* A link to a season prospectus is available in the STATS link above.
In his seventh year at the helm, Oregon head coach Jim Moore couldn’t be more excited about the future as he welcomes back another talented yet young Duck squad fostering familiarly high goals in 2011.
Oregon welcomes another impressive recruiting class, and said farewell to only one senior from a squad that racked up 19 wins and ranked as high as 11th nationally last year.
“We have great potential, but I’ve never had a squad without a senior,” Moore said. “We have so much room to grow, so we’ll have to take it one play and one match at a time.”
The Ducks will aim for their fifth postseason bid in his tenure which is already UO’s most successful stretch ever. First, however, UO will contend with another equally challenging slate vs. the ‘Conference of Champions’ that boasted four of last year’s final eight NCAA tournament teams, and adds Colorado and Utah.
Redshirt junior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma and sophomore setter Lauren Plum look to again play integral parts of the offense. Both got a head start on the fall schedule after playing with the A2 National Team this summer, and Plum was tabbed the starting setter for the U.S. Junior Team this summer in the World Championships.
The squad sports four other returning starters from 2010 – the junior trio of outside hitter Katherine Fischer, libero Haley Jacob and defensive specialist Kellie Kawasaki, and sophomore middle blocker Ariana Williams.
The Ducks’ six-member newcomer class includes a junior college All-America transfer (middle blocker Milica Krstojevic) and five talented freshmen. Outside hitter Elizabeth Brenner was a 2010 prep All-American and freshman Chloe Buckendahl joined her on the PrepVolleyball Senior Ace list.
The other three newcomers - middle blocker Savannah Paffen, setter Shellsy Ashen and defensive specialist Natalie Bookout Gonzalez - offer impressive club credentials after helping their teams to top-seven Junior Olympic Tournament finishes.
In her first season for UO, redshirt junior Alaina Bergsma was tabbed an All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention and looks to raise her game even higher in 2011.
Last fall, she successfully returned from hip surgery to rank third on the squad in hitting (.270) and kills (3.14 per set), and posted double-digit kill totals in 18 matches. She racked up four of the team’s top nine kill totals, including +20-kill efforts vs. Washington (21) and Arizona (20), and the former mark helped her earn National Player of the Week honors – UO’s fourth pick in as many years.
One of the team’s most versatile players, junior Katherine Fischer stands as the team’s active career leader in double-doubles (18), and her 14 last year ranks second-best among league returnees. Her career-high 24 kills at Arizona State was one off the team season high and was one of 21 double-digit kill matches. She was equally impressive at the service line and ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in aces (0.28 per set), and her career-high six aces in three sets vs. Washington State tied the league season high.
Junior Lauren Gross turned in career highs in nearly every category last year, including matches, kills, points and digs, and offers the offense extra versatility as a left-handed threat.
Sophomore Jaklyn Wheeler was one of the team’s top freshman reserves in 2010 after an accomplished prep career. The versatile Northern California product was an Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American, section MVP and A2 Junior National Team selection pool member.
This past year, freshman Elizabeth Brenner polished off one of the state’s most impressive prep resumes ever. The two-time state 6A player of the year is well-known for her powerful swing, yet is equally gifted as a passer. Her athleticism is validated by multiple world racquetball titles, and all-state softball, basketball and track and field honors in the shot put and javelin.
Buckendahl led her Coast Volleyball Club to a bronze medal in the 2011 Junior Olympic tournament after a successful prep career for Buena Vista High School. The three-time All-CIF pick racked up 1,485 career kills and paced the San Diego area in kills her first three years and hitting as a senior (.509).
“Alaina is so much stronger than last year,” Moore said, “and she’s ready to take her game to a new level. Kat's versatility is really important to us, especially since she is one of the best defensive outside hitters in the Pac-10, and Liz may be one of our best passers and hitters right off the bat. We have so much depth at the position, thanks to the way Jaklyn played in the late spring, Lauren’s ability to help on the right side, and Chloe’s experience from her club team.”
