Oregon - Page 784

KICKING IT HARD

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By Sam Finley, EDN

Oregon punter Jackson Rice has heard the misconceptions about his position many times.

“Some people assume that we’re not athletic and we don’t work very hard,” said the 6’3, 225 pound junior from Moraga, California. “But we (as kickers and punters) all work our butts off, and we try to bring as much athleticism to our position as we can.”

Jackson Rice has his early practice face on.

He notes the allegedly laid back image of kickers is false because they start practicing earlier than the rest of their fellow Ducks.

“We’re the first guys on the field,” Rice explained. “We work on a lot of fundamentals, because the kicking game is very fundamental and mental.  So we do a lot of visualization on and off the field, and we get our kicks in.  We’ll do team periods (game drills) with the rest of the team, but we’re just always working on the little things all day.”

Because he is constantly working on the smallest details, it makes Rice able to clear his head before he punts a football down field.

“I’m honestly not thinking about much before the ball is snapped,” he claimed. “All I’m doing is getting myself in a calm, rested mindset so I’m ready.  That way I’m focused on that ball and on that snap.  Once that ball is snapped to me, it’s a go.”

Jackson Rice sending another deep punt down field. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

Rice actually compares his approach to his craft to that of another sport.

“It’s actually very similar to golf in terms of how important the mental aspect of it is,” Rice said. “It’s all about what you can do after you’ve hit that bad one.  You’ve got to be able to come back mentally strong and come and hit a really good one.”

Rice has hit plenty of good ones during his time at Oregon.  He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards per punt this season, and could find himself at the top of the all-time punting list when his college career is over.  He also knows if he’s kicked it the right way the moment his foot touches the ball.

“You can feel it when you’ve hit a good punt,” stated Rice. “You can feel it when everything hits perfectly. When you hit that sweet spot of the ball, you know you’ve hit it cleanly and everything like that.”

Rice takes particular pleasure in getting a corner kick that places the opposing offense back at their own one yard line.

“It’s a great feeling because I know I just helped out my team,” he explained. “But, at the same time, I expect that from myself with every punt and I know the coaches expect that from me.  So it’s nothing out of the ordinary, but it does feel good.”

After visualizing where he wants the punt to go, Jackson Rice tries to kick the ball on the sweet spot. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

Of course, Jackson Rice only gets in to punt the ball so often. (Playing on a team that scores over 40 points a game will do that).  But when Ducks have a rare three-and-out, he feels it’s his duty to be ready.

“It’s all about giving my team the best field position possible,” said Rice of his role on the squad. “We don’t punt a lot, which is great.  I love the fact that our offense is scoring all the time. But when they do call on me, it’s my job to give our defense the most field to work with possible.”

Rice’s goals are fairly simple for what he’d like to accomplish during his last two seasons at Oregon.

“I’m just looking to keep up my consistency,” he claimed. “I feel like, to this point, I’ve done a fairly good job of that.”

In order to keep his performance sharp, he often tries to emulate punters he grew up watching, as well as his some of his college peers.

“I grew up an Oakland Raiders fan,” he said. “So Ray Guy is definitely one of my heroes from way back in the day.  I also like their current punter Shane Lechler.  In all honesty, I like some of the guys in our conference.  Bryan Anger from Cal is a good friend of mine.  But I’m always looking to see what punters are doing right and so I can learn from it.”

The smile that Jackson Rice flashes after pinning his opponent at their own one yard line.

As for the upcoming matchup with Arizona State is concerned, Jackson Rice believes the Ducks will be fine as long as they remain focused at the tasks at hand.

“Everyone just has to play their game,” Rice stated. “As long as we can eliminate mistakes, eliminate turnovers, and play well on special teams, then I think we’ll be good.”

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback or story ideas at [email protected]

 

Around the Pac-12: Week Six

Utah (2-3, 0-3 Pac-12) at Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1 Big East) 9:00 a.m., ESPNU

Utah’s transition to the Pac-12 has gone as poorly as anyone might have imagined. The Utes, winless in conference play, haven’t scored more than 14 points in any of their three league games. Maybe a trip to the East Coast will be just the remedy Utah needs — the Panthers are coming off a 34-10 blowout loss at the hands of a mediocre Rutgers squad. Then again, Pittsburgh’s overall resume isn’t too shabby. Led by the electric Ray Graham, the Panthers have the nation’s 44th-ranked rushing attack. They also have a noteworthy win over then-No. 16 South Florida, and a narrow 15-12 loss to Notre Dame. Utah, which will be led by backup quarterback Jon Hays for the rest of the year (starter Jordan Wynn injured his shoulder in a loss to Washington two weeks ago), will need to eliminate turnovers (they committed five in last week’s loss against Arizona State), contend with an early East Coast start time and find a way to contain Graham to have a shot at pulling the upset.

