Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University Volleyball team returns 14 student-athletes from a season ago and hopes to lean on that experience heading into the 2017 opener on Friday at the Puget Sound Premiere.
The Lutes experienced roster landed them second in the preseason Northwest Conference coaches poll, receiving 58 points and one first place vote. The team went 13-11 last season, finishing second in the NWC standings with an 11-5 mark in conference play.
"The expectations for this year's team is really high," Head Coach Kevin Aoki said. "The team has not made the NCAA or won the NWC title since the seniors were freshmen so they really want to play at high level in practice and matches. We're excited for this year's team and what they will bring to the court."
The team has four seniors, led by Gabrielle Alley, who recorded 243 digs last season. She had double digit digs in 14 matches over the course of the 2016. Julia Hutchison is a defensive specialist who recorded 60 digs on the season. Two of the four seniors are setters in Kiana Calles and Kayse Guest. New to the program in 2016, Calles had an immediate impact. She started 22 games, scooping up 217 digs on the season and 455 assists.
Five players make up the junior class. Caylie Shiramizu had an outstanding 2016, accumulating 479 digs along with earning NWC Libero of the Year and First Team All-NWC honors. She had over 20 digs in 13 matches on the season. Chloe Epker was huge for the Lutes as well. She led the team with 227 kills, with double digit kills coming in 11 matches and was a Second Team All-NWC honoree. She played defense as well, adding 139 digs to her 2016 totals. Isabella Zubrod Jordan Scherfey and Mackenzie Harris racked up points for the Lutes in 2016, combining for 212 kills while Harris led the NWC in blocks per set (1.16).
Five players are in the sophomore class. Danielle Skibiel was a standout, stacking up 153 kills. McKenna Ventura did her part with 72 kills in 2016. Megan Finley, Angelica Hullett and Emma Peters all gained valuable experience.
"I feel really good about the makeup and chemistry of this years team," Aoki said. "They continue to get better in the gym everyday."
"We only have two so they bring some talent and great attitudes to our team," Aoki said.
The season starts with a tournament across town at the University of Puget Sound. The Lutes play the University of Saint Thomas at 1 p.m. and Edgewood College at 5 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday they'll play College of Saint Benedict at 11 a.m. and Clarkson University at 3 p.m.
Sept. 1: PLU vs. Saint Thomas at Tacoma, Washington
Series History: This is the first all-time meeting between the Lutes and Tommies.
About the Tommies: Saint Thomas (22-9, 9-2 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 2016) heads into 2017 picked to finish fourth in the MIAC after finishing third in the league standings a season ago. The Tommies return 18 players from last year's squad and head to the Evergreen State receiving votes in the AVCA Division III Preseason Poll.
Sept. 1: PLU vs. Edgewood at Tacoma, Washington
Series History: The Lutes and Eagles have never met on the volleyball court.
About the Eagles: Edgewood (19-14, 8-3 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference in 2016) heads into the season picked to finish third according to the NACC's preseason poll. The Eagles, winners of three NACC regular season titles in the past five seasons, advanced to the semifinals of the NACC Tournament last season before falling to top-seeded Concordia University Wisconsin 3-0, snapping a five match win streak.
Sept. 2: PLU vs. Saint Benedict at Tacoma, Washington
Series History: The Lutes and Blazers have just once with PLU coming out on top 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-22) during the 2009 season.
About the Blazers: Saint Benedict (12-13, 5-6 MIAC in 2016) is the second MIAC opponent the Lutes will face this weekend. The Blazers missed the MIAC Tournament last year by the slimmest of margins, getting left in the cold on tiebreakers for the final spot. CSB returns a pair of All-Conference selections and was picked to finish sixth in the MIAC preseason poll.
Sept. 2: PLU vs. Clarkson at Tacoma, Washington
Series History: This will be the first all-time meeting between the Lutes and the Golden Knights.
About the Golden Knights: Clarkson (22-15, 9-3 Liberty League in 2016) graduated just two players from the 2016 squad that won the program's fifth consecutive Liberty League crown and made its eighth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Knights season came to a halt in the second round of the NCAAs, bowing out to Emory University by a 3-1 scoreline. Clarkson was picked to finish second in the Liberty League preseason poll, finishing four points behind league newcomer Ithaca College.