SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University volleyball team hits the road this week for a pair of tough Northwest Conference matches. The Pirates play at Whitman College on Wednesday (6:00 pm) and at Willamette University on Saturday (6:00 pm).
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this week's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth is now 11-7 overall and 8-2 in the conference after splitting with Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound last weekend. The Bucs saw their seven-match winning streak come to an end with last Friday's loss to PLU. That setback also dropped the Pirates into second place in the NWC standings, one game behind the Lutes.
Whitworth took a two-sets-to-none lead against PLU last Friday night in the Fieldhouse. But the Lutes stormed back for a 20-25, 18-25, 25-14, 25-17, 15-9 victory over the Pirates. That win gave PLU a season sweep of the Bucs and a tiebreaker advantage over Whitworth. Emiko Kahler had 18 kills and Cassandra Mendoza finished with 16 kills to lead the team offensively. Both posted double-doubles by adding 16 and 15 digs, respectively. Gracie Meiners finished with 47 assists.
Whitworth bounced back to beat Puget Sound 25-14, 25-14, 25-17 on Saturday night, sweeping the season series with the Loggers. It was a very balanced effort for the Bucs as six different players finished with at least five kills. Kahler led the team with eight kills and added 12 digs. Middle blockers Corinne Bell and Madison Douglas combined for 13 kills and four block assists. Meniers had a strong all-around match with 23 assists, 13 digs, four kills and two service aces.
Chasing History: Whitworth still has a chance 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. 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 Whitworth's top offensive option this season. Mendoza leads the team with an average of 3.31 kills per set, which ranks second in the NWC. She is also second in the league in total kills with 202.
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 (4.84) and fourth in total digs (305).
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 2.95 kills per set overall, but 3.61 kills per set in NWC-only stats, which leads the league. She 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 role of starting setter. She ranks second in the NWC in assists per set (10.56). But in statistics from conference-only matches, she averages 11.27 assists per set, which leads the league by a wide margin.
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: Whitman College is 5-10 overall, but the Blues are 5-5 in the Northwest Conference. Last weekend Whitman swept Puget Sound 3-0 on Friday night, but fell 3-0 to PLU on Saturday. Both were played in Walla Walla. Whitman is getting is top offensive production from a first-year player as freshman Kalli Dickey leads the team in kills per set (2.30). Junior rightside Megan Henry adds 2.04 kills per set. Whitworth defeated Whitman 25-15, 25-17, 25-11 on September 20th in the Pirates' first home match of the season. Emiko Kahler had 11 kills and Taylor Wicht finished with 20 digs to lead Whitworth to its 11th consecutive win over the Blues.
Willamette University is 7-11 overall and 4-6 in the NWC heading into Friday night's match against Whitman. But the Bearcats opened the second round of conference play by defeating Linfield 3-1 (home) and Pacific (Ore.) 3-0 (away), two teams that beat Willamette earlier in the season. Sophomore OH Kendall Fox leads her team in kills per set (2.28). Senior middle hitter Emma Liband ranks third in the NWC in blocks per set (1.11). Whitworth defeated Willamette 25-10, 25-22, 25-22 at home on September 22nd. Cassandra Mendoza totaled 13 kills and Gracie Meiners dished 39 assists.
Coming Up: Whitworth will host Lewis & Clark and George Fox on October 27th and 28th in the final home matches of the 2017 season.