The atmosphere in and around the 2012 volleyball program can be summed up in one word, excitement. From all reports and on paper, this team looks to be the best group of Duck volleyball players in quite some time, potentially even better than the 2008 team that won over 20 matches and reached the NCAA Tournament.
However, eighth-year head coach Jim Moore insists that this particular label is impossible to determine since the team has yet to actually get out on the Matt Knight Arena floor and play a match, something they will not do until August 11th when they have their Green vs. Yellow scrimmage.
“We are incredibly talented physically and very gifted. Having all of our team returning points to good signs, but you can’t know if you have your best team until you get out there.”
-Jim Moore, Oregon Volleyball coach
If Oregon is going to meet the expectations of that ‘best team in a while‘ label, the biggest challenge that lies ahead for this experienced and mature flock of Ducks will be their ability to remain consistent from late August to November. Last year UO finished 21-10 overall, but only 14-10 against their conference foes in a Pac-12 traditionally stacked with talented teams, among the elite conferences in the country in the sport.
Oregon will face a grueling schedule this year that will test this team to its capacity. The Ducks will take on last year’s national champion UCLA Bruins, another semifinalist in USC, another regional advancing team in Kentucky, and three more second-round qualifiers–Ohio State, Stanford, and Washington–in addition to two more first-round advancers in Arizona, California.
There are also four other teams on the schedule that sported top-70 RPI ratings last year and scored +17 wins: Ohio, UC Santa Barbara, St. Mary’s and Houston. There is little respite in the difficult Pac-12 nor the out-of-conference schedule for these Ducks, and to compete among the elite as Oregon hopes they must bring their best abilities to every match.
Oregon was able to thrive last year on daunting tasks though, putting the entire country on notice with their opening salvo in the 2011-2012 season when the Ducks took down #1-ranked Penn State on their home court to begin the season. It was the first time Oregon had ever defeated a #1 team, and the first home loss by Penn State in 94 matches (first since 2005), the third longest home winning streak in the history of the NCAA–in any sport.
The momentum of that Penn State win led into a fast 12-2 start to the season, finishing the regular season 21-9 earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where the Ducks unfortunately lost in their opening round to Colorado State.
“My one and only goal for this team at this point in the year (June) is that we remain all-around consistent for the entire season. This team has plenty of experience and leadership coming back, so we’ll just have to see,” said Coach Moore.
Getting back to the “reports,” this 2012 skiff of Ducks are being compared to the phenomenal 2008 team that lost only eight times in the regular season and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament before losing a close contest (3-2) with Iowa State.
2012 is looking a lot like 2008, a tremendous amount of skill and most of the team returning. By all accounts, this upcoming season from afar looks to be a return to the NCAA Tournament, however it is far from an easy path. The same positions that made that 2008 crew so flawless looks to be equally as impressive four years later.
“In 2008 we were very talented,” Coach Moore recollects. “The 2008 middles were solid. What makes this year’s team similar to that team is that we once again have five weapons on the floor at one time, and our junior setters are probably some of the best around. We just have to play hard, constantly.”
The Ducks already have a great general in Jim Moore leading the team into battle, but what makes them a must-see attraction is one of their team leaders on the floor. Wearing #4, she doesn’t play the same sport as arguably the most famous #4 Brett Favre, but she is the player that possesses the Favre-esque talent and leadership ability–Lauren Plum. Coach Moore spoke about the weapons of this year’s squad and he gushed about the dangerously good junior setters, with Plum the leader of the group.
“Her leadership skills are our key to success this year,” emphasized coach Moore. “Her ability to lead and teach younger players to be consistent on every play will be key.”
Plum is leading the excitement campaign for this year’s team, and feels that they are ready to turn the page and get going on a new chapter for Oregon volleyball.
“I’m really excited; We have new girls coming in that can really help. We have great team chemistry already and we’re just gonna work hard,” said Plum. Like Moore, Plum isn’t sure the team is ready for the ‘best in a while‘ stigma though.
“We’re really excited, but there’s still much to work on,” said Plum, as the team prepares for the start of their season. “The older players just need to lead by example and the team has to rely on one another and develop that comfort. We have a lot of depth and because of that, it is motivating for each player to play their best because there’s plenty of girls waiting to play.”
