Following up on last week’s primer, it is time to get familiar with the fifteen Ducks on the active roster in 2018. Oregon went 10-10 in conference play in 2017, an impressive feat for the most talented conference in the nation. Despite holding their ground, they slumped near the end of the season and found themselves in 8th place. That leaves seven volleyball squads Oregon hopes to leapfrog this season. Let’s break down the roster from seniors down to freshmen.
The 2017 departing senior class featured team leaders in kills, assists, and digs. This makes the 2018 seniors an arguably weaker group, although they have yet to hit the floor and pick up the mantle as team leaders. Lindsey Vander Weide enters her senior season as the active Pac-12 leader in kills. LVW stands to dominate as an outside hitter this year and will finish on the all Pac-12 team with a strong year. Sumeet Gill and Lauren Page will strive to be a fearsome tag team of inside blockers. Lauren Page, an outside hitter and middle blocker played 73 matches with roughly 1.25 kills per set in her NCAA career. Page was an All Pac-12 honorable mention in her sophomore year and could see more conference recognition with a breakout season. Sumeet Gill also earned a 2016 Pac-12 honorable mention and has been in the starting lineup since her freshman year. Gill averages over 1.0 blocks per set and kills per set as a consistent member of the starting seven. Then there’s August Raskie, who returns from a summer playing overseas for Team USA. The self-proclaimed “Centaur, Pheonix, possible dragon,” Raskie plays a variety of roles but will likely be a priority setter. Raskie shined at the end of last season, scoring 15 digs and 21 assists against Oregon State as well as 39 assists in two NCAA tournament matches.
Expectations set high by a strong senior class soar when we move to juniors on the roster.
Three juniors add their offseason progression, which could be the x-factor for this team. Ronika Stone is a returning All Pac-12 First Team middle blocker. Stone led the team with 1.14 blocks per set and added 2.14 kills per set while playing in every set. In only her junior season she’s got a shot at being the premier middle blocker in the Pac-12. The left-handed Willow Johnson scored 2.32 kills per set last year and will continue to contribute as a right side hitter. North Carolina transfer Taylor Borup also had injury problems last season but made a big impact on the floor from the left and right side. Borup joins the squad as yet another seasoned offensive weapon.
The team only has two sophomores, each of them deserving of playing time. Returning from a redshirt season, Brooke Van Sickle moves back and forth between libero and outside hitter. In her six preseason matches before the injury, she was outstanding. Kyra Hanawahine (Hawaii, you guessed it) only played in nine matches in her freshman season. She could fill the void left at libero and make an impact this season. Although there isn’t much to say about either, an impact season from these sophomores would go a long way to elevating Oregon.
There are five freshmen joining an already stacked roster. I get the feeling some of them will see sparse usage in their first season but the door is certainly open for any of them to shine and steal playing time away from upperclassmen. Both a libero and outside hitter, Brooke Nuneviller joins the team as one of the top prospects in NCAA volleyball. Another addition to the libero position is Camryn Tastad. Both Tastad and Nuneviller are Under Armour 1st Team All-Americans. Karson Bacon at middle blocker and Kylie Robinson at setter both join the program as phenomenal athletes and top 15 recruits. Lastly, Chandlar Duff adds even more athleticism and depth at middle blocker. An already promising team adds an outstanding freshman class.
We are counting the days before this squad opens the season against the best in the country. On Friday, August 24th, Oregon opens against #3 Texas, and the next day they play #2 Nebraska. Both of these matches are in Nebraska, however, the following week Oregon plays four consecutive home games. It would be a fantastic start to go 1-1 on the weekend but even winning three sets across the two matches would be promising. Coming off the 8th place finish in the conference, what does Oregon need for improvement? I’ll break it down into three tiers of their eleven Pac-12 opponents. The top dogs of Stanford, Washington, and USC held a 5-0 combined record against Oregon. With Oregon only winning three sets in five matches, any success against those squads would be a sign of improvement. Utah, Colorado, UCLA, and Oregon State were four squads that finished narrowly above Oregon in the standings. The Ducks did have a modest 4-3 record against these middle of the pack teams, including two delightful wins against OSU. The bottom of the conference has Washington State, Arizona, California, and Arizona State. Oregon started 6-0 against these teams before sparking a four match losing streak with losses to both Arizona and WSU. So all Oregon needs is at least one upset win against the top dogs, a little more consistency against the middle tier, and only one loss to the bottom of the conference. Those three wins bump them up to a strong 13-7 and give Oregon an easier opponent in the NCAA tournament’s second round. So from my mighty armchair, I’ll set a 13 win goal for them in conference play. A sweet sixteen tournament run would be the cherry on top. Coach Matt Ulmer has a lot of decisions on his hands with so many deserving players, but as far as problems go — it’s a good one to have.