This weekend, Whitworth Volleyball broke their seven-game winning streak in their first two Northwest Conference games of the season, bringing their overall record to 7-4. They narrowly lost to Pacific Lutheran University in a fifth set Friday night and pushed Puget Sound University to a fourth set on Saturday.
The Pirates started off strong in the first set, leading until the 18th point when PLU pulled ahead 19-18.
Whitworth kept up with the Lutes until the 20th point in which PLU put down four subsequent kills. Freshman Cassy Mendoza earned one more point for the Pirates with a kill from the outside left side. The Lutes, however, finished off the first set with another kill.
PLU gained a four-point lead right from the start of the second set due to three attack errors by Whitworth and a kill by PLU. Whitworth trailed behind PLU, but narrowed a six-point gap to 11-9 with a series of successful outside attacks from sophomore Haley Vick. The rebound did not last long though, as PLU quickly racked up 12 more points from eight kills as well as Pirate service and blocking errors.
“We didn’t get the same touches as we were able to get early on in the season. Our defense was running around and not playing in control,” Head Coach Kati Bodecker said. “We need to break it down, get in more reps at practice, and bring it back to the basics which made us successful [defensively] in the first place.”
The third set was the turning point for Whitworth. Their hitting percentage improved from 0.06 in the second set to 0.25 in the third set. Two kills each from Vick and junior Nicole Leonard contributed to a 7-1 run in which the Bucs took the lead. Adding to their comeback, junior Maddye Dinsmore assisted Leonard in making six of her 15 kills of the night.
“We were down 2-0 and we had to come back. I’d say that third match was a really high point for our team to come together and get that win,” Dinsmore said. “We are fighters and we’re not going down without a fight.”
Taking advantage of Buc attack errors, the Lutes closed in 17-21 but the Bucs won with a final kill from Mendoza.
“We needed to change our serving. We weren’t serving tough enough. We also changed our passing, mentality, and attitude to become one unit,” Dinsmore said.
Picking up momentum, the Bucs held off PLU during the fourth set. Focusing on defensive strategies again to counter the Lutes’ 22 attacks, the Bucs took a 14-9 lead only to let the Lutes come close at 15-16. Sophomore Brenna Bruil’s ninth kill of the night tied the match 2-2, setting the teams up for a close tiebreaker.
“We came out in the third, fourth and fifth game ready to compete. Now we know we can compete with one of the best teams in the league,” Bruil said.
Whitworth initially took a two-point lead but attack and service errors allowed the Lutes to gain a three-point lead, bringing the score to 10-7. Responding to PLU’s aggressive approach, the Pirates dug in defensively, running several long rallies with Dinsmore’s 30th dig of the night. Both teams made 12 attacks each, but PLU came out stronger with one more successful kill than the Bucs. The Pirates consistently fought but could not overcome PLU’s seven-point run after the changeover, losing 12-15.
“I’d say our main strength was our defense and determination. In the first two games we struggled to come together as a team. We want to be a unified team and a good defensive team, really focusing on working hard with every ball and playing together,” Dinsmore said.
On Saturday night, the Bucs lost again, this time to Puget Sound. Although these games were closer than games the night before, the Pirates’ 59 kills couldn’t overcome UPS’s .244 hitting percentage. In the first set, UPS took advantage of several Pirate attack errors, moving ahead in a nine-point run and eventually winning 25-17. The Pirates came back in the second set with their best set hitting average of the night- .227.
Although Dinsmore made a service ace in the first minutes of play, the third set went to the Loggers 25-19 after a series of successful attacks. The Loggers finished the fourth set 25-23, shutting out any possibility of a Pirate comeback. Bruil made six of her 17 kills in this set, Mendoza put down 15 kills for the night and Leonard finished with 10 kills.
“We believe that playing together as a team is the best way to play and our success will come from doing the little things,” Bruil said.
The Pirates play Whitman at home tonight, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m.
“We’ve faced Whitman already in a tournament and they’re a great match-up…Our expectations for this Wednesday, if we can put together two solid practices Monday and Tuesday, are to play well and win,” Bodecker said.