Missionaries can't hold serve in loss to Whitworth

Whitman wins the opening set, but the Pirates then take the next three Wednesday in Spokane.

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SPOKANE - Once the smoke cleared Wednesday night in Spokane, a victory in the opening skirmish wasn't enough to keep Whitman College from losing a 3-1 Northwest Conference volleyball war to the Whitworth Pirates.

For the third time this season, Whitman was unable to ride first-set momentum to a match victory over an NWC opponent.

Whitworth, ranked No. 21 this week in a national coaches poll, rallied to dispatch the Missionaries 19-25, 25-14, 25-17, 25-15.

The Pirates remain undefeated in the NWC at 7-0 (12-4 overall) while injury-plagued Whitman skidded to 0-7 in conference and 1-12 on the season.

Three kills by a pair of juniors - Anna Conrad slammed two while Olivia Nielson added a third - helped Whitman bolt to a quick 5-1 lead in the first set.

After kills by Jillian Davis and first-year teammate Megan Bafus made it 12-7 Whitman, the Pirates crawled back into the set, slicing their deficit to 14-12. But kills by Bafus and Conrad followed by a service ace from Rachel Shober put the Missionaries in charge at 18-12.

Ahead 22-19, Whitman finished off the game when Davis and Nielson smacked back-to-back kills and then combined for a block at the net.

The Missionaries hit a robust .359 in the first set with six players contributing to a total of 16 kills. Conrad and Bafus led the way with four kills apiece while Nielson added three.

Taylor Aschenbrenner handed out 13 assists in that first set while knocking down one kill of her own.

The Pirates regained command to start the second set, racing away to an 8-1 lead. Kills by Courtney Brewer and Conrad twice closed Whitman's gap to four points at 8-4 and 9-5, but Whitworth soon pulled away for an easy win.

Kills by Shober and Davis made for 7-7 and 9-9 deadlocks early in the third set, and two Pirate attack errors gave the Missionaries a 10-9 lead. Whitworth responded with a 10-3 run and won the game with an eight-point spread.

Whitman stayed close to start the fourth. Nielson teamed with Davis and Conrad for three blocks, Conrad added two kills, and the Missionaries were within two points at 11-9. That's when the Pirates settled matters by scoring eight of the next nine points. Whitman drew no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

Conrad, with eight kills, and Davis with seven paced the Whitman offense. Brewer and Bafus added five apiece.

Aschenbrenner finished with 26 assists and a team-high 15 digs. Shober found 10 digs while first-year libero Annie Sing had nine and defensive specialist Becca Gotz added eight.

Nielson had five of Whitman's 14 block assists.

Kaimi Rocha (15 kills, 10 digs) and Amanda Grumbach (14 kills, 11 digs) gave Whitworth a potent one-two punch. Two more seniors, Kai'po Rocha (9 kills) and Bree Riddle (43 assists), also played key roles for the Pirates.

Whitman returns to the road this weekend for a Saturday match against Lewis & Clark in Portland. That match starts at 5 p.m.

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