After two seasons learning from one of the best, Amber Aguiar has become one of the best.
The Skyview High School graduate played in all 53 of Pacific Lutheran University's volleyball matches as a freshman and sophomore at defensive specialist, on the court for half of the Lutes' rotations with libero Blair Bjorkman.
With the NCAA Division III Honorable Mention All-America player before her now gone, Aguiar has stepped into that role as libero -- the leader of the back row who never leaves the court. The position, introduced to the game about a decade ago, allows one designated player to stay in the back row for an entire match without affecting the allowed substitutions of teammates.
"It's definitely a different experience than my first two years that I've been playing college volleyball," Aguiar said. "It's definitely the spot that I feel really comfortable in, because it's such an important position and the fact that I'm the leader on the back row. I like being that example on the court, especially among the defensive players."
Aguiar was fifth on the team with 211 digs as a freshman and third with 268 last season.
Now, she is helping younger teammates with the learning process she went through.
"I especially have learned how to treat the other girls on the court who are also learning from me," she said. "My first two years, I was learning from the upperclassmen and the libero."
Still "a little nervous" about taking over at libero when the season began, Aguiar has progressively grown into her role -- the one she played for the Storm while raking in league, regional and state awards.
On Tuesday, she picked up a couple more honors.
Aguiar was named Northwest Conference Libero of the Year and First Team All-NWC on Tuesday.
"I was a libero in high school, but being a college libero is completely different, I'd say," she said. "There's a lot more responsibility, and obviously, the opponents you're playing against are a lot better. It's been fun. I think every single game throughout the season, I've gotten more comfortable in the position."
She has become comfortable enough that all Aguiar has done this season is lead the conference and rank among the top five in NCAA-III with 6.33 digs per set -- and those digs have added up. With the season not yet over, she is seven digs away from the PLU single-season record of 583.
As libero, Aguiar -- who, for the record, is 5-foot-5 anyway -- is prohibited by rule from blocking at the net. Her attacks can only come from behind the 10-foot line and she may not initiate an attack on a ball that is completely above the height of the net. She does have six kills this season, which she said with a laugh usually happen by mistake. She is second on the team with 67 assists, far behind setter Samantha North's 947.
While she just recently learned about the school record pursuit she did not know she was in, Aguiar is more interested in what that represents for her team.
"I don't really pay that much attention to individual stats," she said. "I guess it's nice because our team has been doing so well this year, but I'm just happy that I can contribute to that success and it shows in the statistics. It's a cool accomplishment that I'm really proud of, and I'm really looking forward to next season, as well."
This season continues, however.
PLU wrapped up a second consecutive outright NWC championship last weekend, finishing the regular season 19-5, 15-1 in NWC play. The Lutes, runners-up in Aguiar's freshman season, have finished no worse than tied for second in the conference for seven seasons.
The Lutes, ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division III, open NCAA-III regional play today against No. 13 Augsburg College at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. The winner of the eight-team regional, which runs through Saturday, advances to the national tournament, Nov. 21-23 at Hope College in Holland, Mich.
The goal for the weekend, of course, is to be the team returning to the Midwest next week.
Two locals shine for Arizona college
Tyler Shadix and Josiah Pacheco will lead Yavapai College of Prescott, Ariz. into the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament next week in Tyler, Texas.
Shadix, a Union graduate, and Pacheco, from Camas, have helped the Roughriders to a 26-0 season. They will open group play at nationals on Monday against Burlington, N.J.
WWU's Guenther USTFCCCA All-Star
Western Washington sophomore cross country runner Taylor Guenther, a Prairie High graduate, was named a West Region All-Star by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Guenther and the Vikings will compete at NCAA Division II nationals, Nov. 23 in Spokane.
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