by Rob Moseley
Serena Warner's final line didn't exactly jump off the stat sheet. The junior middle blocker for the Oregon volleyball team finished Friday night's match against Cal with a modest four kills, on 14 total attacks.
The numbers don't tell the full story, though. Three of those four kills came in the first set, production the Golden Bears had to respect for the rest of the night. That opened things up for other Ducks, and the UO volleyball team went on to sweep No. 20 California at Matthew Knight Arena, 25-21, 25-21, 25-21.
Warner came into the night averaging 0.65 kills per set in Pac-12 play. She was one of five Ducks with multiple kills in the first set Friday, joining usual suspects Liz Brenner, Canace Finley, Ariana Williams and Martenne Bettendorf.
"That was the whole key," UO coach Jim Moore said.
The Ducks (15-11, 8-8 Pac-12) bounced back from Thursday's loss to No. 6 Stanford in impressive fashion. They never trailed in the first two sets Friday, then rallied from an early deficit to win the third.
Thursday's loss could have been crushing after the Ducks tied the Cardinal with a second-set win, then blew a third-set lead on a series of attack errors before losing in four.
"That can get to you emotionally," Moore said. "But it didn't. They came out hard and came after them."
In doing so, Oregon bolstered what was already a solid case for an NCAA Tournament bid, with two weeks left in the regular season. The Ducks are at Utah and Colorado next week, then play at Washington State before hosting the Civil War to conclude the regular season.
"It helps, there's no lie in that," Moore said. "Every win helps now. We've still got a shot at being OK.
"If we take them one at a time, we'll be OK. Let's try to win each play, that's the key."
In the big picture, the Ducks have been stabilized recently by a return to health for setter Lauren Plum, who had been dealing with a foot injury. A more subtle impact came from Warner in Friday's first set, as she presented yet another weapon for which the Cal blockers needed to account.
"For her to put balls away like that and get up really high, she did great," Plum said. "You could see Canace and the other girls start to be one-on-one because Serena was now drawing the middle on her."
Warner only had one kill over the final two sets. But her early presence had a lingering effect, as illustrated by Brenner's evening.
On Brenner's first eight attacks Friday, she had just two kills and three errors, for a hitting average of minus-.125. After Cal starting accounting for Warner, Brenner had just one more error in 29 arm swings the rest of the night; on those 29 swings Brenner had 16 kills, and a hitting average of .517.
"For sure, when we get production out of that middle spot, that helps me out a lot," Brenner said.
Brenner finished the sweep with 18 kills, Williams added 11, Finley had nine and Bettendorf had eight. Amanda Benson had 24 digs, matching the most in the Pac-12 for a three-set match this season.`