By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

No cause for alarm, but no luck for 'Cats

How late is too late for a comeback?

A battered and bruised Linfield volleyball team is searching for an answer.

The Wildcats started the 2013 season with a 4-1 record but have lost six in a row, the most recent defeat coming at the hands of NCAA Division III Northwest Conference opponent Lewis & Clark, 25-16, 25-23, 26-24, Saturday night at Ted Wilson Gymnasium in McMinnville.

Linfield’s loss to the Pioneers followed a familiar pattern: Listless play at the outside, then more competitive play as the match goes on. The worry is, with 12 games remaining in the Wildcats’ season, the slow starts become a trend.

“We’re not going to let it become one,” junior setter Audrey Frazier said. “We’re going to break it real fast. We’re doing what we can, just working on it in practice.”

Linfield (0-3 Northwest Conference) prides itself on being a sound defensive team, but its anemic attack led to defeat against Lewis & Clark (3-7, 2-2 NWC). The Wildcats recorded a hitting percentage of .172 against the Pioneers – an improvement over their .140 hitting percentage entering the game, but insufficient in withstanding Lewis & Clark’s attack (.256 hitting percentage).

“They had a little more punch than we did today,” Linfield coach Shane Kimura said. “That was kind of disappointing. We weren’t able to put balls away like they did.

“Part of their offense was, we gave them too many easy chances. We chipped the ball, we made a bad pass and were scrambling to get it across the net. And it’s coming down our throats.”

Pioneers outside hitter Brigitte Russo made the Wildcats pay for the free balls. Russo accrued six of her game-high 14 kills in the first game – including kills on four consecutive points – and Lewis & Clark had three service aces in breaking the first game open.

The Pioneers picked up right where they left off in the second game, putting Linfield in an early 4-0 hole.

“They didn’t have to do anything,” Kimura said. “We just gave it to them.”

The Wildcats clawed back into the lead, holding a 14-11 advantage before the fire alarm sounded inside Ted Wilson Gym. Players, coaches, officials and spectators evacuated the building during a 15-minute delay; the cause of the alarm’s activation was not known, but there was no evidence of fire in the building.

“We’d just gotten the momentum back and we started to lose it, which is so hard in a game like this,” Frazier said.

Russo and Lewis & Clark outside hitter Kataleya Milan (13 kills) built up a 24-17 lead in the third game, but the Pioneers were whistled for touching the net on a Russo kill attempt on what would’ve been match point.

Instead, it became a turning point. Linfield outside hitter Kailana Ritte-Camara recorded two of her team-high 13 kills as the Wildcats capitalized on errors and tied the game at 24.

“Lewis & Clark is a really good offensive team, but I’m happy that we are really scrappy, too,” Ritte-Camara said. “We picked up a lot of good balls.”

Linfield libero Courtney Uyeda’s serve at 24-24 went long, and a double-hit was called on middle blocker Victoria Thompson on the ensuing point.

It was another learning experience for a Wildcats squad with four freshmen and three sophomores contributing heavily. (Outside hitter Shayli Coppock and middle blocker Kelsey Ludin are Linfield’s only seniors.)

Ritte-Camara, a junior from Molokai, Hawaii, is the Wildcats’ best player and one of their most versatile; she had 16 digs to go with her 13 kills, tied for the game high with teammate Uyeda. But Ritte-Camara is also struggling with a minor shoulder ailment; minor injuries are affecting enough players that Kimura cannot practice six-on-six.

The Wildcats can wait only so long for good health. Linfield plays George Fox in Newberg on Friday at 7 p.m., then returns to Ted Wilson Gym for a five-game homestand beginning Saturday at 7 p.m. against Pacific.

“Everybody has potential to be a winner, so if they contribute equally to their role on the team, I’m sure we’re going to be fine,” Ritte-Camara said. “We’re going to be successful.”


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