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Ashen Setting the Pace in Plum's Absence
Release Date: 10/16/2013
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By Rob Moseley

Coming off the night of her Oregon career, Shellsy Ashen had no time to celebrate.

Last Friday, Ashen had a career-high 51 assists to help the No. 22 Duck volleyball team beat No. 23 UCLA in Matthew Knight Arena. In just her second start replacing Oregon’s career assists leader, Ashen had set the stage for the Ducks’ second straight win over a ranked opponent.

But a bigger challenge awaited, for the Ducks and their junior setter. In town Sunday would be No. 1 USC. And UO coach Jim Moore had a game-plan that would test Ashen in an entirely new way.

Moore wanted to attack the Trojans from the right side of the court. For Ashen, who typically stands perpendicular to the net, facing the left side, that would mean repeatedly setting the ball blindly behind herself.

“That’s huge,” Moore said later. “That’s a difficult thing for any setter.”

In her third start of the season, Ahsen couldn’t continue the Ducks’ run of wins over ranked teams. Oregon was swept by USC, but afterward nobody was blaming Ashen, who could very well remain in the starting lineup when the Ducks face Colorado at home Friday night and Utah on Sunday.

“She’s come in, played hard and set really well,” UO junior Liz Brenner said. “We’re completely confident in her.”

Ashen, a junior from Laguna Niguel, Calif., had been playing regularly this season in Oregon’s rotation, taking advantage of the fact she’s not just a solid setter but a strong defender. Then, senior Lauren Plum suffered a lower leg injury that has sidelined her the last two weeks.

Suddenly Ashen was the quarterback of Oregon’s offense. In three matches since, the Ducks have two wins over ranked teams, and played evenly with No. 1 USC for two of three sets, losing by scores of 25-23, 25-18 and 26-24.

“I feel a lot more comfortable on the court,” Ashen said. “The team is behind me 100 percent, and they’re helping me out a lot.”

Ashen’s commitment and work ethic were illustrated by the success of Oregon’s right-side attack Sunday. She finished with 37 assists.

“It’s so much easier, since you’re looking that way, to set the ball to the left side,” Moore said. “Any time you’re in trouble, everything comes out to the left side. But we didn’t want her to do that. We wanted her to keep feeding that ball out to the right side. And it was working. But that’s hard.”

Ashen said she set literally hundreds of balls to the right side in practice Saturday, between the UCLA and USC matches. She needed to develop a feel for setting the ball close to the net or farther away, and inside or outside the antennae at the net’s edge.

“It’s definitely different,” Ashen said. “Coming out of your hands, you don’t know if it’s tight or off, inside or outside. You can turn and look, but it’s different, obviously.”

The next challenge, and something to watch for this weekend, will be Ashen’s ability to involve Oregon’s second middle blocker in the attack. Against USC, four players had at least 22 total attacks, but Serena Warner had just six at the “M2” position.

Like exploiting the right-side attack last week, getting the M2 involved Friday is a challenge Ashen will eagerly accept, should she be called upon again to spell Plum.

“There’s always something more you can do,” Ashen said with a smile.

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