Freshmen become a factor

Jack Hunter

Everyone remembers freshman year of college as one of the most trying times in life. Nothing is familiar; the people, classes and surroundings are all new and tremendously daunting. What most people never have to deal with, however, is a sport that is almost a full-time job in and of itself.

Freshman volleyball players Katherine Fischer, Haley Jacob and Kellie Kawasaki have faced all of the typical barriers of first-year students along with the rigors of the athletic schedule, and have done so in stride.

Fischer, an outside hitter from Los Altos, Calif., has played in all 53 sets this season, ranks fifth on the team with 91 kills, and her 18 service aces rank second on the team. She has proven to be a quick learner, and her 11 kills against Arizona State last weekend proved to be key in a 3-0 Duck victory.

“Katherine’s a great volleyball player,” head coach Jim Moore said. “She’s just a special kid, and she had a great start at Arizona State. They were keying on Sonja (Newcombe) and Teesh (middle blocker Neticia Enesi) early like everybody does, and Katherine put five balls on the floor, and that was the match.”

“I just felt really confident, probably because I was playing well,” Fischer said
with a laugh. “I was having fun.”

Jacob, a native of League City, Texas, plays libero for the Ducks and has shown plenty of evidence of her undeniable talent. Her defense has improved drastically throughout the season, and she leads the team with 2.76 digs per set.

“Haley’s very, very good defensively,” Moore said. “She’s as quick as any human being I’ve ever seen.”

Given that Jacob is much farther from home than most students at Oregon, she says she has adjusted surprisingly easily to life in Eugene. Her teammate Kawasaki has as well, considering she’s from just up Interstate 5 in Portland.

Kawasaki, who hails from West Linn, plays the same position as Jacob and has also shown a great deal of improvement over the first two months of the season. Her defense has been stellar, and her 16 digs were a key asset in Oregon’s 3-0 win over Arizona State.
“Kellie’s done a great job stepping up recently,” Moore said. “She’s passed very well and has been playing very good defense.”

“The past few weeks, I’ve just been adjusting,” Kawasaki said. “The ball comes so much faster than when you’re in high school, so that’s taken awhile to adjust to. Now that I’ve been in practice and touching the ball when it’s coming so fast every day, it’s helped a lot.”
Instrumental in the development of these young players has been the presence of upperclassmen on the team who are more than happy to show their new teammates how things are done at the college level.

“The leadership has been really, really good,” Jacob said. “In a lot of cases, you have players that will tell you to do stuff but they’re really not doing it, and here that’s not the case at all. They’re always there to help, and they’re just always trying to make the
team better.”

Looming on the horizon is the dreaded freshman wall, a barrier many younger players hit as the season goes on and they begin to wear down. Both Moore and his players hope they can avoid that.

“The biggest key for a freshman is to be able to play all the way through a season,” Moore said. “All they really need to do is keep having fun playing volleyball, and that’s hard. That’s the only thing you hope for anybody that’s a freshman is that they just sustain the grind.”
Keeping their energy at a consistently high level could be tough for these young players, particularly because of their grueling school and practice schedule. Kawasaki’s day starts with practice at 8:30 a.m., and with school and study halls clogging up the rest of her schedule, she often doesn’t return home until 8:30 p.m.

Jacob and Fischer have similar schedules, but part of the reason they decided to come to Oregon in the first place was that they knew their coaches were committed to helping them every step of the way.

“The coaches just seemed like they really cared about the players and what was going on with them,” Jacob said. “It wasn’t just like they were trying to get you here for volleyball. They really just cared about you.”

With a solid foundation of great coaching and unrelenting determination, the futures of Fischer, Jacob, and Kawasaki appear undeniably bright. The first steps are always the toughest, but now, these Ducks are ready to fly.

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