STOCKTON – Emily Baptista isn’t standing in the shadows, feeling her way as a freshman on the Pacific volleyball team.

The Hilmar High graduate is out to prove herself, right here, right now.

“I’m more of a dominant player,” she said. “I like to carry the team on my back and try to do as much as I can for the team.”

Baptista wants to be the kind of go-to outside hitter every successful volleyball team must have. On Saturday, Baptista had a match-high 15 kills and hit .297 in the Tigers’ three-game loss to Stanford in their final non-conference match. Pacific (6-6) opens West Coast Conference play against Portland (7-5) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Spanos Center.

At this infant stage in her collegiate career, confidence is important and with each match, Baptista appears to be gaining the confidence she needs to be an alpha player. Paramount to her continued development is the rapport she builds with sophomore setter Andie Shelton, who had a match-high 37 assists against the Cardinal.

“As a freshman, gaining Andie’s trust is really building my confidence because in the years to come, I want her to know that she can set me and I’m going to try my best to carry the team,” said Baptista, “and I’m always going to try my best to put the ball down.”

Baptista’s solid play, as well as that of freshmen middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming and outside hitter Skylar Wine, has brought comfort to Shelton.

“It’s extremely encouraging to have a freshman doing as well as Emily’s doing, and even like Skylar and Ashlyn,” said Shelton, a Stockton product out of Ripon Christian High. “They are doing so well and knowing they are going to get better and better, that’s just a really good feeling as a setter.”

Baptista said she has learned much from senior outside hitter Lexi Elman and the other upperclassmen on the team. At first, Baptista admitted she might have been a bit intimidated by Elman, a three-time All-WCC selection and only the seventh player in Pacific history with 1,000 or more kills and 1,000 or more digs in her career. But Baptista’s fears quickly were put to rest, and now she wants to build on Elman’s legacy.

“She’s really good and I really look up to her,” Baptista said. “I want to try and follow in her footsteps after she graduates. She’s really good and all of the upperclassmen are really good at helping the freshmen and giving us more confidence.”

The Tigers survived a rough nonconference schedule that included matches against three nationally ranked squads and seven matches against universities in BCS conferences. The WCC includes two ranked teams: No. 7 San Diego and No. 13 BYU. Santa Clara is just outside the top 25 in this week’s AVCA poll. Four of Pacific’s first five WCC matches are at home, where the Tigers are 4-2.

“We’re going to go in there pretty confident,” Shelton said. “We have some big teams behind us that we played. We’ve had some big wins and played a lot of ranked teams and I think that’s really good for our confidence going in and just knowing we can hang with the best of them.”

-- Contact sports editor Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8282 or bhighfill@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/sportsblog and on Twitter @bobhighfill.