The goals are clear for the Linfield volleyball team. Improve in every facet of the game and climb back into contention in the Northwest Conference.
Coach Shane Kimura returns six starters from last season’s 9-15 club. Beginning his 36th volleyball campaign at Linfield, Kimura ranks ninth nationally in career victories among active coaches with 614 wins.
“We have to do certain things well to be successful,” said Kimura. “No. 1, we have to be a great defensive team. We must develop into a better ball-handling team and be scrappy out there on the floor.”
Though Linfield has a solid defensive foundation that is carrying over from last season, the offensive output was shaky at times.
“We played pretty good defense last year but we were not the most efficient offensive team. We have to cut back on unforced mistakes,” said the coach.
With defense remaining the No. 1 priority, then much of the digging responsibility falls on the shoulders of the libero. Veterans Courtney Wanamaker and Courtney Uyeda split time in the contrasting jersey last season and the two Wildcats are again locked in a battle for the starting job. Sophomore Quinn Takashima and freshman Zoe Sams might also see action in the libero spot.
A two-way battle is also being waged at setter, where incumbent starter Audrey Frazer is facing a challenge from promising freshman Casie Gaza.
Two-time Northwest Conference all-star Kailana Ritte-Camara should again be the Wildcats’ leading point producer at outside hitter. Senior Shayli Coppock is also a prominent figure in the Wildcats’ climb toward a winning season. Sophomore Joy Harpham is in the mix, along with newcomers Molly McTaggart, Sam Hammons and Ali Henn.
Middle blocker is perhaps Linfield’s most experienced position with 5-foot-10 senior Kelsey Ludin alternating with 6-foot junior Victoria Thompson. The output of the middle blockers could prove to be a linchpin in determining the Wildcats’ overall rate of success.
“The kids are working hard, have good focus and want to improve,” said Kimura. “We are tweaking the lineup here and there to find ways to best utilize the strengths of our players.”
Linfield is picked by the NWC coaches to finish eighth in the conference, reflecting their next-to-last finish of 2012. Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, two nationally ranked programs, are expected to duke it out for the title with challengers Pacific, Whitman and George Fox chasing. Linfield must find a way to vault itself back into contention, ahead of middle-of-the-pack teams Whitworth and Willamette.
“Our league is pretty tough from top to bottom,” Kimura said. “We were close to winning a lot of matches last year but would wind up losing in the fourth or fifth set. When those situations present themselves again this year, we want to be the team that finds a way to get over the hump.”