Oregon's Bergsma named player of the year

Geoff Thurner

Oregon's Alaina Bergsma celebrates with teammate Katherine Fischer (12) during a recent match.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Oregon senior Alaina Bergsma was just about to start her college volleyball career at Loyola Marymount in 2008 when a car accident sidelined her.

She was thankful to walk away from the accident, but she had nerve damage to her knee and a bone contusion in her leg.

It meant she would miss all of the preseason, so the decision was made to redshirt her. The following spring, she injured her hip, yet still played that fall with a torn labrum. But then, when her coach at Loyola Marymount left, Bergsma decided it was time for her to go, too.

She transferred to Oregon, where the past three years she has steadily become one of the best in the country. That culminated Friday, when Bergsma was named the AVCA Division I national player of the year.

She got emotional accepting the honor, thanking the teammates she said made it possible. But her business is hardly finished here in Louisville. Bergsma will lead the Ducks into the NCAA championship match against Texas on Saturday.

Bergsma, an Arizona native, arrived at Oregon while still on crutches after hip surgery. Her rehab effort was just the start of changing herself physically, as the naturally very thin 6-foot-3 Bergsma worked hard to put on the muscle that has made her a fearsome hitter.

"I was lifting weights seven days a week, sometimes twice a day," she said. "I knew I had to spend a lot of time in the weight room, and got help from a nutritionist. I just reshaped everything."

The one thing that didn't need revamping, though, was her good-natured personality. Bergsma has gotten some acclaim because she was Miss Oregon in this past summer's Miss USA pageant. But she is always volleyball's Miss Congeniality.

"She's the perfect kid," Oregon coach Jim Moore said. "How she works, the way she plays, the way she handles herself, how she treats others."

Big hitters

Bergsma is one of the major forces for the Ducks, and not just at the net. She's an all-around player who at this point in her career is the best back-row attacker you'll see in Saturday's match.

"She's good in the frontcourt, but she's also very dangerous in the backcourt, and she's a viable blocker as well," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. "So when you play those type of players ... there are certain things that you can do to try to take some of her tendencies away. But it's not like we're going to shut her down."

By the same token, the Ducks know that Texas has its hard-to-contain hitters, too.

"I'd say they have a lot of specimens," Oregon libero Haley Jacob said in admiration of the sheer athleticism of Texas hitters such as Bailey Webster and Haley Eckerman. "They're going to be able to do things that many teams we have faced cannot do.

"But they are human, on the other side, and they're going to make mistakes and do the same things that other teams do."

On even ground

Teams often will try to grab the "underestimated" tag as motivation, but Oregon hasn't done that. As a No. 5 seed, the Ducks already have defeated the No. 4 seed (Nebraska) and No. 1 (Penn State) in the NCAA tournament. Now they go against No. 3 Texas. The Ducks have thought all season that they had the ability to win an NCAA title.

"I don't consider us an underdog," Jacob said when asked about that tag, which some observers have put on the Ducks. "We knew what we could do."

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