The Duck offense is again in the able hands of sophomore Lauren Plum who smoothly stepped into one of the nation’s most complicated offenses and shined. UO ranked 30th nationally in hitting (.256) with its fourth-best mark ever, even with a host of changes to the offense.
Last year, the All-Pac-10 Freshman Team choice ranked 12th nationally and tops among freshman in assists per set (11.75) – also UO’s second-best mark in the modern scoring format. She twice logged +65-assist totals among her eight +50 marks, and logged seven double-doubles – tops among returning Pac-12 setters this year. In the summer, she started six of the U.S. Junior National Team's eight matches in the FIVB World Junior Championships and helped the team tie its best-ever finish (fourth).
The setter position also welcomes freshman Shellsy Ashen who was a four-year letterwinner for Dana Hills High School. The Southern California product helped her Laguna Beach Volleyball Club squad to a national Junior Olympic title and two other top-15 finishes.
“Lauren has grown so much as a person,” Moore said, “which will make her a better player and leader. Adding Shellsy gives us important depth, and she’ll help us raise our level in both practice and matches.”
Duck coaches expect the middle blocker position to be the team’s most improved area with the maturation of sophomore Ariana Williams and the addition of junior college All-American Milica Krstojevic and freshman Savannah Paffen.
Last season, Williams faced the daunting task of replacing All-American Neticia Enesi, and played all 109 of the team’s sets. She owns the top blocking average among returnees and looms second in hitting and third in kills and points after she paced frosh in each category. Among the team’s 30 matches, she paced the team in blocking and hitting 13 and nine times, respectively, and ended with 16 +.300 hitting totals.
Krstojevic was a 2010 conference player of the year for Florida State College and led her team in kills (315, 2.89), hitting (.365) and blocks (120). The two-time all-league pick Paffen led St. Francis to a state title as a senior, while her City Beach Club took third in the 2009 Junior Olympic tournament.
“We’ll be so much better in the middle, and we have to,” Moore said. “Ari would admit she’s much more comfortable in all phases of the game. Milica’s foreign experience and JC All-America credentials are key, and Savannah is very solid and smooth, and played for a great club.”
Jacob settled in as the starting libero in 2010 and ended with UO’s fifth-and sixth-best all-time dig totals and averages (450 / 4.13 p/s).
Kawasaki was tapped for 15 starts last year as a defensive specialist, and in 2009 saw the most action among the team’s three-libero rotation. In her debut season, she averaged 3.00 digs per set in her 89 sets of action.
Bookout Gonzales was a three-time first-team all-area pick at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Riverside, Calif., and played for the Club West Volleyball Club.
“Haley’s serve receive has tremendously blossomed and Kellie had a great spring, too,” Moore said. “Natalie is really talented and gives us a great rotation.”
The Ducks kick off arguably their hardest slate ever with a trip to four-time defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Penn State in the AVCA Collegiate Showcase. The next day, Oregon faces another NCAA regional advancer in Big Ten runner-up Minnesota.
Afterward, UO remains on the East Coast to take on three more returning conference champions – American (Patriot), Delaware (Colonial) and Liberty (Big South).
Oregon then returns home for its first official matches in its new home - the state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon’s non-conference slate includes tilts vs. Seattle, Big Sky Conference champion Portland State and Big West league runner-up Cal Poly.
The remainder of the team’s schedule will feature a pair of tilts against all 11 opponents in the nation’s top volleyball league.
Since the first NCAA Tournament in 1981, conference teams have combined for 13 of the 30 national titles, 14 runner-up nods and 16 more semifinal appearances. The Pac-10 remained up to par last year and featured the national runner-up (California), another semifinalist (USC), and two more regional finalists (Stanford, Washington).
Altogether in 2011, UO looks ahead to 17 of its 30 matches against returning NCAA returnees to prep it for its ninth NCAA tourney trip in school history.
Moore received Pac-10 and National Coach of the Year honors during the Ducks' first four-year stretch of NCAA trips and top-six Pac-10 finishes from 2006-09, and he is anxious to start another string in 2011.
Conference coaches appeared to agree with that assessment and voted the Ducks sixth in the preseason coaches poll - its fourth straight year at the position and again its best in recent memory.
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