Tara Raskie will always remember watching “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” — but not because of any lightsaber battle or any of Yoda’s words of wisdom.
After watching the movie as a family, the Raskies went to a restaurant for dinner. It didn’t take long before Tara’s youngest daughter, August, started doodling on a kids menu. But instead of the generic, random doodles of a typical 4-year-old, August drew a fairly accurate Jar Jar Binks.
It was at that moment that Tara realized the impressiveness of August’s creativity.
“That’s just a God-given talent,” Tara said. “Ever since then, she has just found that to be her outlet.”
On the volleyball court, Raskie is known for racking up assists — she leads the team with a season-high of 941 — and a left-handed power swing, yet you can’t help but notice the 6-foot setter’s spunky personality through her double-bun hairdo.
No matter where the sport has taken her, Raskie’s creativity has helped propel her to a standout career both as a Duck and on the U.S. Collegiate National Team.
An artist’s beginning
In a family of painters and musicians, art gave Raskie a creative platform at an early age.
“It’s her outlet to express just her inner being of who she is,” Tara said. “Volleyball is so public and in front of everybody. For August, her art is hers. Nobody can dictate it. Nobody can judge it. She owns it.”
No matter if it was drawing, painting or any form in between, Raskie’s passion for art strengthened as she got older. Tara still remembers finding her daughter’s drawings all over the house: under mattresses or in chalk on the bathroom floor.
“I think art is just a little bit more honest than other things,” Raskie said. “It doesn’t have to make sense, but to those that it does, it resonates on such a deeper level like an internal level or an actual emotion level, and it just clicks. It’s so hard to explain but it does.”
Once introduced to volleyball, Raskie learned how to tame her spunky, creative sense into concentration on the court.
“It's kinda hard though, because I am so passionate and because that’s an artist trait,” she said. ”I have to remember just to play at a zen level when we go onto the court and that it’s not the end of the world if we lose.”
Raskie sees the biggest example of this in her long, brown hair — which has become an iconic staple to the senior setter as it’s most commonly found pulled up in buns during matches.
“When you know where my hair is, you know where I'm at,” she said.
During home matches at Matthew Knight Arena, it’s common to find younger girls in the crowd sporting the two-bun hairstyle in support of Raskie, who said the look developed from a panda Halloween costume four years ago.
“My friends just started calling me panda queen,” Raskie said. “When I'm on the court, I don't have a crown. So, I made the buns my crown. … I just want to empower young girls that you can be different and you can stand out and it’s OK.”
The Rise of a Phoenix
Raskie has cemented herself as Oregon’s main setter and among the nation’s best as she is No. 4 in assists leader in the nation. Raskie hasn’t always been in the national spotlight, and she didn’t consider a career in volleyball until age 14.
As a kid, Raskie always found herself pursuing whatever her older sister Sloan did. Sloan had a volleyball tryout one day, and Raskie happened to be watching her sister from the stands, which sparked her interest in the sport.
Raskie went to a volleyball tryout of her own at the age of 13 and joined the setter line only because it was the shortest line in the gym.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time,” Raskie said. “Setters take charge on the court, they touch every ball and it’s a lot of communication.”
She propelled herself to the 42nd-best high school player in the country, according to prepvolleyball.com. Raskie then took her volleyball talent to Oregon, where she spent her first three years in the 5-2 offense learning beside former Oregon setter Maggie Scott.
“She grew a lot in three years,” Scott said. “I think she really grew into her own and has really embraced a lot of the qualities that make her unique. … I am really proud of her and I’m really happy for her.”
Raskie’s first step into the spotlight started this past summer when she was selected to be part of the U.S. Collegiate National Team. She was put into a situation she’d never been in before by having to learn with players she’d never played with or met. Raskie became a sponge for knowledge, attempting to learn different systems and improve her game while keeping the mindset that she was there for business.
“August is a fantastic athlete and a great competitor,” head coach of the national team Dani Busboom Kelly said. “Some athletes make teams in the summer and are just happy to be there. It was clear to me August was taking advantage of every rep she was given.”
Raskie’s summer playing with the national team put her ahead of the curve and ready for a new season under a new offensive approach. This year, the Ducks switched from a 5-2 offense to a 5-1 offense, giving her full range to show off her talents.
“August is really unique compared to every other setter, where she is so physical up at the net,” Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer said. “It’s just a really interesting dynamic. Most setters are blocking liabilities; she’s one of our best blockers. … There’s just so many things that go unnoticed with her because she’s just so athletic that she can just pick up balls that are freak plays that she’ll just make better because of the things that she can do.”
Raskie’s abilities were on display as she returned home to Colorado on Oct. 12 for one last time as a Duck. In Oregon’s 3-1 win over Colorado, she notched a triple-double of 41 assists, 11 digs and 10 kills — a first for the Colorado Springs native and Oregon’s first player to do so since 2001.
This breakout into the spotlight would not only earn her national attention, but comparisons to multiple mythical creatures.
“She’s a unicorn,” Ulmer said. “She’s really unique. ... She just plays the position differently than everybody else.”
Teammates, both current and former, have referred to her along the same lines.
“Her being left-handed is definitely an advantage. No one is ever going to know when she’s hitting,” Junior middle blocker Ronika Stone said. “That opens up a lot more of our hitters. … She’s like a wizard out there.”
Referring to Raskie as a “flying liger,” former setter Scott said Raskie is a mix of “the unique qualities of a liger with bird-like qualities, like a really majestic and unique bird.”
When asked what mythical creature she would be, Raskie said she’d pick a phoenix. Without any hesitation, and being over 600 miles away from her daughter, Tara said the same thing.
“I look at her probably more as a phoenix,” Tara said. “The life that the three of us have had, the many times that it has burned, and she has just risen back from the ashes. It’s just amazing. That kid has been through a lot. Any time that she has been knocked down, she just gets right back up.”