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Leaving It All on the Court: Volleyball Set for First Winning Season Since 2016

Skeet Starr

Staff Writer

A volleyball player jumps, reaching across the net
Emma Porter at Willamette vs. Pacific University, Sept. 12, 2022. Photo: Photo: Kendrick Arakaki/Willamette University

Heading into last weekend’s matchups against the Loggers and the Lutes on Oct. 28th and 29th, Bearcat volleyball was locked in a four way tie with Puget Sound, Whitworth, and George Fox for the Northwest Conference (NWC) title. The Loggers felled the Bearcats with a 3-0 sweep, two sets of which were within two points. Then the Lutes narrowly scraped out a win in the fifth set, 15-12. The weekend’s disappointing results all but knock the Bearcats out of the title race. This weekend, though, they still stand to leave a mark on Willamette volleyball history. If the team pulls out a win against either Lewis and Clark or George Fox, they will earn the Bearcats’ second NWC winning season in 15 years, and the first since 2016.

Olivia Cadien (‘25), who leads the squad in kills with 271 on the season, explained via email: “The team put in a lot of work in the off season and we worked on fine-tuning our shots and working on our defense. I think some of it [our success] has to do with our mindset this year, too. We have a large graduating class, and we came out from the beginning of the season thinking, ‘we need to all play for each other and not for ourselves.’” Shyla Sato (‘23), team leader in digs with 443, continued on the same email thread: “I think we were really starting to learn how to gel together as a team. Every year each individual player is so talented and brings different skills to the court, but it's just a matter of us putting all the pieces together.” The primary players of the starting six are Cadien, Dani Queja (‘23), Emma Porter (‘23), and Sato. Cadien and Queja combine for 55% of all kills. Porter alone completed 86% of all assists. The four combined make up 80% of the team's digs, with Sato leading the group by a mile.

Alongside these four’s dominance on the stat sheet, the Bearcat supporting crew continue to make sure the system runs smoothly. In the email interview Cadien said: “I think that our middle blockers, Kaitlyn Westby (‘25), Sydney Locke (‘26), and recently Nora Wade (‘26), have been big impacts offensively and defensively. They get huge blocks, kills, and, less noticeably, hold the blockers and the other side, allowing for us to have only one blocker up when we hit.” Sato pointed out that the entire team functions as a unit dedicated to improving each other. “The whole team deserves to be recognized. Although our digs, assists, and kills are what's shown on the stat sheet, we aren't able to get better every single day if it wasn't for our teammates pushing us in practice.”

The Bearcats are 5-1 at home this season, and hope to capitalize on that advantage this weekend. “Playing at home is always fun and exciting. It provides a feeling of comfort being on our own court, but we owe a lot of our success to the fans” said Sato. “We love our cheering section and can attribute a lot of our at home wins to them. They bring an immense amount of energy to the game and we always appreciate everyone who comes out.”

Three of the big four this season, as well as two other big point earners, Steele Jasa and Lexi Martin, are seniors. Cadien, a sophomore, isn't worried for the future of the squad, however. “I think it will be difficult losing our seniors, but we have many freshmen this year that have the ability to step in next year. I do not doubt that we will come out next year having put in the work during off season and building on what we have accomplished this year.” And as for this weekend, the seniors will undoubtedly be looking to make a statement for their last dance. Sato explained: “Although we have had a lot of success, I think it's also important to acknowledge the losses we have had this season. We have played some really tough matches and I think it made us motivated to get back in the gym and work even harder.” It's the positive culture displayed here that has kept the Bearcats together throughout the season. And as for the Bruins and Pioneers, read the above quote back to yourself, and start praying.

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