WINCHESTER — Lacy Pinard feels the pieces are there for the Umpqua Community College women’s volleyball team to reach the Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament this season.
The Riverhawks missed out on the tournament last year, winning only four Southern Region matches and finishing 13-24 overall.
Pinard, in her sixth season as Umpqua’s head coach, is high on her latest recruiting class. The Riverhawks have four returning sophomores.
“Practices have been strong, we’ve had game-like competition,” Pinard said. “The chemistry is looking tight, which makes the preseason favorable. I’m really excited about the volleyball IQ of the girls we brought in. We have four sophomores, and they’ve done a fantastic job of leading the team.
“The biggest concern is always keeping the girls healthy. Injuries, regardless of numbers, can mess up that chemistry you’re building during the preseason.”
The Riverhawks will have to finish in the top four in the Southern Region to advance to the NWACs. Chemeketa of Salem won the NWAC title in 2017 and Linn-Benton of Albany was fourth.
“The bottom line is the top four coming out of the South will probably be in the top eight at NWACs,” Pinard said. “We have the strongest region. Umpqua expects to be in the top four (in league) this year.”
“We’re ready to compete,” said Madison Becker, a sophomore setter. “We want to go for NWACs, we’re going to push our hardest. Especially us sophomores. This will be the last year (of volleyball) for some of us, and we’re really excited and are going to push as hard as we can.”
Sophomore outside hitter Emma Lind, a South Umpqua High product, is optimistic about the season.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “Expectations are high. There’s a lot of talent coming in and they’ve trained really hard. I feel like we have so much want to win and can get to the NWACs this year.”
The 5-foot-7 Becker, and Lind, 5-9, are coming off good freshman seasons. Lind led the Riverhawks with 186 kills and Becker made 562 assists.
UCC is hoping to improve its offensive efficiency. The Riverhawks ranked 28th in the NWAC in kills and hitting percentage and were 29th in assists last year.
“We had great defense last year. We set up the ball well and moved it, but couldn’t put away the ball,” said Pinard. “Couldn’t effectively finish. This year we have defense, and have a great lineup of setters and finishers.”
“Our front line will be stronger,” Lind said. “We recruited a lot of good hitters, and will finish the ball and put it away.”
Sophomore libero Kyrie Keffer (5-5) and sophomore right-side hitter Brook West (5-11) are the other returnees. West is from Roseburg.
Keffer led the team in digs last year with 311, followed by Lind (203) and Becker (158).
“All four of our sophomores play different positions, which balances the court,” said Pinard.
The freshman class includes Shayla Limatoc (5-10), Aubrey Snyder (5-9), McKenna Wilson (5-9), Brianna Settle (5-7), Lamardia Utupo (5-10), Bailey Crawford-Caroll (6-1), Morgyn Asplund (5-7), Kyleigh Scott (5-9), Amiyah Shakoor (6-2) and Megan Davis (5-9).
Snyder and Scott are Roseburg graduates, and Wilson is from Coquille.
“We click really well,” said Becker. “We’re all very in sync with each other.”
The Riverhawks open their season this weekend at the NWAC Volleyball Showcase at the Bob Keefer Center in Springfield. Umpqua will play four matches Saturday and two Sunday.
UCC doesn’t open league play until Sept. 21, when it travels to Vancouver, Washington, to face Clark.
“We’re ready to play someone else,” said Becker.