SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University volleyball team hosts a pair of key Northwest Conference matches to finish off the first round of league play this weekend. The Pirates play Pacific (Ore.) on Friday (6:00 pm) and Linfield on Saturday (7:00 pm).
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this week's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth heads into the weekend 8-6 overall and 5-1 in the Northwest Conference. The Bucs have won five matches in a row, all by 3-0 scores.
Whitworth posted a season-high team hitting percentage of .367 in last Friday's 25-22, 25-14, 25-20 win at Lewis & Clark. The Pirates had to rally from behind in the first and third sets to complete the sweep. Emiko Kahler had 14 kills and hit .565 to lead Whitworth offensively. Gracie Meiners handed out 43 assists and Taylor Wicht totaled 14 digs. Madison Douglas added 10 kills and hit .692. Cassandra Mendoza totaled 11 kills and hit .308.
The Pirates pulled out another sweep by rallying twice again in Saturday's 25-17, 25-22, 30-28 win at George Fox. Whitworth outscored the Bruins 7-2 down the stretch in the second set to overcome a 20-18 deficit. GFU led 21-19 in the third stanza before the Bucs pulled out the win. Kahler posted match-high totals in kills (12) and digs (22). Mendoza had 11 kills for the second straight night. Meiners finished with 36 assists and Douglas was in on four blocks (one solo, three assists).
Kahler Recognized: Emiko Kahler is the Northwest Conference Volleyball Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week for her performance in two Pirate victories last weekend. She averaged 4.33 kills per set and hit .355. She also provided 4.50 digs per set, including 22 in the win at George Fox. It is the fourth time in her career that she has won the award, including three times in 2016.
Time Change: No, it's not the end of Daylight Savings yet. The Whitworth-Pacific (Ore.) match on Friday night has been moved up one hour to 6:00 pm.
Chasing History: Whitworth is aiming for a fourth straight NWC title in volleyball, something the Pirates have never done in the sport. Whitworth's current streak of three in a row is the longest in school history and the Pirates were picked first in the NWC's 2017 preseason coaches poll. Lewis & Clark holds the longest volleyball championship streak in league history. The Pioneers won or shared six straight crowns from 1984 – 1989. Pacific Lutheran (2006-09) is the last NWC school to win four volleyball championships in a row.
Mendoza Line: Cassandra Mendoza is clearly Whitworth's top offensive option this season. Mendoza leads the team with an average of 3.46 kills per set, which ranks second in the NWC. She is also second in the league in total kills with 159.
Mendoza has been a Second Team All-NWC selection twice - in 2015 and 2016. The senior led the team, and ranked third in the NWC, last season in kills per set (3.14).
Wicht on Fire: Taylor Wicht established herself as Whitworth's starting libero in 2016 and she continues to excel this year. Wicht ranks fourth in the NWC in assists per set (5.04) and fourth in total digs (242).
Last year she led the team, and ranked seventh in the NWC, in digs per set (4.42), despite the fact that she got fewer opportunities than other liberos in the NWC. She also had 35 service aces last year, by far the most among NWC liberos.
Nothing "Meek" About Her: Emiko Kahler made her first year at Whitworth one to remember, earning NWC Freshman of the Year recognition. She averaged 3.00 kills and 3.09 digs per set to rank second among Pirate players in both categories. She was named NWC Offensive Player of the Week three times. This season she is averaging 2.77 kills per set and earned her first NWC Offensive Player of the Week award of the year on Oct. 2 after wins at Lewis & Clark and George Fox.
Mining for Kills: Gracie Meiners has settled nicely into the roll of starting setter. She now ranks second in the NWC in assists per set (10.67). But as a 5-10, left-handed setter, Meiners is also an offensive threat on her own.
Impressive Debuts: Madison Douglas and Gracie Meiners are Whitworth's two true new starters this season and both played very well in the season-opening weekend in Oregon. Douglas had the second-highest kill total for the Pirates over the weekend with 36 and she led the squad in hitting percentage (.281). Meiners finished with 156 assists, an average of 10.4 assists per set. She added 30 digs.
The Coach: Kati Bodecker, 76-33 heading into her fifth year, is a three-time Northwest Conference Coach of the Year after leading Whitworth to three straight NWC titles from 2014 through 2016. Bodecker has also guided the Pirates to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. In 2013 she coached the Bucs to a 15-13 record, becoming the first Whitworth volleyball coach to post a winning record in her first season since Margaret Campbell in 1990. She previously had been the head coach at Priest River High School, leading the Spartans to five state tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2012. She was a four-year starter at the University of Idaho, helping lead the Vandals to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as a sophomore and junior.
The Opponents: Pacific (Ore.) is making a run at its first conference volleyball title since back to back crowns in 1981-82. The Boxers are 12-2 overall and 5-1 in the NWC. Last week they defeated Linfield 3-1 at home before their 11-match winning streak was ended by PLU 3-1 on Saturday. Pacific leads the NWC in team hitting percentage (.239), kills per set (13.4) and digs per set (19.4). Three Boxers also top the league individual stat charts. Sophomore Karlee Duncan leads the NWC in kills per set (3.91). Sophomore Milana Ivkovic leads the league in hitting percentage (.369) and junior setter Ellie Parker is atop the list in assists per set (10.84). Last season Whitworth swept Pacific in a pair of tough matches, winning 3-1 at home and 3-2 on the road after rallying from a 2-0 deficit.
Linfield College started the season 8-1, but the Wildcats are now 8-5 overall and 2-4 in the NWC after dropping four matches in a row. After last Friday's loss at Pacific, Linfield fell 3-2 at home to Puget Sound. The Wildcats lead the NWC in service aces (110) and service aces per set (2.29). As always, Linfield is very balanced offensively with four regulars averaging more than two kills per set, led by jnior Eryka Keoho (2.71). Junior hitter Darian Stedman adds 2.57 kills per set and ranks third in the NWC in aces per set (0.55). Junior libero Kayla Magbaleta is third in the league in digs per set (5.35). Whitworth beat Linfield twice last season by identical 3-0 scores.
Coming Up: Whitworth will open the second half of Northwest Conference play by hosting Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound on October 13th and 14th.