Fall isn't just for football, it also means volleyball season. Though a poor program for most of its history, the UO volleyball program has soared to unprecedented heights under coach Jim Moore, having a string of four straight NCAA tournament appearances broken last season. The team begins the climb back to the NCAA Tournament on Friday by facing preseason #1, and four time defending national champion Penn State. Coach Jim Moore was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the upcoming season:
ATQ: The first thing that stands out when you look at this team is that it is very young, not having a single senior on the roster. While you don't lose many players either, the loss of Heather Meyers, one of the best players in the history of the program, really stands out. Can you compete for an NCAA Tournament berth in the Pac-12 with such a young squad?
Coach Moore: We can't replace Heather - she is one of the best players in this program's history. Yet, even without Heather, we'll have more experience this year team-wise. We had a freshman setter last year (Lauren Plum), and she's a year more mature and not a freshman anymore. We added another setter (Shellsy Ashen) that is very solid and will push her, too. We have to compete for a NCAA tournament berth, and that's certainly attainable, and we will do everything we can do make that happen.
ATQ: Six new players form an excellent recruiting class, including junior college All-American middle blocker Milica Krstojevic and a two-time Oregon high school player of the year in outside hitter Liz Brenner. Should we expect big things from this class THIS season?
Coach Moore: Milica and Liz are currently in the lineup and Savannah (Paffen) gives us a third middle and will likely share time with Milica. Savannah has done some great things and we have high expectations for her. Milica has great experience, and will also improve as she gets used to playing at this level. An ankle injury has slowed her a little, but she’s getting stronger and stronger. Defensive specialist Natalie Bookout Gonzales will also be on the floor, too. We expect and need our freshmen to make an impact.
ATQ: The team started strong last season, rising to #11 nationally before tailing off at the end of the season and missing out on the tournament. What needs to improve to ensure a more successful ending to the season this time around?
Coach Moore: Last we went 14-0 to start the year, which was great, but we need to be more consistent this year. We were incredibly young in 2010, especially since we had a freshman setter. Her being a year more experienced will help us be more consistent.
ATQ: The schedule is rough, starting with five games on the road and the opener being against the four-time defending national champions Penn State in State College, plus the always difficult Pac-12. Is this young team going to be able to handle this rigorous schedule?
Coach Moore: We have five matches on the road against tough teams to start the year so we have to be ready from the beginning. It’s up to us how we handle that challenge. We will show up against both Penn State, and we need to take it one play at a time. After that, we have to do the same, one match at a time. After Penn State, it's about Minnesota, and then after that, Delaware, and so on. We're excited about the trip going back East, and it'll be great fun to be playing in different environments. As far as the Pac-12, we knock out the two most difficult conference road trips, travel-wise, early and not have to make those in November which is a big help, especially academically.
ATQ: Most of us who went to school here in the 90s and early 2000s remember this as being a laughingstock program, so that turnaround has been nothing short of amazing. What was the biggest change that allowed this program to be successful?
Coach Moore: Attracting players like Gorana Maricic, Sonja Newcombe, Neticia Enesi, Katie Swoboda,e tc. changed the face of the program instantly. We were fortunate to add extremely talented players right off the bat and raise our program to a new level. We were 1-17 in the Pac-10 that first year and their addition changed everything. We now need to continue to get back to that level and then raise it.
ATQ: Finally, on our website we have talked a lot on Addicted to Quack how the exposure that will be provided by the new Pac-12 Network will help programs like football and mens basketball. However, I imagine the effect will be even more pronounced in a sport like volleyball, which typically doesn't receive as much exposure. How will these factors affect recruiting going forward?
Coach Moore: The Pac-12 network will have a huge impact on our sport. Every match will be on TV, so we're very excited about that coming into being. It'll help our Conference and the sport tremendously. The Pac-12 is the predominant volleyball conference in the country, and it should help it get even more exposure.
A big thanks to Coach Moore for taking the time. This should be an exciting season, and a return to the NCAA Tournament is very plausible. For more preseason volleyball coverage, goducks.com has an excellent prospectus up on the site. The big season opener at Penn State on Friday, as well as the second game Saturday against Minnesota will both be televised on the Big Ten Network, at 5pm and 3pm respectively, so make sure you check those out.