Early in the summer before entering her sophomore season, Plum decided to take her motivational skills to the next level. Plum was invited to play for the United States Junior team where she got to play with and against the best young volleyball players in the country and the world. It was an experience for Plum that not only let her refine her skills, but also develop her abilities to lead the team going forward.
“It was an amazing experience to see that other countries take volleyball and competing for their country so seriously,” Plum recalls. “Playing at that level was so different, there were a lot of people and it was so loud during matches. It was a good experience in learning to adapt to new teammates.”
Aside from returning almost the entire team, head coach Jim Moore has further stocked the arsenal this year by bringing in some of the most impressive recruits in the coutry, cemented with the addition of libero/defensive specialist Tatum Norton. The Costa Mesa, Calif. native has played for the nationally-respected Orange County Volleyball Club the past six seasons, and was an All-CIF First-Team pick last fall for Newport Harbor High School.
The other notable newcomers for 2012 include:
- Martenne Bettendorf, Outside Hitter, 6-2, RH, Portland, Ore., Central Catholic H.S. (Oregon NW Juniors)
- Clelia DeFelice, Middle Blocker, 6-2, Milan , Italy (Yamamay Busto Arsizio)
- Canace Finley, Middle Blocker, 6-2, RH, Fort Collins, Colo., Poudre H.S. (NORCO Juniors)
- Madison Magee, Outside Hitter, 6-1, RH, Sammamish, Wash., Skyline HS, (Washington VB Academy)
“It’s an honor to have such hard working freshmen. I am excited for them to come in the fall and get into our system,” said Plum about her new and remarkable teammates, whom she will formally meet when they officially join the Ducks in September.
Even though there is still almost two months until the season kicks off, the Pac-12 Conference is already jumping on the Ducks ship, recognizing that UO has something special brewing. The Ducks will have a record 13 televised volleyball matches this season on the new Pac-12 National and Regional Networks in September, October and November; starting with the Civil War matchup on September 19th.
In addition to Plum, the other key catalyst to Oregon’s offensive spark is Senior Alaina Bergsma, currently around 5,700 miles away from Oregon. Bergsma is spending her summer playing volleyball in China, but will return in time to start practicing with her Duck teammates.
Off the floor, in addition to being a UO student-athlete, Bergsma is also the reigning Miss Oregon and she competed in the 2012 Miss USA pageant on June 3rd in Las Vegas. At the event, Bergsma emphasized healthy body image and talked about the importance of living a healthy, active lifestyle. Bergsma is no slouch be it competing for a tiara or a championship, picking up numerous awards during her career–named 2011 AVCA 3rd team All-American, 1st-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention in 2010, and the 2009 All West Coast Team/Freshman of the Year. Oh, and she was awarded “Most Photogenic” at the Miss USA Pageant held last month too.
If the Ducks are going to make a statement to a national audience and get back to their impressive swagger they had in 2008, they will have to specifically improve as a team on the offensive attack. Last season the Ducks hitting efficiency was down 90 points from the previous season. From a common sense approach to volleyball, a team has to hit well in order to gain points, leading to match victories. Volleyball is a fast sport, much like the Ducks on the gridiron, and they’d like to move and score as quickly as they do at Autzen.
“We have to play hard all the time and we have to get better offensively,” emphasized Coach Moore. “The hitting efficiency has to get better, and on defense we must block better.”
The 2012 season for Ducks volleyball looks bright and exciting. On paper this team looks to be as good, if not better than the 2008 team that reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. There is a high level of comfort, and more importantly a unanimous goal of getting better and making a statement while traversing one of the most difficult schedules in the country.
In talking with Coach Moore and Lauren Plum separately I asked them both the same question; How does this team take it to the next level and surpass that 2008 team? Their responses were identical, which told me that with almost two months before the season begins and without any team volleyball activity as of yet, the team mentality and mindset is already undisputed and speaks volumes that will make 2008 a distant memory:
“If we work hard and lead by example, good things will happen.”
-Coach Jim Moore AND Lauren Plum.
This group of Oregon Ducks looks focused and has a game plan to improve on their stellar performance last year, with sights set on exceeding the benchmark for Oregon volleyball greatness. Look out 2008.