SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University clinched a share of the 2019 Northwest Conference volleyball title and the conference's automatic berth to the upcoming NCAA Division III tournament with a 3-0 win over visiting Willamette on Friday night, thanks also to Pacific University's loss at Puget Sound.
The Pirates (18-5 overall, 12-1 NWC) defeated the Bearcats (6-16, 5-8) 25-19, 25-21, 25-19 to open a three-match lead on Pacific (16-7, 9-4) and UPS (14-11, 9-4) with three matches to play. The Bucs hold the tiebreaker over both schools. Whitworth can clinch an outright NWC title tomorrow night with a win over visiting Linfield.
The Pirates have claimed at least a share of their fourth championship under head coach Kati Bodecker, and first since winning three straight from 2014 through 2016.
Whitworth never trailed in the opening set, which was dominated by Tikhonov who had five kills and hit .625. The Bucs opened a 23-14 lead on Kaitlyn White's service ace. After Willamette rallied to within 24-19, Kahler's kill ended the set in the Pirates' favor.
Whitworth also led the second set from start to finish, but had trouble putting the Bearcats away. Consecutive attack errors by Willamette allowed the Bucs to take an early 7-2 lead. The Bearcats got within 17-15 before Whitworth opened a 24-17 advantage on a block by Madison Douglas. Willamette scored four straight, capped by Emma Porter's ace, to pull within 24-21. But Porter's attack error on the next play gave Whitworth the set win.
There were five ties and two lead changes early on in the final game. The Bearcats took a 7-4 lead on a kill by Natalie Klotz. The Pirates answered with an 8-2 run, opening a 12-9 lead on a Willamette error. The Bucs never trailed again. Leading 19-16, Whitworth closed on a 6-3 run with Douglas getting the final Pirate point.
Kahler hit .324 and Tikhonov hit .400 to lead the Pirates. Tikhonov was also in on four blocks, while Kahler was part of three. Kiana Vandaele added 16 digs, while Saylor Anderson and Joelle Forbes combined for 38 assists. Whitworth hit .266 as a team.
Klotz led Willamette with 14 kills while Lauren Stiles had eight and hit .368.