by Leah Dassler
After winning the conference title alongside Pacific Lutheran University, Whitworth’s volleyball team traveled to Thousand Oaks, California, to compete in this year’s NCAA Division III Tournament. Whitworth, matched up in the first round against third-ranked California Lutheran University, lost in a 3-0 sweep on Friday night. The Pirates finished the season with a 21-6 overall record.
Freshman Cassandra Mendoza led the team with 13 kills while junior Nicole Leonard made 15 digs. Northwest Conference Player of the Year Maddye Dinsmore added 28 assists and 11 digs for the Pirates. Whitworth’s .097 hitting percentage, however, could not overcome CLU’s aggressive team attacks and .231 hitting average.
“[CLU] is an offensively powerful team. They have more than one offensive weapon. They also did a great job of passing well and playing great defense,” Head Coach Kati Bodecker said.
In the first set, CLU’s hitters put down three subsequent kills to gain the advantage before Whitworth tied the game at 12-12 with a kill from Mendoza. The Regals picked up their offensive tempo and pushed kills past Whitworth’s blockers to pull ahead on an 8-3 run. CLU let two hits from sophomore Haley Vick and Mendoza get past its defense before blocking an attack from Vick, finishing the set.
“The team focused on playing our game and playing with all our heart. We knew this [would be] a challenging game,” Leonard said. “We figured that we had nothing to lose. We had no pressure, so we decided to play free, pressure-less, and together as a team.”
The Pirates exchanged kills with the Regals until Leonard tied up the second set at 9-9 with a service ace. The Regals then took the lead with nine kills. After a timeout, Whitworth rallied to break the Regals’ streak with a kill from junior Shawna Korshavn. Vick made two more kills, but two Pirate service errors gave the Regals another win.
“[CLU] is very strong offensively. They hit the ball straight down and over our blocks. Our team ‘s focus was on defense. We really focused on digging the ball well and putting up solid blocks,” Korshavn said. “But then we also focused on our serve-receives. We wanted to make sure our first contact was always solid so we could get a good set and a good hit.”
During the third set, both teams improved their hitting percentage but Whitworth’s .130 hitting average could not surmount CLU’s .311 average. The Regals quickly gained a four-point lead and did not let up offensively for the rest of the match. Leonard and Mendoza broke the Regals’ streak with two kills each but Mendoza’s final kill was blocked. Although Whitworth had one more team attack than CLU in the final game, the Regals shut out the Pirates, 25-17.
“We are so proud of ourselves this season because we lost a lot of [seniors] last year…We had a young team,” Korshavn said. “My junior class had to step up as leaders. We really thought this would be a growing year—a learning year—with a whole new team and we ended up winning conference.”
With this loss, the Pirates season comes to a close after winning conference alongside the nationally-ranked PLU team. Bodecker completed her second season as head coach of the team and will now face an offseason with a team that is returning all of its players. As a result, the team will have five seniors, including Dinsmore.