by Corina Gebbers
Last weekend was key for Whitworth’s volleyball team as they hosted Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University, two top-ranked teams in the Northwest Conference.
“Puget Sound and PLU have been top of the conference every year,” said senior middle blocker Ka’ipo Rocha. “We really want to beat them because we want to have a good grasp on first place.”
On Friday, the Pirates shut out Puget Sound 25-19, 25-17, 25-19.
“We had a good vibe from everyone,” Rocha said. “We didn’t feel too nervous.”
The Pirates took control from the start, setting each other up well and playing with confidence. Kills by sophomore Kristine Kardell and the Rocha sisters, plus a smart play by senior Bree Riddle boosted Whitworth through the first set.
Whitworth came out of the huddle on fire for set two. The Pirates took a quick lead and smoked the Loggers with consistent hitting and impenetrable defense. Kardell, Kaimi Rocha and senior Amanda Grumbach each contributed three kills in the second set to lead the team to an eight-point win.
The Loggers forced Whitworth to execute in the third set, taking advantage of every error and inconsistency. It was anybody’s set until a kill by senior Jordon Hoffnagle put the Pirates up 19-15. Whitworth was in control again from there, and ended the set on a kill by sophomore Jalana White.
“[The Pirates] came out really strong and stayed that way from the first point to the last point,” said Whitworth’s assistant coach Darcy McMurray. “Jalana and Kristine both had great matches and other girls stepped up and played really, really well.”
Hoffnagle led with 14 digs, while Kaimi Rocha had 10 kills. White, Kardell and Ka’ipo Rocha each finished with eight kills apiece.
On Friday Whitworth beat Pacific Lutheran University 23-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-20 and clinched the first place position in conference.
“We dominated, basically,” Hoffnagle said.
But the opening set was a test for the Pirates. After a slow start, Whitworth struggled to gain momentum. Head coach Steve Rupe called a timeout mid-set and the Pirates experienced a surge of energy, tying the score 15-15 and taking the lead at 20-19. But the Lutes fired back and won the set.
“This was just a huge match for us,” junior libero Whitney Santos said. Whenever you have a little nerves you get a little shaky sometimes.”
The Pirates pulled it together in the second set after two kills by Grumbach. Whitworth found their confidence, scoring four straight points and forcing the Lutes into a timeout. Whitworth set the pace from there. Kills by White, Grumbach and Kardell penetrated the tough Lute defense, and the Pirates won the set after a service error by Pacific Lutheran.
“We’re the kind of team that when we’re down we have a spirit and an energy that picks us up and we dominate,” Santos said.
Whitworth came out of the locker room ready to battle. The Lutes had a four-point lead mid-set, but the Pirates rallied back on kills by White, Grumbach and Kaimi Rocha. After a quick PLU timeout, the Pirates closed the set on kills by White and Ka’ipo Rocha.
Whitworth lead most of the fourth, but mid-set the Lutes scored six points to the Pirates’ one and evened out the score. With tough play on both sides, the set stayed close until the final point, but kills by Kaimi Rocha and digs by Grumbach shut down Pacific Lutheran.
“I think our defense played really amazing,” Santos said. “We had four players with double digit digs.”
Grumbach finished the night with 17 kills and 20 digs, Kaimi Rocha had 22 kills and 19 digs, Ka’ipo Rocha had 11 kills and Riddle dished out 56 assists.
“Last year we really had to fight [for conference],” Hoffnagle said. “This year we completely have control.”
The Pirates will host Whitman at 5 p.m. on Oct. 5, then the team will travel to Lewis & Clark on Oct. 7.