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In his fourth season as Oregon Tech’s volleyball coach, Andrew Clifton says things are falling into place as a program.

“We have a lot of experience coming back, and feel like who we have as returners have game experience,” he says as the Hustlin’ Owls prepare for their new season, one in which Clifton thinks they can finish among the leaders in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

“We got really tall this year,” he says of the recruiting efforts.

That may well be needed in what Clifton calls the toughest NAIA conference in the country.

“I said it last year,” he says. “We have a really strong conference. I call it the Pac 12 of the NAIA.”

In the attempt to move up in the standings, Tech has to overcome the loss of an All-American in Chase Bohman.

Then, there are the other teams in the conference.

Last season, four of the final 16 teams in the NAIA national tournament were from the conference, with Southern Oregon reaching the semifinals. Two others were in the Elite Eight.

“We have a lot of parity in the league, which makes it tough,” Clifton says.

It also forces everyone to upgrade their talent pool and level of play.

Tech made great strides last year and played several five-set matches, especially against the best teams in the conference.

“Looking at our conference, I believe we should end up in the top three, maybe four,” Clifton says. “It’s hard to say with what other programs are bringing in with their new players. Last year coaches were telling us we were headed in the right direction.”

Hannah Carey is the lone senior on the OIT volleyball roster.

Jamie Toedtemeier is one of four juniors, but likely will play her last season because of an impending internship a year from know. She will play a key role in Tech’s efforts as the returning setter on a team with seven players over 6-feet tall.

In the push to improve, sophomores will play a key role.

Lindsey Sampson, Nicole Reyes, Faith Houck-Wylie and Melody Edwards lead the sophomores, with Houck-Wylie, Edwards, sophomore Amanda Edwards and freshman Mackenzie Ososke the four tallest teams members, all at 6-3.

Sampson, Carey and freshmen Aubrey Kievit will be the liberos.

Sophomore Amanda Powley and freshman Courtney Isom are the other setters and will work with Toedtemeier this year and are the heirs apparent to the position.

“What I would anticipate is that our fans will see more wins,” Clifton says. “Last year, we were right there all season. Made young mistakes. We just need to play cleaner volleyball. I think we should have plenty of exciting matches.”

TECH TALK

■ There are seven sophomores and seven freshmen on the OIT roster this season.

■ Lisa Clifton begins her second season as middle blocker coach and director of operations for the volleyball team.

■ Loke Bautista, Tonia Brown and Brian Brown all begin their first season as assistant coaches with Tech.

■ The only transfer on the roster is sophomore Natalie Orcutt, a sophomore from Greeley, Colo., who played last season at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

■ Fourteen players have majors in various health sciences, with two engineering majors.