(Eds: With AP Photos)By ANNE M. PETERSONAP Sports Writer
It all began in 2011, when Oregon volleyball coach Jim Moore got a knock on his door shortly after the Ducks’ season wrapped up.
It was basketball coach Paul Westhead, wondering if he could ”borrow” freshman outside hitter Liz Brenner. Moore, cringing a bit at the thought of injury, reluctantly agreed.
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A few of months later, another knock came on Moore’s door. This time, it was softball coach Mike White wondering if he could borrow Brenner, too. Moore sighed and with that, Brenner became the first woman in 35 years to take on three sports at Oregon.
”I just love sports,” said Brenner, now in her second season on Oregon’s basketball team after helping the Ducks to an appearance in the NCAA volleyball championship match against Texas. ”I love being around them. I love playing them. I love the competitiveness. It’s just a lot of fun getting to practice and play in games every day.”
It’s rare for a Division I athlete to take part in three sports. But this year, the 6-foot-1 Brenner is adding a twist: She’s dropping softball and adding the shot put and javelin on the track team.
”I think the question that you have to ask with Liz is, `What can’t she do?”’ Moore said.
The last Oregon player to letter in three sports in one season was Jordan Kent, son of former basketball coach Ernie Kent, who played football, basketball and ran track in the 2005-06 season. Brenner is the Ducks’ first three-sport female athlete since Peg Rees, a basketball, softball, volleyball letterwinner from 1973-76.
Brenner has become such a fixture at Oregon that new football coach Mark Helfrich joked that he would love to have her.
”What would that be? Her seventh or eighth sport at Oregon?” he said.
Brenner has never limited herself to a single sport. The child of competitive swimmers, she was the state’s prep volleyball player of the year in 2009 and 2010 while at Jesuit High School in Beaverton, a suburb west of Portland.
She was also the Class 6A basketball player of the year her senior year when the Crusaders won the state championship. She won consecutive state titles in the shot put, as well as straight runner-up titles in the javelin. And for good measure, she collected 11 age-group titles in racquetball.
”My freshman year, I only intended to play volleyball, but I had discussed it with the volleyball coaches and I had met with the softball and track coaches before I got here to let them know I would probably want to do that, too, with volleyball,” Brenner said.
Brenner was selected to the Pac-12 All-Freshman volleyball team after the Ducks finished her first season 21-10 overall and ranked No. 13 nationally. Then she averaged 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds on the basketball team, and while she played in only a handful of games, she accompanied the softball team to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
”I think the hardest part is definitely going from volleyball to basketball, because I haven’t really run in volleyball,” Brenner said. ”We mostly do jumping drills. I think the first two weeks or so it’s a little hard getting my running legs in shape for basketball but after that I’m good.”
This past season, Brenner became the first Oregon underclassman to earn All-America honors in volleyball with a second-team honor. She led the team in hitting 11 times, and points and kills 10 times. She averaged 3.92 kills and 4.39 points per set. The Ducks finished with a best-ever record of 30-5 and were the NCAA runners-up to Texas.
”I think she’d proven over the course of this year that she’s one of the best serve-receivers, best passers, in the country,” Moore said. ”And I think she’s only going to get better.”
The basketball season is not going as well. Currently, Oregon is 3-21 after injuries decimated the team. At one point earlier in the season when Brenner was still playing volleyball, the Ducks had just seven available players.
”I would go and watch to see how they were doing,” Brenner said. ”Obviously, it was frustrating to watch. Injuries are something you have to deal with in sports, but it’s just so unfortunate.”
Brenner is averaging 7.9 points and 8.1 rebounds this season in 13 games. The Ducks host Washington and Washington State this weekend at Matthew Knight Arena.
Following basketball, she’ll join Oregon’s track and field team for the remainder of the outdoor season. There have been some who suggest that if Brenner focused on just one sport, she’d be better off.
”A lot of people have told me that in the past. But I love playing all of them,” she said. ”I think it definitely helps me as an athlete. Playing volleyball helps me in basketball, basketball helps me in softball. It all ties in.
”I think by me doing so many sports, and switching from one season to another season, I never get tired of just one. I get to look forward to a new season. I get to look forward to something new.”
Of course, all of this begs a question: Is Brenner done? Or can we expect a stint on the tennis team? Lacrosse, perhaps? Brenner laughs.
”I think I’ll just add track and I’ll be good to go,” she said.