SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth University volleyball team finishes the season with a pair of matches in Oregon this weekend. The Pirates will play at Pacific on Friday night (7:00 pm) and at Linfield on Saturday (6:00 pm).
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this week's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth is 14-9 overall and 11-3 in the conference after three matches last week. The Pirates dropped a non-conference contest at Lewis-Clark State on Wednesday night, but defeated Lewis & Clark College and George Fox at home over the weekend. The Pirates remain in second place in the NWC volleyball standings, one game behind Pacific Lutheran and two games ahead of Whitman and Pacific (Ore.).
Whitworth dropped its final non-conference match of the season in four sets at Lewis-Clark State last Wednesday. The Pirates were unable to overcome 11 team blocks by the Warriors, who won 25-21, 33-25, 25-23, 25-23. Emiko Kahler had 15 kills, Cassandra Mendoza 14 and Lauren Budde finished with 10 for the Bucs. Gracie Meiners dished 42 assists, added six kills and had 18 digs. Taylor Wicht served four aces and had 19 digs.
Whitworth had little trouble in a 25-11, 25-23, 25-18 win over Lewis & Clark College on Friday night, giving the Pirates their eighth win in a row over the Pioneers. Whitworth was able to go deep into its bench against L&C and no Pirate player reached double figures in kills. Corinne Bell had seven kills to go along with three block assists and a service ace. She led the team with 9.5 points in the match.
Whitworth recognized seven seniors prior to Saturday night's contest against George Fox and came away with a 25-23, 25-17, 25-17 win over the Bruins. Lauren Budde had one of her best matches of the season with 11 kills and a hitting percentage of .611. She was also in on four block assists. Emiko Kahler added eight kills as the Pirates picked up their 11th consecutive win over the Bruins.
Still Alive: The Pirates can still earn the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but they'll need a lot of help to do so. Whitworth will need Pacific Lutheran to lose twice and the Bucs will need to win twice to advance to the NCAA Division III playoffs, because PLU owns the tiebreaker over the Pirates. Whitworth can still earn a share of the NWC title with the Lutes by winning twice and PLU losing once. That will give the Pirates a piece of their fourth consecutive league crown.
Senior Night: On Saturday Whitworth recognized the volleyball senior class of 2018 prior to the start of the contest against George Fox. The seven-member class includes starters Corinne Bell (MB), Gracie Meiners (S), Cassandra Mendoza (OH) and Taylor Wicht (L), along with reserves Cara Crosby, Alexa Lindgren and Chloe Luedecker. This group was part of three consecutive Northwest Conference titles from 2014-2016 and has a cumulative record of 76-29 heading into the weekend.
We're Going Streaking: The Pirates put together a winning streak that reached seven in a row earlier this season. Going on a winning streak has become Old School for the Bucs under head coach Kati Bodecker. In 2016 the Pirates had separate streaks of eight and seven wins in a row. Whitworth won eight in a row in October of 2015 and had a ten-match winning streak during the 2014 season.
Mendoza Line: Cassandra Mendoza is Whitworth's top offensive option this season. Mendoza leads the team with an average of 3.27 kills per set, which ranks third in the NWC. She is also second in the league in total kills with 258.
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 sixth in the NWC in assists per set (4.79) and fourth in total digs (388).
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 3.07 kills per set overall (56h in the NWC), but 3.56 kills per set in NWC-only stats, which is second in 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 (10.59). But in statistics from conference-only matches, she averages 11.13 assists per set, which leads the league.
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 University is wrapping up its best season in many years. The Boxers improved to 16-6 overall and 9-5 in the NWC with a pair of impressive wins last week. First Pacific dominated Linfield on the road in a 3-0 win last Wednesday. Then the Boxers handed PLU only its second conference loss of the season on Friday. Pacific is very balanced, leading the league in both kills per set (13.5) and digs per set (20.4). Sophomore OH Karlee Duncan continues to lead the conference individually in kills per set (3.65), while junior OPP Morgan Mendicino adds 3.11 kills per set and 2.9 digs per set. Junior setter Ellie Parker is the NWC leader in assists per set. Whitworth defeated Pacific in four sets at home on October 6th behind Emiko Kahler's 17 kills and 15 digs and eight kills and five blocks from Madison Douglas.
After starting the season 8-1 overall and 2-0 in the NWC, the Wildcats have lost 11 of their last 12 matches and are now 9-12 overall and 3-11 in the conference. Following last Wednesday's home loss to Pacific, Linfield battled hard before losing in five sets at Puget Sound on Saturday night. The Wildcats continue to lead the league in team service aces per set (1.90). Junior OH Darian Stedman is Linfield's top offensive threat, averaging 2.44 kills per set. Sophomore MB Taylor Peterson, who had a huge match against Whitworth on October 7th, adds 2.27 kills and 1.0 blocks per set. Whitworth swept Linfield at home in on October 7th thanks to a season-high team hitting percentage of .402. Lauren Budde had 13 kills and hit .619 for the Bucs.