Bearcats are Ranked Fifth in NWC Volleyball Preseason Poll

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University volleyball team has been picked to finish fifth in the Northwest Conference this season according to the 2010 NWC Volleyball Preseason Poll, as determined by the league's head coaches. Willamette finished 11-13 overall last year and achieved fifth place in the NWC with an 8-8 record. The Bearcats went 6-2 during the second half of the NWC's double round-robin schedule.

Pacific Lutheran University, which has won each of the last four NWC titles, was picked first in the poll by a slim margin over the University of Puget Sound. Pacific Lutheran received five first place votes and 82 total points in the poll after going 16-0 in the NWC and 20-7 overall in 2009.

Puget Sound received the four remaining first place votes in the poll for a total of 80 points. UPS was 18-7 overall and 12-4 in the NWC last season.

Lewis & Clark College (14-11, 10-6 NWC) was listed third with 52 points, as the Pioneers barely edged out George Fox University (17-7, 10-6 NWC), which ranked fourth with 51 points. Willamette followed in fifth place in the poll with 46 points. Whitworth (10-17, 6-10 NWC) was sixth with 37 points.

Seventh place went to Linfield College (8-15, 5-11 NWC) with 31 points. Pacific University (7-17, 2-14 NWC) was eighth with 20 points and Whitman College (6-17, 3-13 NWC) was ninth with 16 points.

Willamette will be guided by Head Coach Tom Shoji, who is entering his third season with the Bearcats. Leadership will be provided by senior outside hitter Molly Blankenship (Spokane, WA/Spokane Falls CC).

Blankenship recorded 236 kills and averaged 2.95 kills per game last year. She also averaged 2.25 digs, 0.47 blocks and 0.31 service aces per game, while earning Honorable Mention All-NWC honors. Willamette's roster for 2010 features 19 players, including eight newcomers.

NWC Volleyball Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Pacific Lutheran (5), 82 points, 20-7 overall, 16-0 NWC in 2009
2. Puget Sound (4), 80 points, 18-7, 12-4 NWC
3. Lewis & Clark, 52 points, 14-11, 10-6 NWC
4. George Fox, 51 points, 17-7, 10-6 NWC
5. Willamette, 46 points, 11-13, 8-8 NWC
6. Whitworth, 37 points, 10-17, 6-10 NWC
7. Linfield, 31 points, 8-15, 5-11 NWC
8. Pacific, 20 points, 7-17, 2-14 NWC
9. Whitman, 16 points, 6-17, 3-13 NWC

Note: Points were awarded on a 10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.

Molly Blankenship earned 236 kills, 180 digs and a team-high 25 services aces for the Bearcats in 2009.

Molly Blankenship earned 236 kills, 180 digs and a team-high 25 services aces for the Bearcats in 2009.