Feature: Offseason Builds From Year When Ducks Lost 'All Fear' of Losing

May 30, 2007

By: Dan Jones
Oregon Daily Emerald

May 30, 2007

Eugene, OR (CSTV U-WIRE) -- This spring, the Oregon volleyball team traveled to Denver to play in a tournament, where the squad beat Colorado and Colorado State.

'It went well,' coach Jim Moore said.

But during this time of the year, a win is only as significant as the lessons learned from it. That's why what Moore appreciated most about the road trip was a loss against a group trying out for the U.S. National Team that tested his team's durability under adversity.

'It was really good for us,' Moore said of the drills he had his squad perform during the match. 'I changed some things up to make it difficult on ourselves and they didn't handle it well.'

But overall, Moore said, it benefited his team.

'It was a good early experience,' Moore said.

And Moore, who is entering his third year at Oregon, hopes to build off the momentum of the previous season, when the Ducks made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989, ultimately losing to No. 12 Hawaii in the first round. The players' perseverance through years of futility have transformed the program's mentality, Moore believes.

Kristen Bitter, one of the seniors on the team last season, is one of those players.

'Kristen was literally that person,' Moore said. 'She literally said, 'We are not going to lose anymore.' You have to have a miserable experience to do what she did, to lose as much as she did, and not have very much fun playing volleyball.'

The Ducks made strides by finishing sixth in the Pacific-10 Conference last year and completing their first winning season since 1990 by going 17-12.

'All the fear is gone,' Moore said.

Oregon will have the ammunition to keep improving in 2007. A few talented athletes slated to put on a show in McArthur Court have Moore, the 2006 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, feeling good about another run at the post season.

Kristen Forristall, a 6-foot-2-inch junior outside hitter and former Oregon women's basketball player, joined the squad at the end of last season but hasn't played competitive volleyball since her senior year at Oregon City High School. She will make her debut this fall, and, though she said she feels like a freshman all over again, Forristall believes she can help fill a hole left by senior Erin Little at the outside hitter position.

'I think I'm a pretty good outside hitter and improving as a blocker,' Forristall said. 'As long as I can be consistent with what I do, I'll be okay. I am not all around yet, but I can bring a few things, (like) a big hit outside and a big block.'

More importantly, she added, is that her role will be to do what is needed to help maintain Moore's standard.

'Jim has set the stage, and I know we are going to be successful and win,' Forristall said. 'It has been working out, and we have seen it happening. But we can't see the tournament in December. We have to see it now, in the fall, and when we are in the gym.'

The campaign for another postseason berth started weeks ago. Forristall has worked on developing her blocking game and dusting off her hitting skills. Her investment in practices has paid off, too. She led the team in hitting efficiency in two of the three tournaments the Ducks participated in this spring.

One thing Forristall has learned with blocking is that it is much different in basketball than it is in volleyball.

'My problem is that I'm used to playing basketball and blocking shots and not taking away a larger area like with blocking (in volleyball),' Forristall said. 'I know I have improved drastically from having no idea to learning how to block.'

Moore said it is obvious Forristall can play - she is as athletic and as fast as anyone else on the team, he said. Now, Moore is just trying to figure out exactly how he wants to use all her skills in his system.

'My difficulty as a coach comes when I have to ask someone to do a lot of things,' Moore said. 'So right now we are asking her to experiment and see how many things she can do. She will attack in all nine zones off the net for sure. She literally has the ability to be all over the net. She can go from one pin to the other pin.'

Sonja Newcombe, a captain of the team last year as a freshman, will return next fall after dominating in the middle blocker position. The possibility of Newcombe and junior outside hitter Gorana Maricic on the floor at the same time has Moore eager for fall to arrive.

'I am very excited with the combo of Sonja and Gorana,' Moore said. 'They're good. They are legitimately good.'

Maricic, who transferred from Div.-II Northwood University, had to sit out last year but played in the tournaments this spring. Moore considers her one of the squad's best talents.

'She was able to get a chance to get in there and play and, coming to this level, she hadn't perfected defense and now she is,' Moore said. 'So she got a lot better.'

Libero Katie Swoboda, a junior, and senior middle blocker Karen Waddington will offer the Ducks two veterans who can help assist in the development of Oregon's newest recruits, which, Moore was told, plan on coming to Eugene this summer and working out with some of the team.

'Do we have a chance to make the NCAA tourney? That is not even in our mind. Our mentality is now we have to go as deep in the Tourney as we possibly can,' Moore said.

Notes

Oregon also played and beat Montana, Portland and Idaho State at the Bo Jackson Fitness Center in Beaverton this spring and Western Washington a few weeks ago. Moore said pre-season camp begins Aug. 8.

(C) 2007 Oregon Daily Emerald via CSTV U-WIRE

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