In Good Hands
By Taylor Gelbrich
It would be safe to say that the Oregon women's volleyball team is in good hands, literally, and will be for a while.
Lauren Plum took very little time establishing herself as one of the top setters in the country. As a freshman last year, Plum averaged 11.75 assists per game, which ranked fourth in the Pac-10 and 12th in the country. That mark helped the Duck offense to a .256 hitting mark, its fourth best in school history.
The key to any sport is having the ability to distribute the ball where it needs to be and when it needs to be there. In volleyball, those playmaking duties go to the setter and Plum has proven to be the leader of the Ducks attack.
"A setter is like the quarterback on a football team. They are the ones who run the plays to get the job done. Every setter needs to have strong hands and make smart moves," said former Duck Heather Meyers. "It's a tough job in which the coaches always expect a lot from them and they typically carry the most weight on the team."
For most freshmen, that burden would be a lot to carry, but coach Jim Moore put his trust in Plum as she started all 30 matches last season and was a part of every set but three.
Plum not only excelled individually, but she guided the Ducks to a 19-11 record and a top 25 ranking in the most difficult college conference in the country. Despite the winning mark and top 25 ranking, Oregon was left out of the NCAA Tournament. It has left the team with a chip on its shoulder.
"We are still mad about last year, but I think it's great motivation for this year. I think we're ready definitely," said Plum.
Plum, a sophomore, will lead a motivated and experienced team. The Ducks return every player from last season except Meyers, who was the lone senior.
When talking to people who know Plum, the same words keep coming up: intense, confident, tough and athletic. She stands 5-foot-9, which is not very tall for a setter, but she makes up for it with her quick feet.
"Athleticism, she is athletic as any setter," said Moore. "She is not as tall, but she is as athletic as any setter out there. When a ball comes at her hands she knows where it's suppose to go."
For former teammate Meyers it is all about how Plum handles herself on the court.
"Her confidence is what every athlete needs to have. She is mentally tough which why she can play at such a high level," said Meyers.
After a long, strenuous freshman season, Plum was selected to play for the U.S Women's Junior National Team this summer, traveling all over the world, including stops in China and Peru.
"She is a tough kid," Moore said. "She works her brains out. She is so strong and she loves to play the game."
Oregon will be tested right away as it opens up the 2011 season against four-time defending NCAA Champion Penn State on the road August 26. As daunting as that can be, the experience Plum gained over the summer has prepared her for what figures to be an unwelcoming environment.
"When I played against Peru in Peru, their fans packed out the gym and there were 10,000 people just absolutely screaming," said Plum. "It was the loudest thing I have ever heard in my entire life. I don't think anything is going to faze me ever again."
It is clear that Plum handles pressure well and cannot get enough of the game. She is a grinder and extremely intense with a deep desire to win. She may startle teammates with her intensity, but they love her for it.
"My favorite thing to do is to trick the middle blocker on the other side and I give my hitter one on one or one on none," said Plum. "That moment where I see that middle blocker's face and it just says 'Oh no' is just the best feeling."
One thing is certain for this upcoming season; opponents won't be tricked into thinking Plum is not a force to be reckoned with. The Ducks are only ranked 28th, but Plum doesn't have a problem with that.
"I know how good we can be and the moments that we play amazing you can really see our team going all the way," said Plum. "We just got ranked 28th so there is no pressure on us right now because everyone thinks we aren't going to be any good. It is really exciting. We are ready to ball out."
A good setter has to be able to deliver a ball where the hitter can put it away. Plum is able to do that as well as anyone because she has the confidence to match her great skills and she has trust in her teammates.
"Winners believe in themselves and champions believe in their team," said Moore.