HOUSTON — The Walla Walla University volleyball team split its first two matches Thursday in the NAIA’s Association of Independent Colleges tournament that is being played here this week at the University of St. Thomas.
Walla Walla University, which becomes the first Seventh-day Adventist college ever to participate in an NAIA postseason tournament, opened Thursday with a 25-12, 25-19, 13-25, 25-13 victory over Indiana University Northwest.
In a subsequent winners bracket match against the host school and No. 1 seed in the six-team tournament, the Wolves lost to St. Thomas 25-10, 25-15, 25-18.
"I think we got a little intimidated," WWU coach Don Hepker said of the loss to St. Thomas. "They are a bigger team than us, and their ball-handling skills were better.
"But I think we underachieved," Hepker added. "Hopefully, we will have another chance to play them."
Against Indiana University Northwest, Hepker said his team "played really, really well ... we played like a team."
The Wolves will need more of the same today as they begin what they hope will be a successful march through the losers’ bracket against Marygrove College of Detroit. Walla Walla will need to win its next five matches to claim the top trophy in the double-elimination tournament and a berth in the NAIA’s national championship tourney.
"Marygrove is a scrappy team," Hepker said. "They touch a lot of balls. Nothing will go straight to the (floor). We know we are going to have our hands full, but I think we have it on them."
If the Wolves survive their first loser-out match, they will take on either Southwestern University of Georgetown, Texas, or Indiana Northwest in a rematch. Southwestern and Indiana Northwest oppose each other in the other early loser-out game today.
If the Wolves can negotiate their way through the losers’ bracket, Hepker anticipates a second opportunity against the host team. St. Thomas was to meet Ohio Dominican University today in the final winners’ bracket game.
"I expect St. Thomas to be in the championship match," Hepker said. "They appear to be the class of the tournament."
In Thursday’s two matches combined, Natalie Wilkening recorded a team-high 17 kills along with 11 digs, four serving aces and three blocks in an all-around solid effort. Antoinette Bedros totaled 10 kills and six digs and Heather McFadden finished with eight kills and 11 digs.
Torrey Haddad led the team in both assists, 35, and digs, 13, while Quijuana Oucharek had a team-high six serving aces and added 10 digs to her stat line.