Missionaries tame Wildcat volleyball team

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WALLA WALLA — Whitman College put its five-game volleyball home stand into motion on a positive note Friday night at Sherwood Center.

After dropping the first set to visiting Linfield 26-24, the Missionaries treated their fans to a stellar performance as they tamed the Wildcats 25-18, 25-14, 25-20 for their third Northwest Conference victory of the seasons.

“It was great to be back home,” declared first-year Whitman coach Matt Helm. “We had a great week of practice and the girls came out and played very well.”

Whitman, which is now 5-9 on the season to go along with its 3-4 conference record, entertained Pacific University Saturday night at Sherwood Center. The Boxers, coming off a 25-15, 13-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-13 victory at Whitworth University in Spokane Friday night, brought a 5-2 NWC mark and a 6-9 overall record into Saturday’s match.

In Friday’s other two conference showdowns, league-leading Pacific Lutheran University extended its NWC record to 8-0 with a 25-17, 25-23, 25-17 victory over George Fox on the Lutes’ home floor and Willamette invaded Lewis & Clark and came away with a 23-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-23 victory over the Pioneers. Willamette played at George Fox Saturday, University of Puget Sound hosted Lewis & Clark and Linfield traveled to Spokane to take on Whitworth’s Pirates.

“Right now PLU is playing some really good volleyball,” Helm said. “Other than Pacific, we’ve now seen every team in the league, and we will see them Saturday night.

“From what I can tell, any day it’s anybody’s match. And we’re going in with the attitude that we can compete against anybody in the league.”

So far the Missionaries are perfect on their home floor. They defeated Willamette in straight sets Sept. 21 when the Bearcats came to town, and they’ve played every other match on the road.

With UPS, Pacific and Whitworth following Pacific into Sherwood Center, now appears to be the perfect time for Whitman to make its move up the conference standings.

And Helm saw a lot of good things from his team in Friday night’s match.

“I think our blocking came back alive,” he noted. “That’s something that was missing last weekend (road losses at George Fox and Lewis & Clark).

“I also thought we serve received well and we passed well, which helped us stay in system. That means we were able to do what we wanted to do on our side of the net.”

Helm singled out the play of junior outside hitter Jillian Davis (El Paso, Texas), junior setter Rachel Cline (Seattle) and senior middle blockers Olivia Nielson and Courtney Brewer, both from Anchorage, Alaska.

“Jillian had an excellent game,” Helm said of Davis, who led the Missionaries at the net with 18 kills. “She always plays well, but she had a really good game. She put away some balls when we needed it, received the ball well and made some very smart shots.

“Our setter also played well,” the coach said of Cline, who finished her night with 44 assists. “And so did our two middles.”

Nielson had a match-high eight blocks, added 10 kills and a .400 hitting percentage. Brewer had five blocks, nine kills and a team-best .412 hitting percentage.

Freshman libero Hannah Linsenmayer (Mill Creek, Wash.), junior defensive specialist Becca Gotz (Bothell, Wash.) and senior opposite Rachel Shober (Monroe, Wash.) also drew praise from their coach.

“Hannah and Becca were both excellent, along with Rachel, playing some good defense, covering our hitters and passing the ball to the right target for our setters,” Helm said. “It was a total team effort, really. Even the kids coming off the bench did an excellent job.”

Linsenmayer led the team with 13 digs, Davis finished with 12 and Gotz chipped in with 10. Shober contributed five digs and a block.

Sophomore Jazmine Moledina (Woodside, Calif.) scored 10 kills to join Davis and Nielson with double digits at the net. Davis also led the Whits in the serving department with four aces.

Kelsey Ludin led the Wildcats with 10 kills, Kailana Ritte-Camara totaled 12 digs and Audrey Frazier had 22 assists. Ludin and Victoria Thompson had two serving aces each and Thompson also recorded two blocks.

“What we need to do is take care of the ball on our side of the net we will be in good position to win the game,” Helm said in looking ahead to Saturday’s match against Pacific. “Our focus right now is to be competitive, to play each ball and stay in the moment.

“If we do, whatever the result may be will be because of what we do with every single ball. We’re doing the best job we can with every play.”

And it’s not just about an individual game, Helm emphasized.

“We’re growing an attitude here,” he said. “We’re trying to cultivate a process, not just for instant gratification but for something that can last for a long, long time for Whitman College volleyball.”

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