Colorado (1-5, 0-2 Pac-12) at Washington (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) 12:30 p.m.

After getting thumped 48-7 by Andrew Luck and Stanford last week, Colorado will face another tough test — and top-notch quarterback — in the form of Keith Price and the Huskies. Aside from a 51-38 road loss to Nebraska, Washington has been perfect this season, with wins over Eastern Washington, Hawaii, California, and Utah. With 17 touchdowns against four interceptions and a 173.7 passer rating, Price has been better than his highly touted predecessor Jake Locker, while running back Chris Polk has been his usual productive self. Conversely, the injury-ravaged Buffaloes are near the bottom. Despite the considerable talent of running back Rodney Stewart and experienced senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, Colorado is only 93rd in the nation in points scored, and worse, 100th in points allowed.

BYU (4-2) at Oregon State (1-4, 1-2 Pac-12) 1:00 p.m.

Traditionally, at around the season’s midway point, Oregon State finds its bearings and goes on a tear to end the season. Right on cue, the previously winless Beavers pulled a surprising upset of Arizona. Oregon State could easily make it two wins in a row against a BYU team that has played far worse than its 4-2 record would indicate. Three of the Cougars’ four wins were by seven points or fewer. Highly touted sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps has been ineffective for much of the year, so much so that unheralded backup Riley Nelson has been elevated to No. 1 on the Cougar depth chart and is expected to get the nod against the Beavers. Then again, a struggling Oregon State defense might just be the best solution for Heaps’ early season struggles — the Beavers are 90th in the nation in points allowed, a ranking nearly matched by their equally ineffective offense that ranks 97th in points scored. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has been impressive since wrestling away control of the starting job from Ryan Katz, however, the Beavers are ranked 30th in the nation in passing yards per game.

No. 7 Stanford (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12) at Washington State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) 4:30 p.m., Versus

Owners of the nation’s longest winning streak, the Cardinal will visit Pullman as a huge road favorite, and rightfully so. Buoyed by some guy named Luck, Stanford ranks in the top seven nationally in both points scored and points allowed. The Cardinal are coming off a 48-7 shellacking of Colorado, one of its more dominant wins in a dominant season. Washington State, conversely, blew a long-awaited chance to host ESPN’s Gameday show by surrendering a late lead at UCLA last weekend. If it’s any consolation, star quarterback Jeff Tuel was cleared to play following a lengthy absence due to a broke collarbone, and could split time with Marshall Lobbestael running the Washington State offense. However, moving the ball hasn’t been an issue for the Cougars (Washington State ranks 13th nationally in points scored) — preventing touchdowns has. And, despite his considerable talents, Tuel won’t help a Cougar defense ranked 57th nationally in points allowed contend with the well-oiled Cardinal offense.

The Future Can Happen Sooner Than You Think…

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By Sam Finley, EDN

It’s amazing how one image can look worse than it is.  Take LaMichael James’ elbow injury during the Ducks’ 43-15 win against Cal.  The Oregon running back had to be carted off early in the fourth quarter after dislocating the ligament.  But until he came in after the game, the speculation was his college football career might be over.  Even James said he doesn’t want to look at any replays of what happened.

“I’ve seen it live,” joked LaMichael in a Tuesday media session. “I don’t need a picture or video to see it again, and I don’t ever want to.”

Kenjon Barner could be starting this Saturday. (Photo Credit: Rick Morgan)

James has reiterated that he will play again, and his arm is healing.

“It’s just swollen right now,” he said.  “Once the swelling goes down, I’ll be okay.”

Still, while he could play again as early as this Saturday, there is timetable for his return.

“I’lI know more when I speak to the (team) doctors,” James stated. “They’re going to make the right decision.  If I’m able to be back out there, they’ll give me the okay.  But if I’m not, then they’re going to give me the no.”

Should LaMichael James not be cleared for action this week, he believes the depth at running back will be enough to keep the Ducks moving at full speed.

“I think we’ll be fine,” he explained. “That’s why I’m not going to push my recovery and jeopardize my career here. We have some of the best running backs in the country.  Kenjon Barner is one of the best backs in the Pac-12.  De’ Anthony Thomas is a phenomenal player, and so is Tra Carson.  I’m really confident that those guys can get the job done.”

