Fab five hit hard

Leslie Montgomery

The Aug. 22 volleyball media day at McArthur Court provided media outlets with a glimpse of the future, as freshmen teamed up with their veteran teammates in the first public inter-squad scrimmage of the season.

Described as a bookend team, much of Duck volleyball’s success depends on the performance of the five new freshmen filling out its roster. The scrimmage was their first chance to show off in the public eye.

Last season Oregon made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to Iowa State in a major upset. This summer the team has been working hard to make sure it goes further this season.
Katherine Fischer, a freshman outside hitter from Homestead High School in Los Altos, Calif., was third in scoring in the scrimmage behind senior captain Sonja Newcombe and sophomore Dana Stephenson, who had 16 kills. She also placed second in hitting percentage behind Newcombe, averaging a .320 percentage. 

Fischer arrives as one of two Under Armour All-America Second-Team picks, along with freshman Jocelyn Levig. In 2008, she helped lead her high school team to a California state championship. She talked about the importance of having the four-year captain around to teach the younger players.

“Sonja’s been really good about telling me where I need to go in a nice way, but stern, like you’ve got to do it every time,” Fischer said. “She’s pushed me to do what I need to do.”

Haley Jacobs, another freshman from Clear Creek, Texas, tied with Newcombe for first in service aces (2). During her high school years down south, she won Lone Star Defensive Player of the Year and helped her team to a 5A state semifinal appearance. 

Jacobs contends with senior Amanda Westrick and freshman Kellie Kawasaki for the open libero position left by all-time digs leader Katie Swoboda. Despite the fierce competition, making a successful team depends on a transfer of knowledge from the experienced college players to the new prospects.

“Amanda’s been a big help,” Jacobs said. “She’s shown us everything we need to know, and Sonja’s been the same way; any questions we’ve had, she’s been quick to answer them and tell us where we need to be. Everyone has been pretty helpful in
this transition.”

The final third of the libero logjam is Kawasaki, a freshman out of West Linn, Ore. In 2007, she was the Qwest Player of the Match in her high school’s state championship victory. She repeated the feat in 2008.

All three potential liberos have impressed head coach Jim Moore. Despite Westrick’s advantage of three years’ collegiate play, the position is by no means set in stone. The coaches have gone round and round on who the starter should be.

“It’s been the hardest thing in my career to try and figure out who starts,” he said. “(The coaching staff) sat down in a conversation and I polled three of them. We had three different decisions about who should be starting on that given day. It’s maybe been the best part of practice so far.”

Joining Kawasaki, Fischer and Jacobs are two freshmen outside hitter standouts.
Lauren Gross, from El Modena High School in Orange, Calif., earned Century League MVP honors and was named the league’s player of the year.

Levig, out of Sumner High School in Washington, is the other outside addition. Aside from appearing on the Under Armour team with Fischer, she helped her team to fifth place in the state tournament. At 6’1″ and 6’2″, respectively, their size helps mitigate the eventual loss of senior outside hitters Newcombe and Emilee Sisco after this season.

One glaring omission is Gabrielle Sisco, once listed as one of only two setters on the 2009 roster. She was supposed to replace Nevena Djordjevic, who will likely end her career at Oregon as the all-time leader in assists. Regardless of her absence, coach Moore is confident about the incoming freshman class of 2010.

“We have some setters in the upcoming class that we can’t talk about right now that are pretty special,” he said. “I’m not worried about Nev. For the program’s sake, I think we’re pretty sound. We have maybe the best setter in the country coming.”

Sophomore setter Allix Strahon, a transfer from the University of Portland and a Eugene native, will replace the younger Sisco as the team’s second setter.

The senior core of Djordjevic, Neticia Enesi, Newcombe, Sisco and Westrick sets the stage for an exciting and successful upcoming season. With three sophomores, six freshmen and a highly touted incoming class next year, Oregon’s volleyball pre-eminence also looks safe in the long-term.

Oregon starts its 2009-10 campaign Aug. 28 in the Oregon Classic against Missouri State and Eastern Washington University at Mac Court.

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