What will it take to elevate Linfield back toward the upper crust of the Northwest Conference?
“Consistency,” said Wildcats coach Shane Kimura, who, in his 35th season in McMinnville, could easily write a book on the topic.
“One of our weaknesses last year was playing inconsistently,” he said. “We played a lot of five-set matches, which tells me were capable of competing with most every team but just weren’t consistent, even within the same match.”
Linfield appears to have the talent to rise to a top-three finish within the conference, a place it once regularly occupied as recently as five seasons ago.
“We must get better offensively,” said Kimura. “Our hitters have to hit for a higher percentage. And we have to play good defense to keep the ball off the floor, and make the other team work hard for points. We’re definitely going to rely on our defense to keep us in games.”
With one senior, a junior and five promising sophomores forming the nucleus, the Wildcats will put plenty of experience on the floor.
It all starts in the back row, where Bethany Dickey is the likely starter as the libero. Sophomores Courtney Wanamaker and Christine Fujiki could also work their way onto the floor wearing the contrasting jersey.
Ball distribution will also be vital to the Wildcats’ success. Setter Audrey Frazier, a returning starter, is being pushed for playing time by sophomore Mahina Galletes and freshman Courtney Uyeda.
Along the front, middle blockers Victoria Thompson and Kelsey Ludin are primed and ready for great seasons. Honorable mention all-NWC outside hitter Kailana Ritte-Camara will be a focal point of the offense. If Ritte-Camara can find her stroke consistently, the Wildcats could indeed be a top-tier club. Shayli Coppock and Leimomi Hookano may also emerge as go-to players for the Wildcats. Sophomore Chelsea Siegner and sophomores Joy Harpham and Sadie Casacca may also make their presence felt.
Whitworth, the defending NWC champion, is expected to be pressed for the top spot by venerable challengers Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran. Like Linfield, both have veteran coaches who have established strong winning traditions. In addition to the Wildcats, George Fox and Whitman could also conceivably make moves toward the top of the conference.
“We must be consistent,” said Kimura, sounding like a broken record. “We have to be a good ball-control team, get good sets and play great defense every night. We have the talent to make good things happen.”