It’s that time of year again, when the “U! OF! OHH!” chant goes on for hours inside Matthew Knight Arena. The decibel levels don’t quite match those of Autzen Stadium, but the passion of the fans and players holds its own.
This year, Oregon volleyball is looking to build on its outstanding 2015 season. Head coach Jim Moore is back and looking for more ways to improve on conference play. But a big part of Oregon’s success early on is due to the play of three freshmen. This recruiting class looks to be one of the best in Oregon’s history, and is ranked No. 2 in the country according to prepvolleyball.com!
During a sweep vs San Diego State in the Oregon Classic Tournament on September 2, the play of Brooke Van Sickle, Ronika Stone, and Willow Johnson lifted Oregon (now 3-2) to .500 after dropping the first two matches of the season to nationally ranked Texas and Florida.
They all filled the stat sheet in their own way. Stone, a middle blocker from Valley Christian High School, Calif., was very efficient around the net, recording seven kills and as many blocks, according to GoDucks.com. Van Sickle (Libero), and Johnson (right outside hitter), were identical, with eight kills and four blocks.
Van Sickle sounds like a true libero. In an interview with The Columbian, she claimed she gets thrilled “when my teammates hit off of me. I like it more than when I get a kill, just because seeing them happy when they get a good kill, it’s nice because it boosts them up and gets everyone fired up.”
This kind of unselfish play is sure to inspire the team. She also was part of a 12-woman U.S. national team, and won a silver medal at the Under-18 Championships in Costa Rica in 2014. And what’s great about Van Sickle’s skill set is that Oregon already has a great libero in Amanda Benson.
While some might see this as a limitation to Benson’s playing time, coach Moore will most likely find a way to give them both crucial minutes to play throughout the season. Van Sickle is also coming off knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. She was still a threat when she was injured, so it will be a treat to watch her when fully healthy.
Both Stone and Johnson were named American Insurance all-USA first team by USA Today their senior year. Stone is a powerhouse of a player and was The Mercury News player of the year. She led her team to the D-III state title over Olympian High School. At 6’3″, Stone plays multiple positions – her senior year she played outside hitter and middle blocker.
Stone’s coach, Ron Whitwill, put pressure on her, but it worked out. “That’s why you see the numbers that she has – her 400-plus digs and playing middle with 1,300-plus attempts,” Whitmill said to The Mercury News. “It’s kind of ridiculous the amount of responsibility we put on her this year.” She adds only more depth – and a solid work ethic – to an already good front line for the Ducks.
Johnson is a 6’2″ outside hitter from Paradise Valley, Ariz. Aside from her USA Today all-First Team award, she was an Under Armor all-American her senior year. She also led her high school to clinch the D-II state championship in 2015. It will be interesting to see how Johnson works with her fellow talented outside hitters.
Another freshman whose play should not be overlooked is 6’2″ outside hitter Jolie Rasmussen. Rasmussen played at Canyon Crest Academy, and while she wasn’t always a volleyball player, she has become one of the region’s best players, placing on the first team all-San Diego section in all her four seasons, according to GoDucks.com. In her two games she has played for the Ducks, she has come away with some impressive stats, including 13 kills vs No. 7 Florida.
Look for these freshmen to continue to have great performances this season. It’s sure to be an exciting one.
Top Photo by GoDucks.com