PORTLAND — Coach Matt Helm and his Whitman College women’s volleyball players are looking for a little home cooking.
The Missionaries returned to Walla Walla from Portland late Saturday night, smarting from a bitter 3-2 Northwest Conference defeat at the hands of Lewis & Clark College in a match that Whitman dominated for two sets. The Whits won 25-19 and 25-12, only to see the Pioneers respond 25-21, 25-17, 15-13.
“We knew they were capable of that,” Helm said of the Pioneers. “We saw their score from Friday night (a 25-16, 25-21, 25-18 victory over Whitworth) and how well they played.
“After the second set we told our ladies that we needed to expect (Lewis & Clark) to come out with fire and with the intent to take us to five. We needed to hold our composure, stay confident and keep playing the way we had been playing.
“I really don’t know what happened, but I think we played a little bit not to lose rather than finishing the match. We need to learn to finish our matches, and that’s something we are going to work on and dedicate our practices to doing.”
The good news is that the Missionaries, after playing all but one of their first 13 matches on the road, are finally home for a spell. Whitman will play its next five matches, all of them conference counters, at Sherwood Center, beginning Friday when Linfield comes to town.
Pacific University will follow the Wildcats into Sherwood Center Saturday night. Whitman will then be home to the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University Oct. 12-13 before closing out the home stand Oct. 17 against Whitworth.
“We have been on the road so much,” Helm said. “We have been without our home crowd, and the home court is such a huge advantage. We are counting on our student body and our fans to come out and support us.
“It was evident Saturday night when Lewis & Clark got a little momentum going,” Helm added. “The crowd got into it, and it was like having a seventh or eighth player involved.”
In Whitman’s only home match so far this season, the Missionaries swept Willamette 27-25, 25-20, 25-18.
“Being home is really big for us, and we hope to draw some big numbers who will come out and support the team,” Helm said.
Saturday’s loss was Whitman’s second in as many days — the Missionaries were defeated at George Fox 24-26, 25-23, 25-13, 24-26, 15-13 — and the double dip dropped the Whits to 2-4 in league play. Whitman is tied with Lewis & Clark and Linfield for fifth place in the nine-school NWC.
Jillian Davis had a match-high 18 kills for Whitman and teammate Jazmine Moledina picked up 12. Rachel Cline and Taylor Aschenbrenner shared the duty of dishing out to their hitters, with Cline earning 25 assists and Aschenbrenner 20.
Hannah Linsenmayer led the team with 22 digs and four serving aces.
Olivia Nielson and Courtney Brewer had five block assists each, and Davis contributed four. Nielson also finished her night with 10 kills.
“I thought Olivia played pretty well,” Helm said of Nielson. “She played a pretty solid match overall.”
Four Pioneers finished with double digit kills. Kateleya Milan led the way with 15, Jennifer Dowdy was close behind with 14, Alicia Callejo-Black finished with 12 and Brigitte Russo knocked down 10.
Leia Matsunaga had another great night dishing out the ball, picking up 44 assists.
At 4-9 overall, Whitman is still in search of victory No. 5 that will assure the Missionaries of eclipsing last year’s four-win season.
“Getting that fifth victory is very important for us,” Helm said. “We will work hard in practice this week and hopefully put together a good solid match Friday night against Linfield.”