Oregon volleyball team is undergoing big changes this season, and not just at the head coach position. While Matt Ulmer takes over for Jim Moore, the Ducks’ roster also underwent changes as senior Alex Hojnar takes over the Libero spot.
She’ll have big shoes to fill since she’ll be taking the place of Amanda Benson, an all-Pac-12 player last season.
Benson finished last year with a career-best 575 digs, just 53 shy of the Oregon record. That’s a tough act to follow for Hojnar, but she learned a lot from Benson last season in preparation for a new role this year.
“She really took her time out to help me,” Hojnar said. “The biggest thing she helped me with was reading, seeing where the hitters are going for to hit, so you can anticipate those shots easier. She helped with the little things that add up.”
Ulmer listed Hojnar as one player showing good leadership abilities in the offseason, which will be one of the keys for the Ducks if they want to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
“If we pass the ball well, we’re really tough,” Coach Ulmer said. “She’s done a nice job of passing the ball for us and stabilizing for us. She’s able to step in and make Brooke (Van Sickle) and Lindsey (Vander Weide) better because of her ability to pass the ball.”
To be successful at Libero, it takes strong communicate with teammates, instructing them where to go and taking control of the line. Now that she’s been given the opportunity, Hojnar has her sights set on leading the back line successfully and maintaining the Libero role on the team throughout the season. She’ll work to keep the benchmark set by Benson high.
“She’s trying to be a good leader by her effort and attitude,” Ulmer said. “She’s doing what we need her to do. She’s playing her role, and the quicker she can come along, the more successful we’ll be.”
For Hojnar, she views this season as finally being able to get an opportunity to step in and take over a new role on the team. She’s played on the back line not just during her career at Oregon but throughout high school as well. But getting a shot at Libero is something that will be new for Hojnar.
“I’ve spent my whole time here following people in that position, from Natalie (Bookout Gonzalez), Chelsey (Keoho), and Amanda (Benson),” Hojnar said. “I’m really excited to step in and see what I can do.”
In the offseason, the volleyball team promoted their assistant coach to head coach. Ulmer takes over for Moore, who retired in May following allegations of mistreatment by former players.
One of the positives that resulted from the coaching transition over the summer was that it brought the team closer together.
“The biggest part of this team that I love is how close we are and just like, off the court they’re like my best friends,” senior right-side hitter Taylor Agost said. “I think that’s what makes this so much fun. You just want to grow and work hard together as a team because we’re so close, and that’s such a great bond to have as teammates.”
The Oregon Volleyball team started the season with the Vert Challenge in Gainesville, Florida against the No. 5 Nebraska Cornhuskers on August 25. The Ducks beat Nebraska for their first win over a top-five team since 2012. They then played the No. 1 Texas Longhorns and lost 3-1. Hojnar finished with 22 digs over the two games.
“I thought she was outstanding,” Ulmer told the media after the team’s win over Nebraska. “She passed it almost perfect. Her defense, the leadership, she was so good and so poised.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter @zlast3445