Djordjevic sets the tone for Oregon volleyball

Jack Hunter

Spikes are to volleyball what slam dunks are to basketball. They are generally thought of as the most exciting plays in the game, and rightfully so.

Still, for almost every ferocious dunk in basketball, there is a nifty pass that set up the play, and for every jaw-dropping spike in volleyball there is a setter quietly hoisting the ball at just the right height to be pummeled over the net.

Talented setters are a common denominator among many of the best volleyball teams in country, and the Ducks are no different. What sets this team apart is where its setter came from.

Nevena Djordjevic originally wanted to be a basketball player growing up in Serbia. Thus, it should come as no surprise that she has found great success as the “point guard,” so to speak, for the No. 7 Ducks volleyball team.

“I was in third grade and my dad was a basketball player,” Djordjevic said. “So I went and tried to get on the team but I was too young and they didn’t have teams for the young girls. But my hometown had a volleyball program. So I started playing volleyball, thinking that I would switch to basketball, but then I actually fell in love with it.”

The Ducks are lucky she never turned back. The 5-foot, 10-inch senior setter has had nothing short of a prolific career with the Ducks. Djordjevic ranks second on the school’s all-time assist list (she will likely be first by the end of this season), third in assists per game, and fourth for assists in a single season.

“It’s really good to see how much she’s improved over the years,” said senior outside hitter Neticia Enesi. “It’s just amazing how much she’s grown as a player and an athlete.”

Playing important games in front of sizeable crowds is nothing new to Djordjevic, who played for Serbia’s junior national team, a different national team that won the Balkan Championship, and various other club teams.

“When I played (in Serbia), the pressure that I had all helped here,” said Djordjevic. “Now when we play against all the good teams and the pressure is on all the time, I think that (that experience) helped.”

The junior national team took second in the World Championships in 2005, and defeated the United States team in the process. By that time, Djordjevic’s skills were well known to coaches around the world, including Oregon head coach Jim Moore.

“Marko (Majstorovic, an assistant coach for the Ducks at the time) knew about Nevena right from the beginning,” said Moore. “I had a chance to see her when I went to Europe to recruit in the beginning, when I flew around the world.”

What Moore saw convinced him that he wanted Djordjevic to play for Oregon. Djordjevic had the option to play professionally, but she wanted to stay in school. She committed to Oregon before ever meeting Moore face-to-face.

“There’s a whole different perspective,” said Moore. “Here’s a kid that has already made up her mind that she was coming here and she didn’t even know me. Just because there was an opportunity for her to do that.”

“They took a chance, and I took a chance in coming here,” said Djordjevic. “Everything turned out great.”

Djordjevic’s presence has paid dividends for the team not only on the court, but also from a cultural perspective.

“We’ve had our differences, and we’ve had our disagreements, but it’s been really fun to get to know her and learn about her culture,” said senior outside hitter Sonja Newcombe. “She’s had some things to teach us and we’ve had things to teach her, too.”

“Anytime you have somebody from a different country they just bring so many different things and just a different perspective on life,” said Moore. “We get so caught up in our own little world, and we do it all the time, everywhere. It’s just a great thing to have somebody remind us that there are other places in the world besides our own little universe.”

As happy as the rest of the team is to have her here, Djordjevic seems equally enthusiastic about her own experience in Eugene both on and off the court.

“Every moment is great,” Djordjevic said. “The people are more relaxed here, and they do more fun things.”

After Djordjevic set a season high in assists (57) on Sunday in a bounce-back win against Washington State, teammates suggested that this star setter sets the tone for the team.

“Nev’s a very quiet setter, just in her play,” said Moore. “She’s not real flashy, but now she’s stepped up, and she is the real reason that we are where we are.”

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