Thankful for the opportunity to prove herself again on the volleyball court, Amber Aguiar found that she fit in from the start at Pacific Lutheran University.
“As a freshman, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but having a role on the team and actually being able to get playing time and actually being involved in the lineup and in the games really (prompted) me to put forth my best effort and just be encouraging,” the Skyview High School graduate said. “It’s just been really fun. Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting to play, but I’ve played in every single match we’ve had this season, which has made me a better player. I’ve grown a ton, I think definitely, in my level of play. It’s been a really easy transition for me going from Skyview to PLU.”
Part of being unsure about what role she might play with the Lutes was the matter that the team was already set at libero, the position she played for the Storm.
“So I definitely wasn’t expecting to have that big of a role, but honestly, I just wanted to keep an open mind and just think, ‘I’m a freshman. Even though it’s the (NCAA Division III) level, I don’t expect that I would be given an opportunity,’ but I just fought for my position.”
Helpful was the fact that it was not the first time Aguiar had to adjust to finding her place on a new team. She drew on her experience of arriving at Skyview after attending Portland’s Central Catholic as a freshman.
“It was like high school all over again,” Aguiar said. “It was my sophomore year in high school, going to Skyview. I’m just really thankful for that. I can only see myself improving from here on out.”
Aguiar made the transition to defensive specialist, which essentially means that she plays in the back row for three of every six service rotations instead of being on the court the entire match, and has started from the start.
“I serve and I play defense. Actually, I really love it,” said the 5-foot-5 Aguiar. “I’m obviously kind of limited to back row because I’m not very tall. It would be nice to be a little taller, even being a defensive specialist. There are always those balls that go really high over my head that I can barely touch. (Hitters) definitely get a lot of credit, but I love what I do.”
While she plays half the time, she has played there nearly all the time.
Aguiar has played in 89 of PLU’s 91 sets this season, tied for most on the team, and is one of six to play in every match.
Most of those matches have gone pretty well for PLU.
The Lutes have won their last four and six of their last seven to complete a 21-5 regular season, including a 13-3 mark good for second behind Whitworth in the Northwest Conference standings.
On Monday came the word that the Lutes received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, starting with a regional Friday through Sunday at Occidental College in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
PLU has finished no worse than tied for second place in the NWC in the past eight seasons, four times winning the conference championship outright and sharing the title once.
“Honestly, I have a lot of confidence in this team,” Aguiar said. “We started out playing really well and playing to our potential, then we kind of had a lull in the middle of the season, but we really improved at the end — and really stood out, obviously, by beating (Puget Sound) and Whitworth, who were both ranked ahead of us in conference at the time.”
Despite concerns about how the Lutes’ difficulty of schedule might come into play, Aguiar said, “I really had confidence that we could move on, and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity.”
Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, only bring in players by cobbling together academic- and need-based scholarships and grants to augment any student loans. Aguiar said the financial package that PLU came up with for her was the reason for her school choice.
The lack of athletic scholarships also means that D-III athletes are competing for love of their sport, Aguiar said, a less businesslike approach than at bigger schools and an atmosphere she likes.
There is certainly a difference in “just the skill level overall,” even in D-III, she said. “The best of the best in high school are the average players in college, I would say.”
That only serves as motivation.
“I’m used to being an extremely key player,” Aguiar said. “Last year I was captain at Skyview with all the accolades and everything, but I’m really excited for my future. I think that once I get a bigger role on the team and grow older and girls graduate, I will definitely get a chance to hopefully make a bigger impact.”
• Western Washington’s Lauren Breihof (Mountain View High School) helped the Vikings qualify for the NCAA Division II cross country championships by placing third at the NCAA-II West Regional in Spokane. Breihof finished 30th in 22:30 over the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) course.
• Western Washington sophomore defender Brina Sych (Union High School) was named second team All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference for women’s soccer.
• Portland State senior defender Tish Wise (Camas High) was named honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference for women’s soccer.
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