EUGENE, Ore. – Rather than rest on the laurels of its previous three titles or possess a repeat-oriented mind set, the University of Oregon acrobatics and tumbling team is aspiring to new heights in 2014.
The Ducks are three-time reigning NCATA National Champions and are riding a 21-meet unbeaten streak dating back to the 2011 season. While traditional wisdom would say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, head coach Felecia Mulkey and the Ducks will continue to push the boundaries of the sport and raise the bar even higher.
“We have a certain philosophy that we will always follow,” said Mulkey, who is entering her fifth season at Oregon. “If you don’t stay ahead of the curve and ahead of the trends in your sport, you’re going to fall behind. We’re continuing to re-invent what we do. Tradition is non-traditional.”
Oregon’s bid to make it four-straight will begin this Thursday within the confines of Matthew Knight Arena. Fans will get their first look at this year’s squad - who Mulkey says has the potential to be as good as any team she’s had at Oregon – at 7 p.m. Thursday in a dual against Baylor.
The season-opening meet will be held on a ‘Pink Night’ as fans that wear pink receive $2 admission. The first 100 students in attendance will also receive a free travel mug.
While Mulkey won’t give away her entire new bag of tricks just yet, rest assured the Ducks will be bringing some new moves to the table in 2014. The Ducks have prepared new skill combinations, invented new pyramid and acro events, and have developed a new team routine.
Last season, the Ducks introduced hand-in-hand grips and skills to the acrobatics and tumbling landscape. Other teams may join Oregon in utilize those skills this season, but Mulkey and the Ducks have already been looking for their newest innovation.
“We don’t want to wait around for someone else to do something new,” said Mulkey. “We want to continue pushing the envelope and advance the sport.”
With a deep veteran cast and a talented group of newcomers, Mulkey has all the pieces this season to continue Oregon’s dynastic run. The Ducks return 21 letter winners from last year’s squad that went undefeated (8-0) and won the national title with a victory over second-seeded Quinnipiac.
Oregon will also return all four of its All-America selections from last season; senior Natasha Katzaroff and juniors Sarah Moreno, Nicole Erlichman and Tara Lubert. A native of Yorba Linda, Calif., Lubert was named 2013 Performer of the Year after earning the 2012 Newcomer of the Year award as a freshman.
Mulkey will also have one of the best freshmen/newcomer class she’s had at Oregon – a feat she credits to the recruiting work of assistant coach Angela Ucci. As Oregon’s reputation continues to grow, the coaching staff has been able to reel in bigger talent.
While there is plenty of talent to gawk over on paper, Mulkey said she is perhaps most pleased with the chemistry of the team. In such a team-oriented sport, team chemistry and a positive collective attitude is vital.
“We’ve been great chemistry-wise all preseason and that has been something we’re really pleased with,” said Mulkey. “We have a very strong roster. The veterans have improved and are a huge asset to us, and our freshmen have learned faster than we expected. The chemistry is icing on the cake.”
Oregon opens the season in a three-meet home stand, beginning with Thursday’s clash with Baylor. The Ducks will then host tri-meets with Quinnipiac and Azusa Pacific (March 10), and Alderson-Broaddus and Hawaii Pacific (March 16).
The Ducks close the season with four meets on the road, with a span of three meets in five days, before closing the regular season at Azusa Pacific. The 2014 NCATA National Championship will be held in Azusa, Calif., from April 25-27.
The NCATA will have five first-year programs this season; Adrian College (Adrian, Mich.), Alderson-Broaddus (Philippi, W.V.), Gannon University (Erie, Pa.), Hawaii Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii) and King University (Bristol, Tenn.). The Ducks will also content with NCATA regulars Azusa Pacific, Baylor, Fairmont State and Quinnipiac for the title.
It’s no secret what the Ducks will be striving for in 2014 with three straight national titles under their belt. But, rather than focus on the end results, Oregon will look to get better each time out and focus on the next heat in front of them.
“Our goal, the way we keep motivated, is constantly trying to better ourselves and the constant pursuit of the 10,” said Mulkey. “I think the entire team, if you ask them collectively, would say the goal is to be satisfied at the end of the season. If that means a trophy, then we’ll take it home.”