Olympic Fall Sports Ready for Action

Freshman ShayLee Miner scored the game-winning goal in the 44th minute and led Oregon with five shots. Courtesy: Eric Evans

The University of Oregon soccer team opened its season by splitting a pair of matches over the weekend, kicking off the seasons of the Ducks’ fall teams that don’t call Autzen Stadium home.

The Ducks downed Portland State 3-0 on Friday night before falling 2-1 in overtime to No. 15 Portland in front of a record crowd at Papé Field on Sunday. 

Joining the soccer team in action this fall are a pair of national title contenders in the defending NCAA champion women’s cross country team and the 2012 national runners-up volleyball team.

The cross country team won the UO’s first XC championship in 25 years last November, placing two Ducks in the top 10 and four in the top 50 in the championship meet. The title was the 20th overall for the University of Oregon and, befitting Eugene’s nickname as “Track Town, USA,” the 19th in track and field and third in cross country.

Photo courtesy: GoDucks.com

The first three Ducks across the line were all seniors, but with freshmen Allie Woodward and Annie LeBlanc the fourth and fifth finishers for the team, the Ducks’ odds of being competitive again in 2013 are strong.

The men’s cross country team finished 20th at the NCAA championships in 2012, but with four of their top five finishers returning, they are well positioned to improve on that standing in 2013.

While the cross country teams don’t start their seasons until September 6, and only compete at home once—the Bill Dellinger Invitational at the Springfield County Club on October 5—the volleyball team starts its season by hosting the Oregon Classic tournament at Matthew Knight Arena on August 30 and 31. 

The squad enjoyed a stellar 2012 campaign, going 30-5 and making it to the national championship game. While last year’s AVCA National Player of the Year Alaina Bergsma is now with the USA national team, First Team All-American Lauren Plum and Second Team All-American Liz Brenner are back to lead the preseason No. 8 Ducks.

Liz Brenner finished one dig short of a double-double, tallying 14 kills. Courtesy: Ivar Vong/GoDucks

Head Coach Jim Moore, Volleyball Magazine’s 2012 National Coach of the Year, landed another stellar recruiting class, one that includes two Fab 50 players in outside hitter Naya Crittenden and middle blocker Haylee Roberts, and USA Junior National Team libero Amanda Benson. 

The team faces another tough schedule in 2013, as in addition to the Pac-12, where four teams start the season ranked in the top 25, they also face Michigan and Michigan State, both of whom are ranked in the top 15.

The soccer team is now under the watchful eye of first-year head coach Kat Mertz, who comes to Eugene after spending last season on the sidelines at Saint Louis University. Oregon will be led on the pitch by Kristen Parr, the sophomore forward who led the team in goals last season with seven, and Abby  Steele, the goalkeeper with the lowest goals against average of any keeper with at least 35 starts in school history.

After four straight losing seasons, the Ducks will be eager to turn their fortunes around under Mertz, and playing their first nine games at Papé Field will certainly help. That isn’t to say the schedule is a cakewalk though, as Wisconsin, Texas and preseason No. 6-ranked BYU all travel to Eugene before the middle of September arrives. Three conference opponents will start 2013 ranked nationally, including 2012 national semifinalist and preseason No. 2-ranked Stanford, but the conference schedule is favorable for the UO too, with two of those matches played at home. 

The loss to Portland, a perennial powerhouse that earned a No. 4 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, represented a bright start to the season, however—the one goal margin was the smallest between the two in-state neighbors since 2003.