They might have to.  If anything can be proven from LaMichael’s ‘day-to-day’ status is that the future can happen sooner than you think.  Yes, James will likely play again this season, but suddenly next year’s plans could be implemented as early as the next game.

Kenjon Barner is probably going to be the starting running back in 2012 (since LMJ will likely turn pro at the end of this season). Now he might become the most experienced back on the field. Barner believes that everyone will need to raise their level of play if his best friend can’t go.

“Everybody has to step up,” he said on Thursday after the Cal game. “LaMichael is a huge part of the team as well as the running game. So if he can’t play, we’ll all have to pick our jobs up and pick up the slack.”

That would include the younger backs behind Barner. Freshman De’Anthony Thomas has shown definite flashes of brilliance, but now the Ducks may need him to grow up a little sooner.  The same can be said for Tra Carson.

Life in the world of football can be strange sometimes.  All the talk before the elbow injury was about how LaMichael James had regained his stride and might’ve gotten himself back into the Heisman Trophy race.  However, one play really can change everything.

Perhaps James comes back on Saturday.  Or he could be out a few weeks.

Keep some other things in mind, too.  It wasn’t long ago that Kenjon Barner was on the injured reserve list, and one wrong cutback or devastating hit could put him back there.  The same could happen to either De’Anthony or Tra.  You really can’t say what could happen until the ball is snapped.

That being said, what does this all mean for a critical game against Arizona State?  While I will be shocked if LaMichael James plays this Saturday, I won’t be surprised.  This is a very tough kid, and he may just get the green light.  But if he doesn’t, even though the Sun Devils have one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, I agree with his assessment that the running game will keep moving this weekend. Much like the injury he suffered last week, things really aren’t that bad.

Barner would be a starter on almost any other college team, and is not even really considered a backup at Oregon.

“We look at LaMichael as number one and Kenjon as 1a,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

De'Anthony Thomas will be taking more handoffs if LaMichael James is out against ASU. (Photo Credit: Rick Morgan)

De’Anthony has proven he can make it happen as a running back or as a receiver.  The only thing that would change in LaMichael’s absence is that he’d be taking a few more handoffs than usual.  And if he does line up at wideout, it will mean that Kenjon or Tra will be in the backfield.

In other words, you can breathe a sigh of relief if you’re a Duck fan.  But since there are two potential scenarios out there, I have to give two separate predictions.  

In either case, the Oregon defense will have an opportunity to finally get a takeaway or two against a very talented, but mistake prone Arizona State offense.  On the flipside, and as stated earlier, ASU has a great defense and could give the Oregon offense a problem or two (LaMichael or no).

But in both situations, I see the Ducks coming out ahead. The only difference will be in the amount of scoring.  With that, here’s my prediction with LaMichael in the game:  Oregon 42, ASU 24.  Without him?  Let’s say Oregon 38, ASU 24.

In either case, it’s going to be a wild weekend, especially with ESPN GameDay in town. 
So enjoy every moment, no matter what happens.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  Send him your feedback or story ideas to: [email protected]

Oregon golf seizes lead in opening round of The Prestige

The No. 2 Oregon men’s golf team grabbed a one-shot lead in the opening round of The Prestige at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., on Sunday, placing itself in prime position as the tournament continues today and tomorrow.

The Ducks shot a 9-under 279, narrowly edging No. 1 Stanford and Washington (280). Arizona State and San Francisco are tied for fourth with opening round scores of 282, with No. 28 San Diego State trailing just behind at 284.

Senior Andrew Vijarro led the way for Oregon with a score of 4-under-par 68, tying for fourth on the individual leaderboard. Fellow seniors Daniel Miernicki and Eugene Wong each came in at 2-under-par 70, which was good for a 12th-place tie. Junior Robbie Ziegler shot 1-under-par 71 to tie for 18th, while freshman Rak Cho rounded the group out with a 1-over-par 73.

Spencer Fletcher of Arizona State and Andrew Yun of Stanford are tied for the overall lead at 6 under par, with Vanderbilt’s Adam Hofmann rounding out the top three at 5 under.

Second round play begins Monday.

California will count on stout rushing defense to spark Oregon upset

After falling in heartbreaking fashion in its first game of the Pac-12 conference season, California will look to get back on track when it visits Eugene for a nationally televised matchup on Thursday against No. 9 Oregon.  While the Ducks are coming off a dominant effort in their first conference win over Arizona, the Golden Bears have had 12 days to mull a frustrating loss in which they led late but simply couldn’t close the door.

