SALEM, Ore. — Whitman College’s volleyball fortunes took another upward tick here Friday night as the Missionaries swept away Willamette University 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 in a Northwest Conference match.
It was Whitman’s first road tilt following a five-home home stand in which the Missionaries collected three victories, including a stunning five-set triumph over nationally No. 16-ranked Pacific Lutheran University last Saturday at Sherwood Center.
Friday’s victory enabled the Whits to even their NWC mark at 6-6, good for fifth place in the nine-team league, and improve to 8-11 overall. Whitman was idle Saturday and returns to action next weekend when it faces George Fox Friday and Lewis & Clark Saturday in its final two home matches of the season.
George Fox (6-5) lost to University of Puget Sound (8-3) 25-18, 25-21, 20-25, 25-13 Friday night while Lewis & Clark (2-9_ fell to Pacific (8-3) 25-16, 22-25, 20-25, 25-18, 15-12. In Friday’s other NWC counter, first-place Pacific Lutheran (10-1) whipped Linfield (3-8) 26-28, 25-18, 25-9, 25-22.
Whitworth (3-8), idle Friday, is at Willamette Saturday while PLU entertains Lewis & Clark, UPS is home to Pacific and Linfield hosts George Fox.
“We have been playing well, really well,” said Matt Helm, Whitman’s first-year head coach. “It’s amazing what happens when you win a five-set match against a nationally ranked team.
“It has taken this team a while to really, truly believe that they can win,” Helm added. “We have been practicing mental toughness. Some of the things that we do in practice put us in situations where we play under stressful situations, and we’re seeing more confidence in ourselves than we did earlier in the season.”
The Whits needed that mental toughness in the second and third sets against the Bearcats as Willamette held leads of up to four points in both.
“Willamette’s a great team,” Helm said of the sixth-place Bearcats, who are now 4-7 in league matches and 6-12 overall. “They beat Pacific in three sets and they didn’t let up on us at all.
“But you could still see the confidence on the faces of our kids when we fell behind. We have a greater sense of believing in ourselves.”
In winning five of their last nine matches it has been “different people at different times getting the job done”, Helm noted. And against the Bearcats is was Courtney Brewer who came to the forefront.
“She had an excellent evening,” Helm said of the 5-foot-11 senior middle blocker from Anchorage, Alaska. “She did a nice job of cutting and carving their defense and scoring on almost every set. Her hitting was strong in particular.”
Brewer finished her night with a team-high 13 kills and a .423 hitting percentage. She also had three block assists.
Junior Jillian Davis (El Paso, Texas) was also strong at the net with 10 kills. She also contributed 13 digs.
Freshman Hannah Linsenmayer (Mill Creek, Wash.) led the team with 16 digs and also recorded three of the team’s five serving aces. Junior Rachel Cline (Seattle) put up 34 assists to lead the Missionaries and added a kill and two block assists. And senior Olivia Nielson contributed with seven kills, two digs, an ace and three block assists to share the team lead with Brewer.
“Individually we are coming into our own as far as understanding and fulfilling our roles on the team,” Helm said. “Everyone is picking up their level of play and it is causing a chain reaction where everyone else picks up their level of play.”
Shannon Waltz provided Willamette with 10 kills and no attacking errors, while earning a .370 hitting percentage. Carly Hargrave finished with nine kills and a .333 hitting percentage, and Kathy Lee Glenn achieved a team-high 15 digs.
Whitman is now a half-a-game behind George Fox in the NWC standings. But Helm isn’t spending much time thinking about or looking at the standings.
“We don’t look too far ahead,” he said. “We are trying to take care of what we can take care of on our side of the net.
“Right now I am trying to focus on one game at a time ... one set at a time ... one ball at a time. Looking too far ahead is when you create anxiety. Let’s just stay comfortable and take care of the present. Once we do that, the result will be whatever work we put into it.”