USC women’s volleyball faces a hard loss against Oregon in five sets

The Trojans fall to 20-9 on the season and 12-6 in conference play.

USC huddles between points.

After a 3-1 win over Oregon early this season, USC women’s volleyball was defeated on Sunday by the Ducks in five sets 21-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-12 in Eugene, Ore. Now at 20-9 overall and 12-6 in conference play, USC fell to fourth place in the Pac-12 standings with the loss.

With the NCAA tournament approaching, the team’s chances for a tournament spot are slipping. This is USC’s best season since 2018 with head coach Brad Keller. The Trojans have two conference games left this upcoming week to determine their fate this season.

Matthew Knight Arena was silent when senior outside hitter Skylar Fields opened the first set with a strong kill down the middle of Oregon’s court. Fields scored three out of four points for her team, giving them a 4-2 lead.

Oregon saw what Keller described as USC’s “aggressive” playing style early on and started executing quick back-to-back kills and a block to tie the game early at four points. When the Ducks were ahead of the Trojans by one point, the Trojans’ fast offense during senior opposite hitter Emilia Weske’s serving run pushed them back to a 16-10 lead.

When Fields’ spikes were blocked by the Ducks, Fields quickly changed her 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 scrambled on the ground unsuccessfully to try and keep the ball in play.

The Trojans started the second set with straight kills to the Ducks’ back row. Oregon’s confused back row defenders couldn’t bounce back until they went on a serving run of four to lead 16-15.

The subsequent exchange for kills between the Trojans and Ducks resulted in a tie at 20 points. The tie happened after Fields’ quick set for Weske’s kill was blocked by Oregon freshman outside hitter Mimi Colyer and redshirt junior middle blocker Karson Bacon.

Two points later, graduate libero Kelli Barry’s dig gave sophomore setter Mia Tuaniga the opportunity to set the ball to Fields. Oregon’s front row completely missed Fields’ fast swing and hit Bacon’s head to make it 22-20 Trojans. Two swift blocks by Oregon for two points pushed the Trojans to fight for a win, but USC held on to win 25-23.

The momentum of the game shifted in the third set. USC was struggling to maintain a lead on Oregon after nine ties and three lead changes throughout the set. Keller said the team’s mistakes weren’t a representation of their playing style.

“We made a couple of non-USC errors in the third set,” Keller said.

The last tie at 19 points determined which team would win the third set. Oregon’s block made the Trojans’ back row scramble. The Ducks weren’t expecting the ball, but quickly regained control of the ball for Colyer’s kill to make it 21-19.

Keller called two timeouts to help his team stay focused and secure a win.

“Most of our timeouts are about staying in the moment, what we are going to do next and talk about the next defensive situation for them to prepare for it,” Keller said. “Keep their heads up, keep going and compete.

But Colyer switched up USC’s plans. The freshman executed another kill and two service aces to help Oregon win 25-20 in the third set.

The Ducks took control over the Trojans early in the fourth set, leading 3-0 early. Fields swung her arm back to smack the ball at Oregon’s defense on the next point. Officials thought the quick kill was out of bounds, but Keller challenged the call and gained a point for USC.

The Trojans were determined to find a rhythm as sophomore middle blocker Katelyn Smith’s kill grazed across the fingertips of Oregon’s blockers to close the Ducks’ lead to 15-11. Later, freshman outside hitter Jordan Wilson, who scored 15 kills, jumped a couple of feet off of the ground to hit the ball for a kill, though Oregon still led 19-15.

Although USC fought throughout long volleys, there were no ties or lead changes in this set. The Ducks went on to win 25-20.

Keller believed his team became reserved and started overthinking the way they were playing.

“That was disheartening,” Keller said. “I felt like when we fell behind, our body language and mood changed, we became cautious instead of playing aggressive.”

After Oregon won the third and fourth set, the home crowd screamed in excitement to start the fifth set. Nevertheless, USC’s front row of graduate middle blocker Kalyah Williams and Fields evenly exchanged kills to help gain a lead 4-2.

The Ducks fed off of service aces and the Trojans’ attack errors to throw USC’s game off. Oregon was leading 8-6.

Weske, who had 15 kills, jumped above the right side of the net to hit the ball onto Oregon’s court in the middle of the fifth set, though it was initially ruled out of bounds. Keller challenged the officials’ call for the third time and was successful. USC was still down by a point 10-9.

When Oregon redshirt freshman middle blocker Colby Neal hit the ball, the ball bounced off of Williams’ head and went close to the scoreboard. The impact of the ball made a few tears fall from Williams’ eyes.

Once the ball landed on their side, the Ducks continued to volley, but the officials whistled to stop the play. They called it a dead ball because the ball skyrocketed near the scoreboard, putting Oregon ahead 13-11.

Since there wasn’t a camera angle that showed whether the ball hit the scoreboard, Keller was left with his hands tied.

“There was no way of challenging this, and there was nothing I could do about it,” Keller said.

The intense crowd rose to their feet when a kill by Colyer touched a USC defender’s arm. Weske returned the favor and made her quick kill touch Oregon’s back row. But Oregon’s last kill hit the corner of USC’s court, to give the Ducks a 15-12 victory in the fifth set and win the match.

Keller reflected on USC’s execution and what they need to do better to win against Washington on Wednesday evening.

“It comes down to our mentality. We need to learn how to finish games off,” Keller said. “We have two more shots to learn those lessons and hopefully get ready for the tournament.”

USC is on the road against Washington on Nov. 23 and plays a home match against UCLA on Friday, Nov. 25 to cap off the regular season.