Quietly leading the way

Shawn Hatjes

In the sporting world, the biggest stars often have the biggest mouths.

Chad Ochocinco, Curt Schilling, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Terrell Owens are all supremely talented and are never afraid to speak their minds, for better or worse.

In this sense, Neticia Enesi is an anomaly.

The senior middle blocker has quietly become one of the best volleyball players in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Her hitting percentage through 13 games this year stands at an astounding .475, leading the team by a wide-margin and its second in the Pac-10. She is also second on the team in kills (139) and total points (169.5), and sixth in the Pac-10 with 1.16 blocks per set.

Still, judging by her demeanor, one would never guess just how prolific Enesi has become. She is quiet by nature, and prefers to lead by example rather than vocally.

“I’ve never worked like a natural leader,” Enesi said. “I always like being the follower. (Sonja Newcombe) is the leader, and we respect that and enjoy that because she fits that role so well. My job is to just be there for her, backing her up.”

“In some ways we wish (Enesi) was more vocal,” said head coach Jim Moore. “She’s gotten so much better as a leader though because there are times now that she’ll stand up and say, ‘Hey, this has got to get done.’ That’s pretty important and pretty special.”

Plenty of players have benefitted from Enesi’s quiet leadership, particularly the younger ones trying to adjust to the college game.

“There are times when I’m struggling and she’ll pull me aside and just tell me what she thinks I’m doing in her own words,” said sophomore outside hitter Dana Stephenson, who often starts alongside Enesi. “It might be the same thing that the coaches are telling me, but in her words so it’s easier for me to understand. Just her pointing out things to me and using her own words really helps.”

Enesi, a native of The Dalles, started playing volleyball in eighth grade. By her senior year in high school, she was playing for the Nike Northwest Juniors Volleyball Club in Portland, and beginning to garner national attention.

Among the many coaches clamoring for a chance to sign her was Moore, who himself had just finished a world tour looking for new recruits.

“The first time I see her, Arizona is watching her, I mean literally going back and forth during the match, standing behind the bench — everything,” said Moore. “I thought that she was physically the best player I’d ever recruited.”

Moore knew immediately upon seeing her that he wanted her to spend four years playing for the Ducks, and luckily Enesi was on the same page. After an official visit, she committed to Oregon.

“I was looking at lots of different schools,” said Enesi. “I had just started playing in high school, so I didn’t really know much about volleyball, period, and everything was pretty new to me. But I really liked the campus here.”

Enesi started in 27 matches during her freshman year, had the second most solo blocks on the team (13) and was named an honorable mention on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team. She followed that up with 32 starts in her sophomore year, and had the second most blocks on the team for the season (110).

As impressive as her first two years were, Enesi was not satisfied.

“I had a rough time my freshman and sophomore year,” Enesi said. “I had a reality check that I needed to get going, I only had two years left. So I really made an effort to get that change, and I think that’s really helped me.”

Indeed, Enesi’s career hit full-bloom during her junior year.

She made two All-America teams and broke school records for hitting percentage (.389) and block assists (143). Her impressive .786 hitting percentage against Washington State was a career high, and she hit over .500 in twelve matches.

She was also named to the USA Volleyball A2 National team after the season ended, and helped the team win a silver medal at a national tournament in the spring.

Along the way, she built a chemistry with teammates that cannot be understated.

“I like setting her more than anything,” said senior setter Nevena Djordjevic. “I’ll always remember the play against UCLA, the very last point when we played at their place last season. Everyone was expecting me to go to G (Gorana Maricic, an outside hitter who graduated last year) because she was the one who was getting all the kills, so I just turned to Tish (Enesi) and she put it on the floor. It made me more comfortable with setting her, and I trust her a lot.”

That trust will be key as the Ducks move into the heart of the Pac-10 season with their sights set on the ultimate goal: a deep run into the NCAA tournament. However far this team goes, Enesi seems likely to play a starring role and continue to set school records along the way.

Just don’t expect her to tell you about it.

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