California (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) started the season with three consecutive wins, highlighted by the spectacular play of junior quarterback Zach Maynard and his half-brother (and favorite target), sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen. Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, has had his ups and downs in his first four starts for the program, but for the most part has impressed since being named the team’s starting quarterback two weeks after spring practice.

Maynard has thrown for almost 270 yards per contest this season, including 10 touchdowns against only three interceptions. His most triumphant moment came in Cal’s second game of the season against Colorado, when the Greensboro, N.C., native threw a five-yard, game-winning touchdown to Allen in overtime to cap a furious comeback for the Golden Bears. While the top-10 Ducks represent Cal’s toughest test to date, the Golden Bears’ offense is under the guidance of former Oregon offensive guru Jeff Tedford.

“A Jeff Tedford offense is a Jeff Tedford offense, I think,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “They’re very multiple in what they do; they try to be balanced in running and throwing, they try to exploit, try to find the weaknesses in what you have defensively and try to exploit them.”

While Cal’s brotherly duo has provided their offense with a much-needed punch, the defense has struggled to secure leads as the team looks to establish itself as a contender in the Pac-12 North. California’s secondary has been burned all season, allowing 236 passing yards per game and a troubling 7.38 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks. The team’s gaps in the defensive backfield were most apparent in its overtime win against Colorado, when it allowed Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen to rack up team-record 474 yards — including 11 completions for 284 yards to his No. 1 receiver, sophomore Paul Richardson.

Cal’s pass defense was similarly disappointing in the team’s last contest, a 31-23 loss to Washington in their inaugural Pac-12 game. Washington’s first-year starting quarterback, sophomore Keith Price, was able to complete 19 of 25 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns (with no interceptions) against an overmatched secondary.

Price helped the Huskies grab the lead for good with a 70-yard pass to running back Chris Folk early in the fourth quarter. Trailing by eight, Maynard almost rallied an inspired last-minute comeback, advancing Cal to the Washington two-yard line after a 19-yard completion to Allen with under two minutes to play. But an incompletion and a pair of lackluster runs left California facing fourth down near the goal line, and Maynard’s fourth-down pass for his trustiest target, Allen, sailed high and out of the endzone as Washington claimed victory with a valiant defensive stand.

“It was tough on us as soon as we lost the game,” Maynard said. “Walking off the field it was real hard on us. We felt like we could have beat those guys, but they played a great game.”

Oregon is renowned for its imposing run attack, but it’s hard to imagine Darron Thomas, a second-team All-Pac-10 performer last season, offering a break for the Golden Bears when he drops back for the Ducks. Though Cal has struggled against the pass through the first four games of 2011, the Bears do rank fourth in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally in sacks per game (3.25).

“He can buy time with his legs and keep his eyes downfield,” Tedford said of Thomas. “He’s always been very, very good at running the football and running their offense that way. I think he’s becoming a better passer with more experience at that.”

Oregon’s rushing attack really should be the top concern for Cal’s defense. After all, the Ducks are averaging almost 300 yards per contest on the ground and features the NCAA’s leading rusher, junior running back LaMichael James (153.25 yards per game). But a big day for James is no foregone conclusion. Cal’s rushing defense has allowed only 78.25 yards per contest in 2011, ranking second in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally.

To compound things, the Golden Bears’ defense — led by former NFL defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast — was one of very few in the country to solve the puzzle of Oregon’s vaunted running attack last season. While then-No.1 Oregon was able to prevail against the Bears by a score of 15-13, James was held to 91 yards on 29 carries, one of only three games in which he rushed for less than 100 yards in 2010.

The good news for the Ducks is that Autzen Stadium presents a daunting challenge for a California team lacking a strong road resume. Last season, Cal lost each of its first four road games (Nevada, Arizona, USC, Oregon State) before avoiding a winless season away from home with a victory against conference doormat Washington State. Cal’s poor road effort contributed significantly to a 5-7 overall record, which ended the team’s school-record-tying string of eight straight winning campaigns.

“The fans are very educated,” Tedford said of Oregon’s faithful supporters. “They’re very loud when (the opposing team) has the ball and very quiet when (Oregon) has the ball.”

“It’s going to be a big game, especially at Autzen too,” Maynard said. “It’s gonna be crazy. The fans are going to be loud. We’ve got to execute, communicate well.”

