WALLA WALLA — Whitman’s volleyball team improved its Northwest Conference record to 2-0 Saturday night with a five-game victory over Willamette at Sherwood Center.
“It was huge for us to get the two matches at home this weekend,” Whitman coach Matt Helm said. “We had a tough preseason, so coming home and being successful is really nice and is a huge confidence builder going into our matches next week against Pacific and George Fox, who are two tough teams.”
Willamette dropped to 0-2 in the NWC and 4-7 overall.
In a match that saw no team win a set by more than six points, Whitman was led in scoring by senior co-captain and outside hitter Jillian Davis. She recorded 20 kills and 14 digs.
Megan Bafus had 15 kills on a .400 hitting percentage. Setter and senior co-captain Rachel Cline figured prominently in the scoring with 13 kills and Shae Kanakaole added 11 kills.
Sarah Fincher led Willamette with a game-high 21 kills. Carly Hargrave added 12 for the Bearcats, who got 53 assists from setter Emily Compton.
Co-captain Taylor Aschenbrenner led the Whits in assists with 29.
The Bearcats took the first set 25-19, putting together a four-point run in the middle of the set to give them a 19-14 lead and control of the set.
Whitman bounced back to take the second and third sets, 25-20 and 25-21, and seemed to have seized the momentum for good.
But in the fourth set, Willamette took a 12-7 lead after a mini-run and was able to maintain the four-point cushion the rest of the way, winning 25-21 and forcing a fifth and deciding set.
With the score tied 4-all early in the fifth set, Whitman took the lead, 5-4, on a kill by Davis. It sparked a 5-1 run that gave the Missionaries a 9-5 advantage. Willamette closed to within one at 9-8, but two attacks gave the Whits a 12-9 lead, which they rode the rest of the way for a 15-12 win and the match. The deciding point came on a kill by Bafus.
“I don’t think we necessarily played our best match, but I think winning the ugly points was a key,” said Helm. “Going after some of those run-down balls and just being persistent was the key for us. Willamette is a well-coached team. It was a great match.”