Multi-sport athlete shines for Ducks
Oregon's Liz Brenner plays volleyball, basketball and softball
It’s a good thing Oregon outside hitter Liz Brenner has quick feet, because she is constantly moving.
Brenner, a sophomore from Portland, Ore., is an integral part of the Ducks’ women’s volleyball team that will tangle with Texas for the NCAA Division I Championship on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. She has contributed 3.89 kills and 2.54 digs per set along with a .297 hitting percentage this season, and is coming off her eighth double-double of the season in which she knocked down 17 kills and collected 17 digs in the Ducks’ national semifinal victory against Penn State.
However, her talents are not limited to the volleyball court. Last year, Brenner became the first female Oregon athlete to letter in three sports since 1976, also playing basketball and softball for the Ducks.
While Oregon women’s volleyball head coach Jim Moore knew she was a versatile athlete, it was not exactly in his original plans for Brenner, who was the Oregon state player of the year in volleyball and basketball as a senior at Jesuit High School.
“We left it open for her that she would have the opportunity as time went on -- we didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Moore said. “She needed to get better [at volleyball].”
But when women’s basketball head coach Paul Westhead asked Moore for a favor, he obliged.
“There was no intention of her playing anything else, but basketball had a lot of injuries and Paul came to me and asked if I was willing to let her play for one term,” Moore said. “So, I said okay even though it takes away from individual practices [for volleyball], but I was willing to do that.”
Brenner ended up playing in 21 games, starting eight, for the Ducks, and averaged 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. After the basketball team’s season ended in March, Brenner did not slow down. When the softball team lost its back-up catcher with an ACL tear, Brenner, a former Oregon high school all-state catcher, answered the call again as the Ducks advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
“It was hard because there were tons of hours, and she was tired,” Moore said. “But she didn’t miss anything with spring volleyball and was still doing the softball thing.”
When the volleyball season ends on Saturday, Brenner will take a just a week off, but admits having all that free time will be boring. The boredom won’t last long as Brenner’s basketball season will start with a bang. She will join the basketball team just in time to suit up for the Ducks when they face perennial power Connecticut on Dec. 31.
Once basketball season is over, Brenner will take another dreaded week off and then try out her talents with the Oregon track and field team. Brenner was an Oregon high school state champion in the shot put and a runner-up in the javelin.
“I think I’m better at track [than softball],” Brenner said. “My javelin throws in high school are better than all of Oregon’s throwers on the team right now, so I decided to see how far I could go with that.”
Brenner is grateful that Moore understands her passion to play a variety of sports.
“During the recruiting process, I talked to every coach at Oregon and let them know that I wanted to play volleyball, but I wanted to do other sports, too,” Brenner said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to play basketball because the seasons overlapped too much but I definitely wanted to try track or something. He was completely open to it from the beginning and I think that’s really special that he has been so flexible with me.”
And, Moore knows being able to transition from sport to sport also helps Brenner’s volleyball game.
“She’s such a good athlete, and has great hand-eye coordination that you get when you play a lot of sports,” Moore said. “A lot of kids who play volleyball right now look awkward doing (other sports) because they are just volleyball players and that’s all they ever have done. I think it’s great that people play multiple sports because it brings athleticism to our sport that we don’t have. She knows how to move in space better than most people.”
“I’m not the typical volleyball player who is super tall or super skinny, but I use what I have,” Brenner said. “I have athleticism and strength which a lot of people haven’t seen. I’m pretty tall, and I play all around, which a lot of people haven’t seen either. It surprises a lot of people that I can do what I can do.”
While she enjoys competing in different sports -- she was even an 11-time world champion in racquet ball starting at the age of five -- volleyball is undoubtedly Brenner’s favorite.
“I love how fast it is,” Brenner said. “It is in the only sport where there is action every single moment. There’s no down time. If you’re on the court and you take down time, you’re going to be on the bench in the next few seconds. It’s exciting and fast-paced which is why I like it so much.”