Kostecka: Oregon volleyball’s future looks bright

Oregon middle blocker Ariana Williams (7) and her teammates scream in celebration after winning the set point during the first set. The Oregon Ducks play the Cal Bears at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Nov. 16, 2013. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon middle blocker Ariana Williams (7) and her teammates scream in celebration after winning the set point during the first set. The Oregon Ducks play the Cal Bears at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on Nov. 16, 2013. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Ryan Kostecka on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 12:00 pm.

Although Oregon volleyball ended its season last weekend with a loss to Nebraska in straight-sets, there is plenty for the Ducks to look forward to come fall.

Oregon didn’t have its typical balanced attack and had to find ways to get more consistent this season but the Ducks found their stride as it went on and won five in a row to make the NCAA tournament.

Next season, the Ducks will return one of the best players in program history, Liz Brenner, along with plenty of other standouts.

Combining those players with a trio of incoming recruits, highlighted by all-Americans Maggie Scott from Missouri and Frankie Shebby of California, the team has potential to be competitive next season.

Brenner, Oregon’s four-sport athlete, is the leader of the team in every aspect. She was the Pac-12 leader in kills per set with 4.67 and named to the first team all-Pac-12 squad. She totaled 514 kills and 347 digs on the season, good enough for second on the team behind Amanda Benson.

What makes Brenner special is her knowledge of the game. She has the ability to overpower blockers with her hitting but she also knows when to play it smart. Brenner often acknowledges the fact that she won’t always hit over 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 blockers, so she goes around them and finds holes in the defense to do so.

Shellsy Ashen is the glue for the Ducks, replacing departed senior Lauren Plum, the school’s all-time leader in career assists. Ashen has valuable game time experience as she filled in admirably for Plum when she went down with a foot injury and missed four full matches and played sparingly in three. If Ashen can distribute the ball evenly throughout the offense, the Ducks will fly far.

Martenne Bettendorf and Naya Crittenden will be looked upon to take a lot of the double blocks off of Brenner with consistent outside attacks. Bettendorf is the more experienced of the two, averaging 2.71 kills per set this past season while Crittenden is arguably the most explosive athlete with a left-handed swing. Consistency from both of these players will be huge for the success of the team.  

Canace Finley and Serena Warner are the best returning blockers, ranking second and third with 95 and 74 blocks last season, respectively. Warner will hold down the middle while Finley will be used to offset opposing teams’ top outside hitters.

This past season, the true freshman Benson stepped into the spotlight after the team graduated Haley Jacob. She led the team with an average of 4.61 digs per set, good enough for fourth among all freshmen in the nation. If Benson can continue to improve, and there’s no reason to suggest she won’t, she has the potential to be one of the top defensive specialists in the conference.

Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka