Stefani Sorensen wanted to play college volleyball somewhere where she would have an opportunity to actually play right away.
As the Eastern Oregon University junior's collegiate career has progressed, the Mountaineers program is reaching new heights.
"That was mainly one of the reasons why I chose to go to an NAIA school, so I could have an impact right away," the Camas High School graduate said. "Our team was so competitive that I was grateful to have the chance anyway. I think it really helped me develop overall. If I didn't have the opportunity to compete in games early on, I think I would be in a different place than I am right now."
When the 6-foot outside hitter was a freshman, the Mountaineers dug out of an 0-6 start to the season to finish 17-11, 15-3 in the Cascade Collegiate Conference, reaching the CCC tournament semifinals and receiving votes in the NAIA national poll.
With 208 kills, she was seventh in the conference in kills per set (2.81) and 10th in hitting percentage (.254), and was an honorable mention all-conference selection.
It was EOU's second 17-win season in 20 years.
The next year was a step up, for Sorensen and the Mountaineers.
At 23-7, it was the winningest season in program history. The Mountaineers were ranked as high as 19th in NAIA, the best in program history, and reached the conference championship match before falling 27-25, 29-27, 25-20 to College of Idaho. Sorensen was named First Team All-CCC. She led the conference with a .328 hitting percentage and was sixth with 318 kills.
This fall, the Mountaineers are 17-2 overall and unbeaten in seven conference matches, and ranked No. 11 in NAIA. Sorensen is second in the CCC -- behind only EOU teammate Casey Loper -- at 3.41 kills a game and is fourth overall -- Loper is second -- with a .328 hitting percentage.
While Sorensen said that individual honors are "definitely not my priority," she garnered her third career conference player of the week honor early this season.
"Our team is doing really well, and we all play well together," Sorensen said. "Individually, I think I've grown a lot -- especially the back row aspects of my game. I'm really appreciative of everything that I've been able to learn over the past two years so far. I'm starting to develop some shots that I didn't even know I was capable of doing, so that's really nice."
Sorensen describes herself as more of a leader by action than being "the most vocal person on the court."
The combination of Loper in the middle and Sorensen outside is formidable for the Mountaineers.
"I'm fortunate that we have her here, because she helps me a lot with blocking," Sorensen said of Loper, also a junior. "Just having a really strong offensive line just keeps the other team guessing. We both get opportunities."
This weekend, Sorensen gets the opportunity to play close to friends and family.
A showdown looms Saturday for the Mountaineers at No. 19 Concordia (14-2, 7-0), but first comes Friday's match at Warner Pacific (4-13, 1-6) that Sorensen said the Mountaineers will not overlook.
In the long term this fall, Sorensen said the Mountaineers are seeking the program's first trip to the NAIA national tournament. The CCC tournament champion claims an automatic bid, with a handful of at-large bids also available.
"The first two years that I've been here, we were just barely not able to go," Sorensen said. "That's definitely on our radar this year, and we're really excited about the chance to be able to do that. We're finally ranked, and that's a really big accomplishment for us. We've been able to hold it and actually raise it progressively, so that's been really nice."