With her fast hands and on-court bravado, freshman setter Maggie Scott appears to be exactly what the Oregon volleyball team needs to replace all-American Lauren Plum, who was a spectacular playmaker for the Ducks the past four years.
But Shellsy Ashen, a smooth-setting senior and career reserve, can still show the youngster a thing or two.
Two weeks ago, coach Jim Moore scrapped his standard 5-1 system for a 6-2 to ensure that both Scott and Ashen get plenty of playing time this fall.
The Ducks will get their first look at it in live action this weekend when they host the season-opening Oregon Invitational at Matthew Knight Arena, beginning with a match at 7 p.m. Friday against Ohio State.
“When we put it on the floor on Monday, it just seemed to click,” said Moore last week, later adding, “If I thought we’d be better with one setter, we’d be running a 5-1.”
In the 6-2, Scott and Ashen will sub out for each other every three rotations. It will also give the Ducks three hitters in the front row at all times.
Keeping those hitters in rhythm will be up to Scott and Ashen.
“Everybody has to mesh with two setters,” Moore said. “Shellsy’s balls are a little higher and a little slower. Maggie’s faster and wants to do more things. You do have to adapt as a hitter to the different setters.
“We got Maggie because she fits into the system, but Shellsy, after being here for so long, has adapted to the system and knows how to do things.”
Two years after playing for the national title, the Ducks will open the season just outside the AVCA Coaches’ top 25 as the team with the most votes not in the poll.
If this truly is a rebuilding season for Oregon — and enough experts apparently think it is after the Ducks went 20-12 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season — than they appear willing to do whatever it takes to blend their four returning starters, anchored by all-American outside hitter Liz Brenner, with their highly touted freshman class.
Oregon also returns junior outside hitter Martenne Bettendorf, senior middle blocker Serena Warner and sophomore libero Amanda Benson to the starting lineup, as well as sophomore outside hitter Naya Crittenden and sophomore middle blocker Kacey Nady.
Newcomer Frankie Shebby, a 6-foot outside hitter from La Mirada, Calif., has been a star of fall camp and is expected to make an immediate contribution. Freshman Taylor Agost, a 6-2 outside hitter from Happy Valley and Clackamas High School, has been filling a void at middle blocker and will also get significant playing time right away.
As will the 5-10 Scott, who appears to have the same daring style of play Plum was known for during her record-setting career.
“I like to take risks on the court,” said Scott, a high school all-American from Wildwood, Mo. “Obviously with the offense we run it’s very fast, kind of a high-risk, high-reward style. But yeah, I’m daring. I like to push the envelope as much as I can. But I also try to bring lots of energy.”
Scott said it’s been an adjustment getting to know the veteran hitters and where they like the ball and how they like to play. But Brenner said the freshman is coming along just fine.
“She sets the ball very fast, which is great for our offense and our tempo,” Brenner said. “We like those quick sets to the outside. But they’re both doing a great job getting the ball to hitters and getting us swings.”
After spending her first 2Â˝ seasons backing up Plum, Ashen finally got her chance at extended playing time last fall when Plum went down with an ankle injury three matches into the Pac-12 season.
The Ducks didn’t skip a beat, going 4-2 without Plum, including victories over No. 15 Arizona State and No. 23 UCLA. Ashen set her career-high with 51 assists against the Bruins.
“Shellsy’s a special kid,” Moore said. “She is as disciplined and as hard-working a kid as anybody is ever going to get. … When she went in last year we were successful with her on the floor, so there was no reason not to consider her (this season). She’s really good.”
And much more confident, thanks to success as a starter last season.
“I know I can do it this year,” Ashen said. “I know I can get it done. I’m ready to compete for the spot. I want to be on the court as much as I can. But I also want what’s best for the team.”
For now, that appears to be a two-setter system.
Follow Chris on Twitter @chansen_RG . Email firstname.lastname@example.org .