On court, big plays from a small player

Jordan Jacobo / Sports Editor

Jordan Jacobo

Sports editor

Freshman outside hitter Samantha Lau knows volleyball inside and out.

For the last 10 years, she has grown increasingly dedicated on the courts in her native Hawaii. Stepping up her game to become a major force for the Wildcats this year has been a natural progression for Lau.

“She’s not the biggest player,” head coach Shane Kimura said of the 5’4” Lau, who he recruited last year. “She’s learned to play smart because she has always been playing against bigger blockers.”

Her diminutive stature has been all but forgotten, as she has impressed her coach and teammates with dominating play. Alongside junior middle blocker Emily Vuylsteke, Lau is top on the offense with 36 kills. Her play is a combination of finesse, power, patience and smarts that has left her opponents struggling to match her defensively.

Led by a core of four seniors and sparked by Lau’s impressive debut, Linfield is riding the momentum of an undefeated preseason. The ’Cats will be tested by their two biggest Northwest Conference rivals, Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound, this weekend.

They face PLU tonight. The match against UPS, the preseason favorite to win the NWC, is scheduled for Sept. 20.

Both matches begin at 7 p.m. and will be played in Tacoma, Wash.

Lau will not be the only up-and-coming star on the court tonight. PLU sophomore outside hitter Beth Hanna could steal the show. Hanna, named American Volleyball Coaches Association Freshman of the Year in 2007, will be the focus. Stopping her will be key for Linfield.

“We’ll need to hit the right spots and play around the defense,” senior outside hitter Kelsey French said of the two matches
this weekend.

For Lau, who is replacing All-American graduate Katelyn Baker, this weekend is her first test, since the conference standings are what determines who advances to playoffs and who doesn’t.

 “It can get overwhelming sometimes,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun. It’s more than I would have imagined, and being able to have this role is a really big honor for me.”

Lau is used to being a major artery of her team’s success. In high school, she played varsity all four years, spending her junior and senior seasons as team captain. As a senior, she led St. Francis High School to sixth place in the Division I Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

This year’s freshman class of volleyball players has been larger than usual, and Lau said the players are packed with talent.

The promise of freshmen athletes already excelling gives hope to the program that has always set lofty aspirations for itself.

The responsibility of guiding Lau and all other freshmen players falls on Kimura and the senior leaders, who, by Lau’s standards, have made her feel welcomed, ready and excited to be here.

“[Kimura’s] a great coach,” she said. “He’s very serious about the sport, but he knows how to motivate his players in the right way. He still knows how to have fun, too.”

For all the expectation, excellence and aspiration, Lau is still just a woman playing a sport she has known and loved all her life.

She grew up watching the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team. Now a collegiate athlete herself, she has not lost sight of her love for the game in the face of endless possibility.

“I’m just playing the game right now,” Lau said. “Maybe we can make it past the first round of the NCAA regionals. Maybe we can make it to the championships. Who knows? The sky is the limit, I guess.”

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