At this time a year ago, Amanda Benson joined the University of Oregon volleyball team as a nervous freshman, proven at the junior level but fighting for a starting spot in arguably the toughest collegiate conference in the nation, on a team fresh off its first NCAA Championship appearance.
A lot can change in a year.
Now as a sophomore, Benson has NCAA tournament experience as Oregon’s libero, was named to the Pac-12’s all-freshmen team and was selected as a Pac-12 all-star to represent the conference during its tour of China.
“She’s a different kid, a different player,” UO volleyball coach Jim Moore said.
Moore, along with assistant coach Stacy Metro, led Benson and the team of conference standouts during its 10-day trip of China, consisting of seven matches and two cities. With only a few days of training on the campus of USC before the team departed, Moore’s task was that of a manager more so than a coach.
“It was an interesting test for me to try to put everybody together,” he said. “My goal going in was trying to get them to just be who they are. The players did an awesome job of making that happen.”
Benson would undoubtedly play a vital role on the trip as the only libero on the roster, and was hard at work from the time she met her teammates.
“Our first practice was pretty chaotic,” Benson said. “The setter is trying to figure out how to set all these girls, I’m trying to figure out how to pass with all these girls, everyone does stuff different.
“Once we got through those first few training days at USC it started coming together.”
The team spent the first portion in the town of Sanming in southeast China. The Pac-12 team went 3-1 in four matches against the Fujian national team and the Chinese Junior National Team, but not without adversity. It took nearly a full 48 hours of travel to arrive in Sanming, after a typhoon delayed their arrival. The fatigue of travel was accentuated with a few players suffering from illness and injury, shortening the rotation.
But Benson was a stalwart in the lineup throughout as the team moved from Sanming to Beijing, where Benson was able to visit the Great Wall and test her haggling skills at the famous Silk Street Market. On the court, the team posted a 1-2 record in Beijing against the Chinese Junior National Team and a Beijing professional team. Players and coaches alike were battling through seven matches in 10 days, five of which went a full five sets, yet Benson progressed as the trip continued.
“I thought Amanda played great,” Moore said. “The thing that was most impressive is that at the end she was as good as you can get.
“She wasn’t just passing great she was taking huge areas (of the floor). For me, it was the ability to step up and just take control is what I was so impressed by.”
Benson will now see her China teammates on the opposite side of the net as the sophomore libero gears up for another season at Oregon. The Ducks finished fourth in the Pac-12 a year ago and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they fell to Nebraska.
The Litchfield Park, Ariz., native finished the season with 502 digs, the most by a freshman in school history and the fifth-most on Oregon’s all-time list. Benson is proven; not only among her teammates, but around the conference.
Benson said she is no longer the nervous freshman from a year ago and that her achievements and experience have helped her become a better player and a better leader.
“It really just boosts my confidence,” she said. “Going into this season we’re bigger, faster and stronger so it’ll be a fun season.”