WINCHESTER — After back-to-back losing seasons, the 2019 Umpqua Community College volleyball team is hoping to finish in the top four in the South Region and advance to the Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament this fall.
“We’re super hungry,” said McKenna Wilson, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter from Coquille who’s one of four returning sophomores for the Riverhawks. “We’re a lot faster this year, and I think we’re going to use that to our advantage even though we’re not as big. I feel like we’re very smart. We can go a long ways as soon as we get our chemistry all good.”
The other returning players for Umpqua are 5-10 libero Shayla Limatoc, 5-10 middle blocker Lamardia Utupo and 6-2 middle blocker Amiyah Shakoor. Megan Davis, a 5-8 freshman setter, redshirted last year.
Limatoc, one of three team captains along with Wilson and Davis, believes unity is already a strength of the club.
“Our attitudes are already like 1,000 times better,” Limatoc said. “Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it does make a big difference when everyone’s always positive. It keeps the chemistry together ... we’re actually really good at bringing each other up when we have to, so that’s pretty cool.”
The Riverhawks finished 12-20 overall and placed sixth in the South at 4-10 in 2018. Among the losses were Emma Lind, a second-team all-league selection.
“I think we hit our peak too soon,” admitted Limatoc, reflecting on last season. “Instead of continuously rising, we just kind of fell off. Some people had other ideas what they wanted to do with their life, so their No. 1 priority wasn’t volleyball, which is fine.
“We bond really good this year. You can be really talented, but if you don’t have chemistry it won’t do anything. The fact we get along really well with each other will help us in the long run.”
All but two players on the roster are from Oregon. Limatoc and Utupo hail from Oahu, Hawaii.
Shakoor led UCC with 221 kills and 52 blocks last year. Wilson compiled 204 kills and 294 digs, while Limatoc contributed 282 digs and 83 kills.
“I believe the talent is there,” said Lacy Pinard, who’s in her seventh season as UCC’s head coach. “I’m seeing everything I need to see on the court. What I’m pushing for now is that loud team communication. That’s probably our biggest hurdle, getting them to talk to each other and work cohesively.
“We recruited quite a few athletes, mostly offensively. Defensively we’re pretty strong. We’re focusing our work on transitions into offense.”
The incoming freshmen include Kyla Crume (Days Creek), Maritza Reyes-Johnson (Portland), Kaitlen Haas (Springfield), Morgan Johnson (Roseburg), Johanna Pope (Glide), Breez Hansen (Roseburg) and Katelyn Crawford (Roseburg).
“I see a lot of potential in these girls,” Wilson said.
“I’m one of the captains and there’s a lot of pressure,” Limatoc said. “I want to make sure we don’t repeat the same things we did last year. I’m focused on keeping them on track and making sure they know this is why we’re all here. Volleyball is our main priority until the season is over.”
The Riverhawks open their season at 4 p.m. Friday with a nonleague match against Centralia. UCC will play six matches in the NWAC Showcase this weekend in Springfield.
“The win-loss record matters, but we’ll utilize this time to prepare for league which matters the most,” Pinard said. “We’ll be trying some new things offensively and put the pressure on defensively.”
Umpqua begins league play on Sept. 18, hosting defending champion Linn-Benton of Albany.