By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University volleyball team will open the 2019 season this weekend with matches against four out-of-region opponents at the Oregon Trail Classic co-hosted by Pacific University and George Fox University. On Friday, Aug. 30, the Bearcats will take on Central College (Iowa) at 12 p.m. (PDT) and will battle Hamline University (Minn.) at 5 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 31, Willamette will play the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) at 10 a.m. p.m., before facing John Carroll University (Ohio) at 1 p.m.
Both matches on Friday will be played at the Stoller Center on the Pacific campus in Forest Grove, Oregon. Willamette's matches on Saturday will be played at the Wheeler Sports Center on the George Fox campus in Newberg, Oregon.
Jennifer Lane (MH, Salinas, CA/Notre Dame HS) returns for her senior season after being named Honorable Mention All-NWC in 2018. She ranked fifth in the NWC last season with a .263 hitting percentage. She was second on Willamette's offensive chart with 173 kills and earned nine or more kills 10 times. She also contributed 10 block solos and 58 block assists for 68 total blocks. Lane enters 2019 with 415 career kills and 1,224 career attacks, to go along with a .176 hitting percentage and 139 total blocks.
Overall, four of Willamette's top five kill leaders from a year ago are back this season. In addition to Lane other top returning attackers are Natalie Klotz (So., OH/OPP, Bonner Springs, KS/Bonner Springs HS), Arianna Khan (Jr., OH/OPP, Yuba, CA/River Valley HS) and Lauren Stiles (Sr., OH, Altadena, CA/Flintridge Preparatory School).
Klotz led the Bearcats with 202 kills and 2.49 kills per set in 2018. She also led the team with 35 service aces (0.43 avg.). She produced 205 digs (2.53 avg.) and 42 total blocks (0.52 avg.). Khan accumulated 119 kills and 1.65 kills per set. She also achieved 138 digs (1.92 avg.). Stiles registered 100 kills, and recorded 230 digs to rank third on the team with 2.67 digs per set. Lane, Stiles and Khan each provided Willamette with 17 service aces.
Elena Vasquez (Jr., DS/OH, Kingston, WA/North Kitsap HS) returns after serving as Willamette's primary libero the past two seasons. She has amassed 727 career digs with 372 in 2017 and 355 in 2018. She led the Bearcats in digs both seasons. Last year, she ranked second on the team with 25 service aces.
Head Coach Tom Shoji is in his 12th season at Willamette and is entering his 36th season as a collegiate head coach. He has won 464 matches in his career.
After competing at the Oregon Trail Classic, the Bearcats will return to Salem, Oregon, to host their home opener on Tuesday, Sept. 3 against Northwest Christian University. Match time at Cone Field House is set for 7 p.m. (PDT).