Friday, November 4, 2011

Volleyball heads North

First-year setter leads, strengthens team

By Nathan Shoup, News reporter

First-year Samantha North didn’t always dream of becoming a college athlete, but this year she found herself setting for the Pacific Lutheran women’s volleyball team.

volleyball  07

Setter first-year Samantha North (16) jump sets a pass during the Oct. 14 match against UPS. North
accumulated 39 assists that night, adding to her cumulative total of 782 assists Nov. 2. PHOTO BY HEATHER PERRY

With high school graduation only weeks away, North said she was still not sure she wanted to go on to play college volleyball.

“I never really put any effort into being recruited,” North said.

North was a dual-sport athlete who ran the 300 meter hurdles and competed in the high jump in addition to playing volleyball in high school.

In 2010, North’s senior year, she led the Gig Harbor Tides volleyball team to its first appearance in the state tournament in 13 years. That year, she was also the co-MVP of the 4A Narrows League.

North said her favorite memory of high school athletics was advancing to the volleyball state tournament as a senior.

With the decision whether or not to play college volleyball looming, North had a choice to make.

“I had sent a few emails out and Kevin [Aoki, head coach] replied and we kept in contact,” North said. “I just needed to decide if I wanted to go to a big school and just be a part of the school or come here.”

Other schools that took interest in North’s volleyball skills included Tacoma Community College and schools in Rhode Island and South Carolina.

With these options on the table, North eventually decided to attend PLU.

“It has a really good nursing program and it is close to home,” North said. “I get to see my mom and dad every weekend, they come to the games.”

Now, with a solidified starting role, North feels comfortable talking about her expectations coming into her first season.

“I just wanted to give the seniors the best year they could have. I just show up, play and have fun.” North said. “Kevin said if I came to PLU and worked hard that I would have a starting spot.”

It’s unusual for a first-year to start at the position of setter, given the leadership skills needed to touch every second ball and call plays on the court.

North’s teammates said they recognize her work ethic.

“Sam is an extremely hard worker and a very smart player,” right side hitter first-year Amy Wooten said. “Her charisma shines while she plays and her leadership skills are phenomenal even as a freshman.”

North compiled 782 assists during the 24 sets this season. The next highest on the team is 45 by setter sophomore Anna Buck.

North’s stats are comparable to last year’s starting setter alumna Sarah Beaver, who accumulated 897 assists in 26 sets. If North stays consistent with her number of assists per set, she should end the season with approximately 860 assists.

North ranks second in the Northwest Conference in assists, trailing only Whitworth’s setter senior Bree Riddle, who has 685.

North also ranks second in the conference with .48 service aces per set. She trails only Pacific’s outside hitter senior Kelsy Takashima who is averaging .54 service aces per set. North is also third on the team in total blocks with 37.

North is making an impact in the conference amd with her teammates.

“Sam’s leadership is constantly encouraging. I’m so happy that I get the opportunity to play with her the next three years,” teammate defensive specialist first-year Amber Aguiar said.

Adding to her already impressive first-year campaign, North was named tournament MVP of the Bulldog Classic in Seguin, Texas Sept. 9-10. The Lutes went 4-0 in that tournament and didn’t drop a single game.

Despite the numerous individual accolades, North couldn’t state any individual goals.

“Just going to the NCAA tournament and getting some credit for the west coast,” North said in reference to the Lutes not receiving an at-large bid to the regional tournament last year, despite going 19-7, with a 13-3 conference record and finishing ranked No. 20 in the nation.

Being on the starting roster for the first game in early September, North wasn’t beaming with confidence.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” North said. “I didn’t want to get nervous and freak out. Everyone told me, ‘It is just volleyball. You’ve played this your whole life.’”