Even more troubling for the Bears is their lack of experience against the Ducks, home or away. Kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Vincenzo D’Amato are the only current Cal players to have scored against Oregon. In fact, current Cal players have produced only 69 receiving yards and 26 rushing yards against the Ducks in their careers to date. To make things worse, Tavecchio is probably known best by Duck fans for missing a fourth-quarter field goal against Oregon last season that could have potentially given Cal a lead against the nation’s top-ranked team.

If the Golden Bears wrap up James as they did last season, the underdogs may have a shot at upending the Ducks at home. But if Cal’s secondary fails to muster a respectable effort against Thomas, it may not matter.

Oregon sits in third place after second round of Ihlanfeldt Invitational

The Oregon women’s golf team moved into third place on Tuesday at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, up from their fourth-place position in the first round.

During Tuesday’s second round, the Ducks stepped up their game, shooting a 7-over 295 to move one shot behind leaders California and Colorado. All Oregon players improved or equaled their first-round scores, with freshman Cassy Isagawa again setting the high mark for the Ducks with a 1-under-par 71.

With one round remaining in competition, Isagawa now sits atop the individual leaderboard in a tie with Jennifer Yang after a two-day total of 143. Isagawa has now shot the lowest individual score for Oregon in three of her first five rounds as a collegian. Placing behind Isagawa are Raphaela Dyer (151), Ashley Edwards (152), Cheyenne Hickle (152) and Monica Petchakan (156).

In the first round, the Ducks shot a 13-over-par 301, putting them three strokes behind team leader Oregon State, which shot a combined score of 298 to lead the field after the first day of competition. Oregon’s outing put the team in fourth place, two shots behind Colorado and California. Isagawa shot an even-par 72 on Monday to finish in second place in the individual standings, two strokes shy of first-round leader Alex Stewart of Colorado.

Oregon soccer splits weekend matches against UCLA, USC

The Oregon women’s soccer team came away with a series split this weekend in Los Angeles, losing against No. 2 UCLA on Friday before rebounding to defeat USC on Sunday.

The Ducks (6-5-1, 1-2 Pac-12) escaped with a 2-1 victory against USC (3-9-0, 0-3 Pac-12) on Sunday afternoon, snapping a three-game losing streak and earning their first win of the Pac-12 era.

Oregon took a 1-0 lead just over half an hour into the game after freshman forward Bri Pugh was taken down in the box, earning a penalty kick for the Ducks.  Junior Scout Libke converted the spot kick to score Oregon’s first goal in conference play.

Oregon took the lead into the halftime break, but USC drew even 56 minutes in as Kristina Noriega headed home a corner kick served up by Brittany Kerridge.

Six minutes later, Pugh scored from six yards out, taking a pass from fellow freshman Simien and earning the first game-winner of her career.

While Pugh had a large impact on the game, head coach Tara Erickson said that the Ducks’ win was the result of stellar play on both sides of the ball.

“It was a really good team effort in terms of defending and attacking,” Erickson said. “I don’t think was just Bri on her own; the entire team made a big difference.”

The Ducks were outshot by the Women of Troy by a 14-9 margin, but Oregon did have a 4-3 edge in shots on target.

In goal, freshman Abby Steele’s two saves were good enough for her second win of the year, and her first since the Ducks beat UC Davis 2-1 on Sept. 16.

On Friday, however, the Ducks once again failed to score, falling to UCLA by a 1-0 score.  Oregon held UCLA (10-0-1, 3-0 Pac-12) scoreless for most of the game thanks to a five-save night from Steele, but the Bruins eventually scored the game’s only goal in the 80th minute, with Kylie McCarthy scoring off a header for the eventual game-winner.

The Ducks once again fielded a freshman-heavy starting lineup, with six first-year players starting and two others seeing time off the bench. Despite the loss, Erickson told GoDucks.com that she was very impressed by her team’s play against the Bruins.

“We made the No. 2 team in the country earn every bit of the game,” Erickson said. “It was a phenomenal game full of us competing and battling on every possession with them. Abby (Steele), LT (Lauren Thompson) and Shanelle (Simien) had a good afternoon for us on the back line and held up for us. It was also great to get Bri (Pugh) back and competing for us more and to get Brynne (Konkel) valuable minutes in her first match of the season.”

The Ducks were badly outshot by the Bruins, with UCLA managing 17 shots to the Ducks four, and only one of Oregon’s shots coming on target.

Erickson said that there is still work to be done for the Ducks as they prepare to travel to the desert for this weekend’s games against Arizona (0-8-2, 0-1-1 Pac-12) and Arizona State (5-6-0, 1-2-0), and that the Ducks need to continue to get more players involved in the attack and focus on being less one-dimensional.

According to Erickson, playing a team like Arizona presents a different set of challenges than playing a top-five team, because the Wildcats will be so hungry for their first win of the year.

“You have to go into every game expecting it to be a battle,” Erickson said. “And I think if I was in Arizona’s place I would be desperate for a win.”

Oregon men’s tennis grabs two doubles titles at Bulldog Classic

The Oregon men’s tennis team came away with both the “A” and “B” Open Doubles titles at the Bulldog Classic in Fresno, Calif., over the weekend, capping an impressive showing over the tournament’s three days.

Junior Jeff Mullen and sophomore Robin Cambier combined to defeat Fresno State’s Zach Leslie and Sai Kartik Nakireddi by a score of 8-3 for the “A” title. Senior Jose Izquierdo and sophomore Aaron Clissold, meanwhile, took the “B” title by way of a commanding 8-2 victory over University of South Florida’s Germain Bahri and Zach Jiganti.

“We played phenomenal,” Oregon head coach Nils Schyllander said to goducks.com. “Our doubles play was outstanding this weekend, and if we can keep at this level, we can be a threat to anyone in the nation.”

The Ducks were less successful in singles play, with no one making it past the semifinals round. Junior Jeff Mullen faced off with Nevada’s Wessim Derbel for a chance to play in the finals, but lost in three sets (1-6, 6-3, 7-5).

Still, Schyllander couldn’t have been more pleased with the weekend’s results.

“It was just a good start to the fall season,” Schyllander told goducks.com. “And we will look to keep improving and hopefully take things to another level.”

Oregon splits with Washington, Washington State in weekend play

After losing its first Pac-12 match 3-0 to Washington, No. 15 Oregon responded with a 3-1 victory over host Washington State Saturday.

The Ducks (12-2, 5-1 Pac-12) moved past their first shutout loss of the season by playing well against a determined Washington State squad.

“Washington State played absolutely the best they can possibly play, which is a good thing,” Oregon head coach Jim Moore said. “We were able to take care of what we needed to take care of.”

Oregon took care of business thanks in no small part to the heroics of Alaina Bergsma. After struggling through a mini-slump (Bergsma hit under .200 in the three games leading into Saturday’s clash with Washington State), Oregon’s junior outside hitter tallied a career-high 27 kills and hit .371 against the Cougars. More importantly, when the game was on the line, Bergsma played her best. In the decisive fourth set, she notched 10 kills, ending any Cougar hopes at an upset.

“She kind of decided halfway through the match, especially in the fourth game, that we’re not losing,” Moore said. “She took over game four. In my opinion it was one of the best matches for her to step up and say ‘I’m taking this over. Just set me every ball and we’re going to get this over with.’”

Bergsma had help, of course. Middle blocker Ariana Williams had 10 kills and hit .227, outside hitter Katherine Fischer notched 11 kills and three service aces, and setter Lauren Plum recorded three kills and 54 assists.

“I think we played with a lot of energy, which helped us,” Bergsma said. “I feel like I was really able to connect with Lauren and her passing was much better than it had been against Washington.”

Washington State, which hit .242 as a team, was led by Meagan Ganzer, who hit .279 and had a team-high 26 kills. Containing Ganzer, one of the top outside hitters in the nation, was a good test for an Oregon team which will face its fair share of elite hitters throughout conference play.

“I think just having to play a team and really having to control one player, the Pac-12 is about outside hitters, so I think that was just a good step coming up to these next few weekends,” Bergsma said.

The victory was Oregon’s eleventh straight over Washington State.

Despite intense preparation, the Ducks weren’t nearly as successful the previous night against No. 3 Washington. The Huskies swept Oregon 25-23, 25-17, 28-26. While the Ducks had some success executing their game plan, they were unable to match up against Washington in all facets of the game.

“I think we’re disappointed for sure,” Moore said. “We felt very, very prepared for Washington, and we actually did all the things that we needed to do to win except for the things that we normally do. I think we’re a very good serving and passing team, but we did not serve and pass well the whole weekend.”

That could have made the difference in a match that was closer than the final totals indicated. Both the first and third sets went down to the wire, and were ripe for the taking.

“Had we served and passed the way we normally served and passed they wouldn’t have even been that close,” Moore said. “We would have been able to run away with it.”

Indeed, the Ducks only had one service ace against seven service errors, and made 24 hitting errors.

“I think it just came down to execution,” Bergsma said. “I think they played really well and I think in some ways it was kind of just a wake up call for us.”

