SPOKANE, Wash. – It's time for the Whitworth University volleyball team to begin defense of its Northwest Conference title and the Pirates will open that defense with what has been the toughest trip on the schedule over the last several years. Whitworth will travel to Tacoma to play at Pacific Lutheran University on Friday (7:00 pm) and then at the University of Puget Sound on Saturday (5:00 pm).
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this weekend's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth went 1-3 last weekend at the Cal-Lu-Fornia Invitational in Thousand Oaks, California to go to 3-5 this season. The Pirates split on Friday, but lost twice on Saturday.
The Bucs opened the tournament with their only win of the weekend. Whitworth swept Pomona-Pitzer 25-21, 25-22, 25-20. Madison Douglas had a big match in the middle with 12 kills and a .500 hitting percentage. Cassandra Mendoza added nine kills and 10 digs, while Gracie Meiners dished 32 assists. Whitworth led virtually the entire match.
Whitworth rebounded from a poor first set to battle host Cal Lutheran University in Friday's second match. The Bucs eventually fell 25-12, 25-21, 17-25, 25-22. Mendoza led the way with 15 kills and Emiko Kahler added 11 kills and 12 digs. Taylor Wicht had 24 digs to lead the Pirates defensively.
Whitworth dropped a five-set decision to Whittier College in the first match on Saturday, 25-19, 16-25, 15-25, 25-15, 15-7. Other than the opening set, each team won two sets in easy fashion. Mendoza poured in a match-high 21 kills to go along with 12 digs. Kahler added 12 kills and Jessica Schmautz posted 11 kills and 14 digs in her first career start with the Pirates.
Just like the previous week in Oregon, the Bucs appeared to run out of gas in their fourth match of the tournament. And just like the previous week, Whitworth's fourth opponent was its toughest of the weekend. Ninth-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps swept the Pirates 25-15, 25-15, 25-13. Douglas led the Bucs with seven kills and was the only Whitworth player with a positive hitting percentage (.267).
Chasing History: Whitworth is aiming for a fourth straight NWC title in volleyball, something the Pirates have never done in the sport. Whitworth's current streak of three in a row is the longest in school history and the Pirates have been picked first in the NWC's preseason coaches poll. Lewis & Clark holds the longest volleyball championship streak in league history. The Pioneers won or shared six straight crowns from 1984 – 1989. Pacific Lutheran (2006-09) is the last NWC school to win four volleyball championships in a row.
Impressive Debuts: Madison Douglas and Gracie Meiners are Whitworth's two true new starters this season and both played very well in the season-opening weekend in Oregon. Douglas had the second-highest kill total for the Pirates over the weekend with 36 and she led the squad in hitting percentage (.281). Meiners finished with 156 assists, an average of 10.4 assists per set. She added 30 digs.
Mendoza Line: Cassandra is clearly Whitworth's top offensive options this season. Mendoza leads the team with an average of 3.21 kills per set, which ranks third in the NWC.
She has been a Second Team All-NWC selection twice - in 2015 and 2016. The senior led the team, and ranked third in the NWC, last season in kills per set (3.14).
Wicht on Fire: Taylor Wicht established herself as Whitworth's starting libero in 2016 and she continues to excel this year. Wicht ranks fifth in the NWC in assists per set (4.57).
Last year she led the team, and ranked seventh in the NWC, in digs per set (4.42), despite the fact that she got fewer opportunities than other liberos in the NWC. She also had 35 service aces last year, by far the most among NWC liberos.
Nothing "Meek" About Her: Emiko Kahler made her first year at Whitworth one to remember, earning NWC Freshman of the Year recognition. She averaged 3.00 kills and 3.09 digs per set to rank second among Pirate players in both categories. She was named NWC Offensive Player of the Week three times.
The Coach: Kati Bodecker, 76-33 heading into her fifth year, is a three-time Northwest Conference Coach of the Year after leading Whitworth to three straight NWC titles from 2014 through 2016. Bodecker has also guided the Pirates to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. In 2013 she coached the Bucs to a 15-13 record, becoming the first Whitworth volleyball coach to post a winning record in her first season since Margaret Campbell in 1990. She previously had been the head coach at Priest River High School, leading the Spartans to five state tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2012. She was a four-year starter at the University of Idaho, helping lead the Vandals to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as a sophomore and junior.
The Opponents: Pacific Lutheran University is 6-2 so far this season. The Lutes, who were picked second in the NWC preseason coaches poll, are playing terrific volleyball. PLU lost to CMS (3-2) and Whittier (3-0) on Friday, but rebounded to knock off CLU (3-0) and Pomona-Pitzer (3-0) on Saturday. The Lutes lead the NWC in team blocks per set (2.66) and second in kills per set (12.71). Junior OH Chloe Epker ranks among NWC leaders in kills per set (3.25), while senior setter Kiana Calles averages 10.29 assists per set (2nd in NWC). Whitworth swept PLU in a pair of hard-fought matches last season, winning in five sets at home and in four sets on the road. The Pirates have won the last five meetings between the teams.
The University of Puget Sound is 3-4 heading into the weekend after going 1-2 at Southwestern University's (Texas) tournament over the weekend. The Loggers defeated East Texas Baptist in five sets, but were swept by nationally-ranked Christopher Newport and Southwestern. Puget Sound is third in the NWC in digs per set (16.56). Senior MB Hannah Stinson is the reigning NWC Player of the Year. Senior libero Rachael Garrison is averaging 4.68 digs per set and 0.32 service aces per set. Last season the Loggers handed Whitworth its only NWC loss of the season by a 3-2 score in Spokane. The Pirates responded to win 3-1 in Spokane late in the season.
Coming Up: Whitworth will finally get a chance to play at home when the Pirates host Whitman College next Wednesday at 6:00 pm. Willamette University will visit the Fieldhouse on Friday at 7:00 pm.