by Leah Dassler
After a quick shutout on Friday night and a close win on Saturday, the volleyball team has their first chance at a conference title since the 2011-2012 season. The team is now tied with Pacific Lutheran University for first place in the conference. Pressure mounted in this important weekend for the team as they took on rivals for the title—PLU and University of Puget Sound.
Whitworth took a lead over PLU in the first set and never let up. Solid blocks from sophomore Brenna Bruil, sophomore Haley Vick, and junior Nicole Leonard challenged PLU’s outside hitters, who hit a .000 hitting average. Vick and Leonard also made several early kills, leading to an initial six-point gap which PLU could not close. Leonard made two service aces halfway through the match which only added to the high level of energy circulating in Pirate territory. As the match point approached, PLU climbed back with a four-point streak, tipping the ball into the Pirate’s open center and capitalizing off of Pirate errors. Leonard finally finished off the set for the Pirates with a kill.
“All this week at practice we focused on blocking and it carried over hugely in the game tonight,” Bruil said.
Freshman Cassandra Mendoza started the second set off with two kills, and the Pirates quickly accumulated a three-point lead. PLU tied up the game at 10-10 after they targeted the Whitworth defense’s weak point with more tipping, while improving their blocking to counter Whitworth’s strong left-side hitting. Following a timeout, Whitworth regained the advantage in the match by concentrating a series of kills to the Lute’s left back. Bruil put down two subsequent kills after long rallies, giving the Pirates another win.
“We came back [after the tie] with the mentality that we really have nothing to lose. Ever since I’ve played here we’ve never beaten PLU, so we just went after it with that ‘nothing-to-lose mentality,’” junior Elizabeth Ginley said.
During the final match, PLU drove Whitworth to many long rallies in which their hitters aimed successfully at Whitworth’s open left front side. Whitworth struggled to keep up on the scoreboard as both teams exchanged digs and kills. PLU again relied heavily on tipping to earn points, but Whitworth finally pulled ahead after service aces from both Bruil and Ginley. Vick topped off the scoreboard with her 10th kill of the night and hit the highest individual hitting percent for the team—.412. Ginley led the Pirates in number of digs, making 18 overall.
“PLU really played to our past weakness of the shorter tip balls in the shallow part of the court,” Ginley said. “I think what we did better against them this game versus the last time we played them is we really [read] the hitters, and we were able to anticipate the shorter balls.”
On Saturday night, Whitworth went toe to toe with UPS. Coming into the game, both teams came into the match tied for second place in the conference alongside Pacific Lutheran. The Pirates suffered a loss in the first game due to repeated blocking errors. UPS’ solid hitting sent Pirate defense scrambling and the women couldn’t make many successful plays. UPS narrowly won 25-23.
“[After the first set] we were focusing on our errors and the point behind us. We had the conversation of looking forward and focusing on that next point because we play well when we’re enthusiastic, and I thought we did that,” Head Coach Kati Bodecker said.
UPS continued making kills on the Pirates’ open right back and center. Korshavn and freshman Karina Lees made much-needed offensive plays, tying up the game at 23 points. Lees made the most of her time off the bench, leading her team with 15 kills. Korshavn, Lees and Bruil made the final three kills which led to the Pirate’s close win at 26-24.
The Pirates managed to take an early five-point lead with stronger hitting after halftime. Outside hitters Korshavn and Leonard swung harder to get the ball past UPS’s wall of blockers and successfully targeted open spots in UPS’ right side. Junior setter Maddye Dinsmore dropped a strategic tip into UPS’ left side to maintain the Pirates’ three-point advantage and Leonard finished with a low kill.
In the final match, UPS fought back, putting up their best blockers to counter Vick’s, Lee’s and Leonard’s powerful attacks. Neither team could gain advantage until UPS hit three subsequent attack errors. Korshavn and Bruil blocked out UPS’ final attack to tie up the game at 23 points. Dinsmore then made her third service ace of the night to give the Pirates the advantage. A final attack error by UPS’ attackers gave the Pirates their third narrow win.
The Pirates play Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington on Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m.