Oregon will need to be ready next weekend, when they host No. 4 Cal and No. 6 Stanford. Last season, the Ducks went 0-4 against the Bay Area schools.

Rustic Meets Refined

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Furrer Farms Red Barn

“There it is!”, I blurted out as we approached the Furrer Family Farms located on a country road just a few miles southwest of downtown Creswell. I saw the big red barn from a distance; the barn where we’d be experiencing our first ever barn dinner, and I was electrified by the thought of what was in store for us on this beautiful September evening.

We headed down the long gravel driveway towards the turn of the century rustic red barn. As we approached the barn, we were greeted by a 1940’s era Chevy farm truck adorned with hanging baskets of flowers and a sign that read, “parking”. We eagerly slipped into an available spot and walked towards a small crowd of people gathered around an open fire pit that held an extra large circular pan steaming with aromas of saffron and shrimp: the Paella was bubbling away, and my taste buds were already evoked for the evening’s gourmet meal that was diligently planned by chef Heidi Tunnell.

1940's Chevy Farm Truck

Creswell native Heidi Tunnell, owner of Heidi Tunnell Catering Company (HTCC), has quickly become known as one of the area’s top chefs; in fact, she recently was named the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 at the Bite of Eugene’s Iron Chef Competition. Aptly awarded with the much deserved title of Iron Chef Eugene, Heidi competed in this event when she was just days away from bringing her first child into the world, a healthy baby boy named Melvin.

Before opening her successful catering company and event center in 2005 located in downtown Creswell, Heidi spent several years attending a highly acclaimed culinary school in New York, had an externship in Sonoma, California and even cooked at The Canne’s Film Festival in the south of France; however, her passion for cooking with locally grown organic foods were best right where she had originally come from, so she came back to her roots and family in Creswell, Oregon to bring her passion to life and make it a reality.

Heidi not only focuses on her much-talked-about summer winemaker/farmer Barn Dinners, but her Bakery and Events Center hosts a year round Farmer’s Market every Tuesday afternoon in addition to being open on Tuesdays for lunch and baked goods and a once a month casual Thursday night comfort dinner. All of Heidi’s ingredients for her superb creations are organic and locally grown, she never substitutes when looking for something in particular; instead, she’ll work with what is available and is always dedicated to supporting local farmers, businesses, breweries and wineries; she wholeheartedly takes advantage of the bounties that surround her.

Farm-fresh green beans begin to fuse with the Paella

After watching Heidi toss handfuls of fresh green beans into the steaming Paella, we headed into the barn for the first food and wine pairing of the evening: Veneta’s very own world renowned Domaine Meriwether was the featured winery for this barn dinner, and Buzz Kawders, owner of Domaine Meriwether, was serving the ’06 Reserve Pinot Gris, which was paired with 2 different appetizers-Corn & Zucchini Cakes and Wood Oven Roasted HTCC Canadian Bacon-Wrapped Melons. The lush tropical flavors of the Pinot Gris paired perfectly with the salty-sweet combination of the Canadian Bacon-Wrapped Melons; the Corn & Zucchini Cakes exploded with nutty flavors when paired with Meriwether’s creamy and opulent Pinot Gris.

One-of-a-kind barn setting; where rustic meets refined

While inside the barn enjoying appetizer’s and wine, we noticed old-fashioned clear lights strung from the rafters of the barn, and 3 beautifully decorated tables lined with empty plates and stemware waiting to be filled with the upcoming food and wine. Mason jars used for water glasses graced the tables alongside their fancier companions, Riedel stemware- a perfect combination for a gourmet event set inside a historical barn. An acoustic guitarist played and sang while guests mingled on the patio with pastoral views of cows and horses to the east and the woodsy foothills of the Coastal Range to the west. The sun was beginning to set and the sky turned from blue, to orange, to pink.

We heard the rustle of people locating the places they would prefer to sit in for dinner, so we headed inside and were invited with smiles and handshakes to sit in two empty seats that were surrounded by people we would soon be talking to like old friends.

Sparkling wine accompanies fresh-baked bread & mouthwatering butter

A basket of fresh baked HTCC bread was passed along, and I made sure to slide a piece of this crusty bread onto my plate-I’m an avid lover of fresh-baked bread. I took a small dab of butter, which I found out was organic butter that came from Norris Dairy, a dairy farm not too far from where we were, and it was the champion of all butters. Its unique, distinctive flavors caught me by surprise, and I made sure each bite of bread was spread with a little bit of this second-to-none, creamy wholesome butter.

My champagne flute was filled with Meriwether’s 2000 Prestige Cuvee Brut Sparkling Wine, which was paired with the first course: Green Salad with Roasted Beets, House Cured Bacon, Rogue Blue Cheese Dressing and a paper-thin slice of crunchy Whole Wheat Crostini. One of my favorite pairings with sparkling wine is a strong cheese with a bit of a kick, like Goat Cheese, and aged Blue Cheeses, so I loved the Rogue Blue Cheese Dressing with the rich, remarkably well balanced Prestige Cuvee; in fact, the entire salad from the lettuce to the bacon to the roasted beets, this pairing was a match to be savored and truly enjoyed. 

Guests head outside to watch Chef Heidi in action

Heidi announced that the Paella was ready to be served, and she invited people to take their plates outside to select their preferred items directly from the large batch of Paella that was cooking over the open fire, or to wait inside to be served. I opted to wait inside; mainly, because there wasn’t a single ingredient in Heidi’s Paella that I knew I wouldn’t fully enjoy. Flourishing with Saffron Valencian rice, colossal sized shrimp, mussels, clams, chicken, farm-fresh vegetables and house-made chorizo, I could hardly wait to try it with Domaine Meriwether’s 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir.

As my plate was stacked high, abounding with Paella, the floral aromas of the saffron were undeniably distinct, and my first bite of rice and house made chorizo was full of flavor and positively ambrosial. The smoky, spicy flavors of the chorizo and Saffron Valencian Rice paired wholly and perfectly with the earthy, dark cherry flavors of the Pinot Noir. I’ve always loved rice seasoned with the honey-like flavors of saffron, but I would never have thought that to pair the flavors of saffron with Oregon’s earthy Pinot Noir’s; therefore, this pairing was a surprising discovery of mouthwatering goodness that will not be soon forgotten. I made sure to store this one in my memory bank as a momentous food and wine pairing.

I enjoyed every bit of the main course down to the last grain of rice and last drop of Pinot Noir.

Bacon Whipped Cream atop farm-fresh roasted berries~photo courtesy of Jonathan Tunnell

Our empty plates were whisked away and replaced with our final course of the evening: a Mason Jar filled with Wood Oven Roasted Peaches and Berries, Hazelnut Crumb and topped with Bacon Whipped Cream. I love bacon, and having never experienced “bacon whipped cream”, I immediately filled my spoon for a taste of the unknown. It was salty meets sweetness perfection, and when mixed with the fresh, locally grown roasted berries and peaches, it was absolute magic. Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, Domaine Meriwether’s 1999 Prestige Rosé Cuvee Sparkling Wine filled my glass, and the rustic flavors of homegrown goodness blended with the refined flavors of one of the world’s best sparkling wines resulted in flawless palate perfection.

Family & Friends Gather Here

As we chatted with the other wine and food lovers at our table, I noticed something rare: In place of the usual ringing of cell phones and loud background music associated with restaurant dining; laughter, story-telling and the clinking of glasses echoed throughout the barn. I recalled visits to my grandma’s farm as a young girl where I felt lucky and complacent to be surrounded by family and friends while enjoying the bounties that were freshly harvested just steps from the back porch; a place that I truly cherished, and I now felt grateful to be a part of one of Heidi’s applauded community and family focused barn dinners. This event conjured up monumental and heartwarming memories that made me think of how fortunate I am to be living in the beautiful and bountiful state of Oregon where wine country and farming communities can join forces and thrive because of people like Heidi who realize that the best of the best is what’s grown and produced right here in our very own Willamette Valley.

“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.”— Michael Broadbent

Applauded Chef & New Mom, Heidi Tunnell, with baby Melvin & me ~photo courtesy of Jonathan Tunnell

Be sure to check the Heidi Tunnell Catering Company website often to see when reservations will open up for the 2012 Barn Dinner Series; tickets sell-out fast, and you’ll need to jump on the chance for a unique feast of fresh, local, stellar cuisine, fine wine or beer from our beautiful Oregon, and a rare chance to slow-down, relax, and spend qulaity time with kindred spirits and new found friends. http://heiditunnellcatering.com/

To find out more about the featured winery for this Barn Dinner, Domaine Meriwether, read my recent article “The Sparkling Future of Domaine Meriwether”, right here, on Eugene Daily News:http://eugenedailynews.com/2011/09/17/the-sparkling-future-of-domaine-meriwether/

Julia Crowley
Food & Wine Editor, EDN