SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University volleyball team begins the second half of its Northwest Conference schedule the same way it began the first half, with matches against their NWC rivals from Tacoma. The Pirates play Pacific Lutheran on Friday (7:00 pm) and Puget Sound on Saturday (5:00 pm). Whitworth and PLU head into the weekend tied atop the league standings.
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this week's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth finished the first half of its NWC schedule 10-6 overall and 7-1 in the conference. The Bucs have won seven matches in a row, six of them by 3-0 scores, since a 3-0 loss at PLU on September 15th.
Whitworth defeated Pacific (Ore.) 25-17, 25-15, 17-25, 25-19 on Friday night, handing the Boxers their second conference loss and knocking them out of a tie for first place in the league. Emiko Kahler had 17 kills and hit .325 to lead the Pirates offensively. It was also a big night for Whitworth's middle blockers as Corinne Bell and Madison Douglas combined for 17 kills and seven blocks. Gracie Meiners had 42 assists, while Taylor Wicht finished with 22 digs.
The Pirates defeated Linfield 25-16, 25-20, 25-18 on Saturday, dealing the Wildcats their first three-set loss of the season. Whitworth was unstoppable offensively, hitting .402 as a team, including .571 in the third set. Lauren Budde had 13 kills, hit .619 and was part of three block assists to lead the assault. Meiners averaged almost 14 assists per set, finishing with 41 assists out of 47 Whitworth kills. Kahler and Cassandra Mendoza had nine kills apiece.
Douglas Recognized: Madison Douglas is the Northwest Conference Volleyball Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week for her performance in two Pirate victories last weekend. She averaged 1.14 blocks per set as the Pirates topped Pacific 3-1 and Linfield 3-0. Douglas added 14 kills to her stat-line on the weekend. It is the first time in her career that she has won the award, but she is the third Whitworth player recognized this season. Taylor Wicht was the defensive winner on September 25th and Emiko Kahler was the offensive honoree on October 2nd.
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 were picked first in the NWC's 2017 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.
Mendoza Line: Cassandra Mendoza is clearly Whitworth's top offensive option this season. Mendoza leads the team with an average of 3.40 kills per set, which ranks second in the NWC. She is also second in the league in total kills with 180.
Mendoza 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 fourth in the NWC in assists per set (5.07) and fourth in total digs (279).
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. This season she is averaging 2.90 kills per set overall, but 3.90 kills per set in NWC-only stats, which leads the league. She earned her first NWC Offensive Player of the Week award of the year on Oct. 2 after wins at Lewis & Clark and George Fox.
Mining for Kills: Gracie Meiners has settled nicely into the role of starting setter. She ranks second in the NWC in assists per set (10.66). But in statistics from conference-only matches, she averages 12.08 assists per set, which leads the league by a wide margin.
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 is just as hot as Whitworth heading into Friday's match. The Lutes are 13-3 overall and 7-1 in the NWC and have won six in a row. PLU swept Puget Sound 3-0 last Wednesday on the road before blanking George Fox 3-0 on Friday at home. The Lutes are great defensively – they lead the league in team blocks per set (2.71) and are second in the NWC in team digs per set (18.25). Junior OH Chloe Epker averages 3.16 kills per set and hits .204. Middle blockers Mackenzie Harris (Jr.) and Danielle Skibiel (So.) are combining for 2.45 blocks per set. Junior Caylie Shiramizu, the 2016 NWC Libero of the Year, is averaging 5.45 digs per set. PLU won the first match up of the season with the Pirates 25-22, 25-23, 25-20 on September 15th in Parkland, Washington. Emiko Kahler had 12 kills and Cassandra Mendoza had 11 kills for Whitworth. But Epker finished with 14 kills for PLU.
Puget Sound is 7-8 overall and 4-4 in the NWC heading into a match Friday night at Whitman. The Loggers followed up last Wednesday's loss to PLU with a 3-0 win over Lewis & Clark on Saturday. In NWC-only statistics, Puget Sound leads the league in team service aces per set (1.80). Senior OH Rita Dexter leads her squad in kills per set (2.67). Senior middle blocker Hannah Stinson, the 2016 NWC Player of the Year, is averaging 2.38 kills and 0.75 blocks per set. Whitworth defeated Puget Sound 25-21, 25-15, 25-20 in Tacoma on September 16th. Cassandra Mendoza led the Bucs with 14 kills and Madison Douglas was in on five blocks.
Coming Up: Whitworth will hit the road for matches at Whitman (Wednesday) and Willamette (Saturday) next week.