To say it’s been a whirlwind few months for Oregon’s Matt Ulmer would be an understatement.
Ulmer was named the program’s new coach after serving as an assistant for three years. He rounded out his coaching staff shortly thereafter, promoting volunteer assistant coach Ron Beick and hiring former Cal State Fullerton coach Dave Butler. And then Ulmer managed both the beach season and the spring indoor season.
“It’s nice being the head coach and having the spring to mold and bond with the team,” Ulmer told VolleyballMag.com at the recent USA Volleyball girls junior national championships in Minneapolis. “We got through the beach season and the spring season and learned a lot. It was a good experience. I’m excited to get going with the indoor season.”
Ulmer, who takes over a young program that many think is poised to become a national power, was promoted this past March 16 in the wake of the sudden retirement of longtime Oregon coach Jim Moore and his wife, Stacy Metro. The university has said that Ulmer is not an interim head coach, but his contract runs only through December.
Ulmer noted the navigation of the beach and spring indoor seasons was especially challenging because of having so many players participating in both disciplines.
“It was tough, but it was good,” said the 32-year-old Ulmer, who coached Long Beach State to a collegiate beach title in 2013, becoming the youngest title-winning volleyball coach in NCAA history (including both men’s and women’s indoors and beach).
Now Ulmer, a Division III men’s first-team All-American performer at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. (where his mom currently coaches), is ready to roll into the fall. Oregon went 6-0 in a limited spring schedule.
“I really liked the energy and passion,” he said. “The girls were really excited to be in the gym every day. We think some real good things are ahead.”
Oregon is coming off a 2016 season where it went 21-10 overall and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Ducks were fourth in the tough Pac-12 at 13-7.
In particular, Ulmer was impressed with what he’s seen from 6-foot-2 senior outside and local product Taylor Agost and 6-2 sophomore middle Ronika Stone.
Agost, who sang the national anthem at last year’s NCAA semifinals in Columbus, Ohio, was a 2016 All-Pac 12 honorable-mention selection after finishing eighth in the conference with a .327 hitting percentage and owned the most swings (661) of any player in the league in the top 10 in hitting percentage, making only 65 errors. She was the only player in the top 10 list not a middle blocker.
“I think Taylor is going to have a big senior year,” Ulmer said.
Stone made the All-Pac-12 freshman team in her rookie season on the heels of finishing third in the league in hitting percentage at .374 while playing middle and right side. She averaged 2.45 kills per set and 0.89 blocks per set.
“Ronika Stone hit .550 for us in the spring and she’s with the junior national team right now,” Ulmer pointed out. “Taylor and Ronika, in particular, have looked really good.”
Ulmer said one major benefit in his transition to head coach this spring is that he’s been in the program and is familiar with an Oregon roster that returns plenty, losing only graduated libero Amanda Benson and hitter Kacey Nady.
“It’s been about as smooth a transition as you can have,” Ulmer said. “We didn’t have to integrate a lot of new people in the spring. We have high hopes. I think we can do some great things. If we can stay healthy I think we can be really good.”
Ulmer acknowledges the 2017 season will be more than challenging for the Ducks.
“I think ours is fifth toughest in the country based on strength of schedule,” he said.
Oregon opens the season at the University of Florida in the VERT Challenge where the Ducks play Nebraska on August 25 and then likely preseason No. 1 and 2016 national runner-up Texas the next day.
“It’s a tough schedule, but we’re looking forward to seeing Nebraska and Texas,” Ulmer said. “We will be ready to go in Gainesville.”