Volleyball Set To Open NWC Play In Tacoma

The Whitworth volleyball team looks to defend their 2011 Northwest Conference title and go for the three-peat as it opens league play with a pair of games against ranked opponents in Tacoma, Wash. this weekend. The Pirates won NWC titles in 2010 and 2011 and finished last season with a conference record of 14-2.

Whitworth (4-3) was voted to finish second in the NWC, coming in behind their first opponent of the weekend, Pacific Lutheran.  The Pirates edged out their second opponent of the weekend, Puget Sound, for second place. The Loggers were voted to finish third in the conference.

Whitworth will face No. 20 Pacific Lutheran on Friday and No. 11 Puget Sound on Saturday.

The Pirates: Whitworth went 3-1 in the Whit Classic over the weekend and emerged with the tournament title.

Whitworth defeated Walla Walla 25-8, 25-11, 25-3 on Thursday night. The Pirates lost their Friday night match against Luther College 23-25, 25-9, 25-22, 22-25, 13-15. Saturday, Whitworth defeated Whittier 25-23, 25-18, 29-27 in the first game and NWC rival Whitman 25-20, 18-25, 26-24, 25-21 in the afternoon.  

The Pirates were one of three teams to go 3-1 in the Whit Classic and won the tie-breaker to take the title. Junior Jalana White and freshman Nicole Leonard were named to the all-tournament team and Leonard was named the tournament MVP.

Following their performance over the weekend, the Bucs are receiving votes in the latest AVCA Division III Coaches Top 25 poll.

The Opponents:  No. 20 Pacific Lutheran holds a 6-2 record heading into Friday's game. The Lutes finished 3-1 at the Colorado College Classic last weekend.  Pacific Lutheran returns 2011 First Team All-NWC selection, sophomore Samanthan North, as well as senior Blair Bjorkman and junior Bethany Huston, who both received honorable mention recognition. Whitworth split with Pacific Lutheran last season, winning 3-1 at home and falling 3-0 on the road.

No. 11 Puget Sound heads into Saturday's game with a 5-2 record. The Loggers finished 1-2 at the Juniata College Asics Invitational last weekend.  Puget Sound returns Second Team All-NWC selection junior Jackie Harvey. Last season, the Pirates swept the Loggers, winning both home and away by 3-0 scores.

NWC Leaders: All three of the teams have multiple players that rank among the individual leaders in the conference.

Two Pirates are among the top five leaders in the conference in the kills per set category. Nicole Leonard is averaging 3.31 kills per set while Jalana White is averaging 3.00 kills per set for Whitworth.

Pacific Lutheran's Bethany Huston ranks among the top five in the conference in hitting percentage (.286) and blocks per set (1.47). Sophomore Amy Wooten is also in the top five for hitting percentage with a .263 while Blair Bjorkman represents the Lutes in the service aces per set with .43.

Puget Sound's Jackie Harvey comes in just ahead of Leonard in the kills per set category, averaging 3.62 to lead the conference.  Junior Jordan Bird also represents the Loggers in the top five hitting percentage category with a .276.

The Coach: Steve Rupe has a record of 207-140 during his 14 year tenure as the Pirates volleyball head coach. He has been named NWC Coach of the Year four times (2001, 2002, 2010 and 2011) and AVCA Coach of the Year once (2005). Rupe is the winningest coach in school history as well as the longest serving Pirate volleyball coach. During his tenure, Whitworth has won five NWC titles and has advanced to the NCAA Division III finals twice (2002, 2005).

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