follette, who missed over a month following abdominal surgery in mid-September.
“We definitely get a little boost from having her back just from how well she’s been doing and how comfortable we are with her,” junior setter Bianca Arellano said.
What to expect
Oregon runs the fastest offense in the Pac-12, routinely pushing to the pins on a second-step tempo to put their pin hitters in more one-on-one situations on the outside. Brenner has made a living off of this, ranking fifth on Oregon’s all-time career kills list (1,478). She is also a force on defense, recording double-digit digs in 16 of the Ducks’ 18 matches.
“Brenner is one of the marquee players in the conference,” Watson said. “She’s remarkably good at what she does, so it’s a challenge.”
Aiding Brenner is junior outside hitter Martenne Bettendorf, who has found a nice home on the right-side pin. She currently averages a team-high 3.29 kills per set at a .335 clip. Her rise this season has brought balance to the Oregon offense.
For ASU, getting sophomore opposite hitter BreElle Bailey back on track will be key. The 6-foot-4 Bailey struggled offensively, tallying just two kills opposed to 10 attacking errors last weekend. In an attempt to find some sort of production from the right pin, Watson inserted freshman setter Madison McDaniel into the lineup against Washington State.
“We’re pretty happy and pretty thankful that we had some depth there that could step in and help us out on Sunday when we needed it,” Watson said.
Last season, ASU beat Oregon for the first time since 2007 in Eugene. However, although it seems that Follette is back to her pre-injury form, a struggling Bailey spells trouble for ASU’s offense. The Sun Devils are a better team when all of their pin hitters can get loose, and Oregon is a scrappy team between the defensive efforts of Brenner and sophomore libero and Arizona native Amanda Benson. The Ducks’ ultra-quick offense will give ASU some problems on their side, and Oregon will come out victorious in four sets.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com