WALLA WALLA - After losing the first set by decisive margin and falling behind 10-2 in the second, prospects were looking anything but rosy for Whitman in Saturday's Northwest Conference volleyball battle with Pacific Lutheran in Sherwood Center.
But Whitman scratched its way back into the fray, winning 11 of the next 12 points to build a wave of enthusiasm that carried the young Missionaries to a four-set triumph over the Lutes (14-25, 25-23, 25-13, 25-12).
Whitman and its roster of first- and second-year players improved to 3-7 in the NWC and 6-13 on the season.
Pacific Lutheran, which beat Whitman in five games last month in Tacoma, lost for the third time in four matches, and is 7-3 in conference and 13-6 overall.
"It was key for us to regroup after a tough loss last night," said Whitman coach Carolyn Papineau. "I'm really proud of the tenacity this group showed in getting a big win tonight against a very good team.
"It took us awhile to find our rhythm, but we had a big comeback in game two that allowed us to play with some confidence and poise down the stretch. This team's strength lies in the collective whole and tonight we saw key contributions from a host of different players.
"Our passing game steadied out in game two and allowed us to run our offense - that was a big difference in the turnaround."
After the Lutes cruised to an easy first-set victory, they kept the ball rolling early in game two with five kills, three service aces and a block.
Trailing 10-2, Whitman countered with an 11-1 burst fueled by two kills apiece by sophomore Olivia Nielson and first-year teammate Jill Davis and service aces by sophomores Carrie Cecil and Courtney Brewer. First-year setter Rachel Cline added to the surge, teaming with Brewer and Nielson for two blocks at the net.
Once Whitman had vaulted itself in a 13-11 lead, the second set was a battle. The two teams deadlocked on points 15, 17, 18 and 19 before kills by Bethany Huston and Kelsie Moore helped Pacific Lutheran inch ahead 22-19.
But Whitman made a final push behind Cecil, who hammered three of her match-high 14 kills as the Missionaries moved to set point with a 24-22 lead. Erin Bremond's kill gave the Lutes the next point, but Cecil and Brewer teamed for a block on the next point to square the contest at one set each.
Pacific Lutheran scored the first point in game three, only to see Whitman knock off 10 straight points. Cecil added two more kills and two more blocks (with Brewer) to the scoring spree. The Lutes drew no closer than seven points before the Missionaries ran away with the set, getting their final three points on Cecil kills.
With the fourth set tied at 6-6, Whitman again pulled away, this time on a 7-1 jaunt started by a kill from Maddy Bell, another of its first-year players, and capped by Nielson's service ace and a Pacific Lutheran attack error.
Up 16-11, Whitman tallied the next five points to put the set out of reach. Brewer started the clinching process with a block and a kill.
Brewer also added the finishing touches, serving three aces to close out the match, giving her five aces for the night.
The Missionaries wrapped up the win with an overall hitting percentage of .211, starting at just .121 in the first set and rising to .381 for the fourth.
Cecil led the Whitman offense with a .303 hitting percentage in slamming her 14 kills. Davis added 10 kills and eight digs while Brewer finished with seven kills and six blocks.
"Carrie Cecil played one of her strongest all-around games tonight, and that really helped her team earn this win," Papineau said.
Nielson combined six kills (.333) with five blocks. Cline handed out 34 assists to go with eight digs and three blocks.
Becca Gotz, a first-year libero, sparked Whitman in the back row with 18 digs.
Whitman lost to Puget Sound, 23-25, 31-29, 25-19, 25-10, Friday.
Puget Sound retained a share of first place in the Northwest Conference, improving to 8-1 in league and 12-4 overall.