Whits give nationally ranked UPS fight before falling

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WALLA WALLA — Coach Matt Helm saw flashes of strong play in the second set Friday night at Sherwood Center that he hopes to see on a more consistent basis from his Whitman College women’s volleyball team going forward.

The Missionaries, after dropping the first set to nationally No. 13-ranked University of Puget Sound 25-22, regrouped in the second set of the Northwest Conference battle and rolled the Loggers 25-21.

But the Whits couldn’t sustain the momentum as UPS rebounded to win the next two sets — 25-18, 25-22 — and the match between the NCAA Division III foes.

“I actually thought we competed really well,” said Helm, who is in his first year in charge of the Whitman volleyball program. “I thought we showed the type of toughness that we haven’t seen in a while. It’s something we’ve been working on in practice, competing for every point with a lot of great effort, which was great.”

The service game was where Helm though his team missed an opportunity for a better outcome.

“We made a few too many errors in service and service receive, and that could have been the difference,” the coach said. “We had nine service errors and 11 service receive errors. That’s 20 points, and you can’t give a good team like UPS 20 points and expect to win.”

UPS also held an 11-5 advantage in service aces as the Loggers improved to 13-4 overall and 7-2 in conference, where they trail only No. 14 Pacific Lutheran University in the NWC standings. The Lutes defeated Whitworth 17-25, 25-15, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11 Friday night in Spokane to remain unbeaten in league at 9-0 and improve to 15-2 overall.

Pacific Lutheran invades Sherwood Center Saturday while the Loggers travel north to take on Whitworth.

In Friday’s other conference counters, Pacific stopped George Fox 25-22, 15-25, 25-22, 25-15 and Willamette outlasted Linfield 25-8, 18-25, 25-20, 24-26, 15-11. Willamette plays at Pacific Saturday and Linfield travels to Lewis & Clark College.

Friday’s defeat dropped Whitman’s record to 3-6 in conference play, good for a share of fifth place with Willamette, and to 5-11 on the year.

Junior Jillian Davis (El Paso, Texas) led the Missionaries in kills Friday night with 17, and she also contributed eight digs and one service ace. Senior Courtney Brewer (Anchorage, Alaska) was also strong at the net for Whitman with 14 kills and four blocks.

Junior setter Rachel Cline (Seattle) came up with 33 assists and added four kills, one ace and one block. Freshman Hannah Linsenmayer (Mill Creek, Wash.) led the way with 23 digs to go along with one assist and one ace. Senior Olivia Nielson (Anchorage, Alaska) was the team’s blocks leader with six, and she also contributed three digs, two kills and an ace.

Jackie Harvey’s 13 kills led a trio of Loggers in that category. Jenni Brehove had 39 assists and three service aces, both team highs, Christina Chun led four double-digit digs contributors with 18 and Emily Convery had four of her team’s 10 blocks.

Helm had special praise for Linsenmayer, his libero, and for sophomore opposite Megan Bafus (Kenmore, Wash.). Bafus had seven kills, five blocks and three digs on her stat line.

“Hannah played some great defense for us,” Helm said. “And Megan, coming in on the right side, played well, swung the ball well and was very much in control.”

Helm said his team continues to make improvements as the season progresses.

“We are changing the culture and the girls are buying into the philosophy,” he said. “And I am pleased with that. We have competed in every match, and when we look at the scores and reflect on the close matches we have lost, I am pleased with how the girls have responded in practices.

“We are disappointed in not taking those wins, but the team is responding to the idea of competing every day.”

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