Over the course of a three-day team retreat in the Oregon wilderness, UO volleyball players showed both a warrior’s mentality as well as the ability to cooperate and analyze a situation in the best interest of the team.
With less than 24 hours before taking part in their first fall practice, the team was navigating rapids on the McKenzie River.
For most, what is a fun and relaxing time to enjoy Oregon’s beauty was turned into a battle as the players and coaching staff armed themselves with buckets and squirt guns, forming alliances and double-crossing along the way.
“People were getting thrown out of boats, tackled, pulled in,” senior Liz Brenner said. “I think the football coaches would have been impressed with some of our tackles.”
The rules and scoring system for river water-fighting are about as fluid as the mighty McKenzie itself, but that did little to keep the players and coaching staff from competing, each claiming victory as the team returned home to begin practices the following day.
Brenner, an ultimate competitor, was unrelenting in her appeal that she was victorious during the trip, counting ammunition and how many coaches she was able to pull into the water. Head coach Jim Moore countered by describing a moment when he stole buckets and guns from his All-American outside hitter.
The chaotic scene on the river was quite different from the one a day before, halfway up the 10,000-foot South Sister in the Oregon Cascades where the team relied on critical thinking instead of athleticism.
The team hiked to its camp spot at Moraine Lake on Friday when it spent the night. In the days leading up to the trip, Moore told the team nothing different than they would be hiking up the South Sister over the course of two days.
But when the team prepared to embark on their second day climb on Saturday, Moore gave them an option: They could either return down the mountain from the point they were at, or continue to the top before beginning their descent.
Each side had its value. Pushing to the top would demand a lot from the players, requiring strength both physically and mentally. It would also take its toll in both categories, possibly leaving the players fatigued only days away from a grueling preseason camp which consists of four practices per day leading to the regular season debut at the Oregon Invitational.
Moore’s goal was not to see which route the players took, but more so about how they came to a decision. His only caveat was that the choice needed to be made unanimously.
“My main concern was to work on communication,” Moore said. “It’s important to get everyone on the same page, learn how to communicate, and learn how to do the things that it takes to be successful.”
The team talked out its options, carefully discussing the pros and cons of each. The group was a balanced one between veterans who have been through the grind of preseason camp before and wide-eyed newcomers who have not experienced the intensity of four-a-days.
“We have a lot of new people this year so we have to make sure that we do get on the same page,” said Moore. “That’s the difficult part.”
Brenner, who has been through three years of the grueling schedule at the beginning of each season, helped the group move from an initial split decision to a total agreement that the return trek down the mountain would be most beneficial in the coming week to get more value out of the training sessions.
“I was very excited with the way it turned out,” Moore said.
The weekend gave the team one final reprieve before players hit the ground running on the first day of camp on Monday, Aug. 11. The 2014 season will kick off with the first public scrimmage, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. It will be the last time out in an Oregon uniform for Brenner, who noted her excitement as matches draw closer.
“I can’t wait,” Brenner said. “I was sitting next to Martenne (Bettendorf) and Shellsy (Ashen) while we were watching film and we pulled up a game from last year. We watched one play and turned to each other and just said ‘oh I can’t wait to play, I just want to go right now.’”