Oregon hoping for sweeter results in 2009 campaign

Oregon Daily Emerald

Strengthening in the gym and quickening on the asphalt all summer long, the Oregon volleyball team is preparing to go to the next level with the help of some inter-squad competition and a chip on its shoulder. Last season, the team bowed out of the Sweet 16 in a huge upset against Iowa State.

“Everybody perceived it as being good, but it’s probably one of the most disappointing seasons in my career,” head coach Jim Moore said of 2008. He was adamant that last year’s team was set up advantageously in the NCAA tournament and should have gone further.

“It was disappointing not making it to the next round,” senior Neticia Enesi said. “We definitely learned from it that we don’t want that to happen.”

Senior Sonja Newcombe, a 2008 All-Pac-10 team member, leads this year’s team for her final season. Moore said she is the first four-year captain in his entire career. Along with All-Pac-10, she made the AVCA second team and the All-Region team. Newcombe has some big shoes to help fill, too. Gorana Maricic leaves an offensive hole of 4.71 points per game and Katie Swoboda was the leading defender on the team last year, averaging 5.03 digs per game. After being second on the team in scoring and digs, Newcombe is ready to pick up where they left off.

This year’s team also provides other veteran leadership forged over two to three seasons. Aside from Newcombe, Enesi, who made the USA Volleyball A2 National team, has made her presence known as a co-leader.

“It’s kind of us two,” said Newcombe about the team’s leadership. “We’ve developed a tag team, backing each other up.”

Senior Nevena Djordjevic, who ranked ninth in assists per set nationally in 2008, will return for her final year as the team’s primary setter. She will focus on setting other players up to score, with a few strategic opportunities herself.

“I am definitely one of those tricky centers who like to trick other teams,” she said. “It’s about doing it at the right time.”

Junior Heather Meyers provides another veteran outside hitter who will be expected to pick up a big chunk of the offensive load. She was the fourth-highest scorer on last year’s team, averaging 2.96 points per game. After also being fifth in 2008 in both digs and blocks, she will be counted on for good defense, as well.

With Meyers being the only junior and having only two sophomores on the team, the freshmen must fill a large vacancy. The newcomers include Katherine Fischer, Lauren Gross, Haley Jacob, Kellie Kawasaki, Jocelyn Levig. Senior transfer Emilee Sisco’s experience starting two years at Colorado will also factor in greatly.

Practice officially doesn’t start for a week, but the team has been training all summer long in the gym, on the track and on the court. They still have a bad taste in their mouths from the Sweet 16, pushing them to get better all the time.

“Our season started Jan. 1; it doesn’t start Aug. 8,” Moore said. “And we have been going full-blast ever since.”

One of the themes of this year’s team is competition. There are many positions open to it, and the leading seniors hope the uncertainty will inspire higher levels of performance.

“It’s going to be really competitive,” Enesi said. “It’ll force everybody to be better, because you always want to be beating out someone.”

As in other sports, the Pacific-10 Conference comprises challenging teams for the Oregon women. California, Stanford, USC, Washington and UCLA were all ranked in the top 10 at different points throughout last season. The conference is a hotbed of
professional talent.

“On eight out of the 10 Pac-10 teams, there are a minimum of four, often six and seven players who could play professionally,” said Moore. “You can’t say that about any other sport in any other conference anywhere.”

The season begins Aug. 28 against San Francisco. It’s the last stand for the core of seniors, and they want to leave a successful campaign and some valuable experience behind.

“It’s almost as important this summer that we’ve taught them how we do things,” Newcombe said. “I think in 10 years I’ll really know how big of a change and how big of a mark we made.”

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