Starting the season with a bang, but finishing on the wrong end of the ledger in five of its last six matches, Linfield volleyball coach Shane Kimura was left to wonder what might have been had he had one or two more seasoned veterans in the lineup.
The Wildcats opened the season with seven wins in their first nine matches, including an exciting five-set triumph over nationally ranked Occidental in the first week of September. But after a 2-0 start in the Northwest Conference, Linfield found itself on a slippery slope where wins were suddenly harder to come by. The ‘Cats ended the year with a 9-15 overall record and placed seventh in the NWC with a 4-12 mark.
“We had some good quality wins,” said Kimura, referring to victories over Whitman and Willamette. “Within the conference, we had three five-set losses and were swept only once. It was not as though the gap between us and the teams ahead of us in the standings was huge.”
Kimura pointed to a still-developing roster stocked primarily with freshmen and sophomores.
“One of the things that held us back was our level of consistency,” said Kimura. “We could wins sets but we had a hard time winning matches. The lack of consistency really hurt us. We made a lot of unforced mistakes. Our group was still pretty young but we have to get better.”
Sophomore outside hitters Kailana Ritte-Camara and Leimomi Hookano were the Wildcats’ leading attackers, averaging 2.73 and 2.19 kills per set, respectively. Middle blockers Victoria Thompson and Kelsey Ludin together combined for 3.69 kills per set. Setter Audrey Frazier averaged 8.56 assist per match while leading the team with 34 service aces. Back-row specialists Courtney Wanamaker (4.42 digs per set) and Courtney Uyeda (3.65) shared time at the libero position.
“We weren’t as deep as the championship-level teams in our conference,” Kimura noted. “We didn’t have as many options at the net.”
Though individual and team development was hard to quantify, the Wildcats remained tight-knit as a team, even as the losses outnumbered the wins.
“This was a good group of kids who all had great attitudes,” praised Kimura. “The only thing difference I would wish for is more wins. They were a fun group to coach. They held together well over the course of the season when a lot of other programs might have folded.”
Consistency, or the lack of it, was all that was lacking.
“Certainly, every player made improvement,” Kimura said. “This group of sophomores now has two seasons under their belt. They are skilled and experienced, but just need to work on the consistency piece of their games.”