The Whitworth Pirates were hoping to host the regional round of the NCAA Division III volleyball tournament. Instead, they’ll be facing the host team, Cal Lutheran, in the first round Friday in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Whitworth coach Steve Rupe is putting a positive spin on the situation. He said traveling to Southern California on short notice is easier than last year’s trip to Minnesota, even though half the team will fly out tonight and the rest Thursday morning.
Five of the eight teams at the regional are ranked in the Top 25. Whitworth (19-6), Northwest Conference champions for the second straight year, is No. 23 while Cal Lutheran (26-6) is No. 17. The Royals won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference but lost to Occidental in the conference tournament championship. Occidental will face No. 22 Pacific Lutheran, runner-up to Whitworth in the Northwest Conference.
“There’s no reason we can’t make it to the regional final Sunday and have a legitimate chance,” said Rupe, whose team went 1-1 at last year’s tournament. “We’re as good as everybody else there.”
With five seniors, including four four-year players, this is one of Rupe’s most experienced teams in his 13 seasons. Seniors Bree Riddle (Freeman High) has 919 assists, Jordon Hoffnagle (Mt. Spokane) has 265 digs, Amanda Grumbach (Curlew) has 188 kills and 254 digs and Ka’ipo Rocha has 205 kills and a team-high 83 blocks.
Outside hitter Kaimi Rocha, Ka’ipo’s sister, led the NWC with 331 kills. Kaimi repeated as the NWC player of the year when the all-conference team was announced on Tuesday and she’s much improved this season, said Rupe, who repeated as coach of the year.
“Last year she kind of surprised some people through the first half,” Rupe said. “This year everybody set their defense to stop her and she still led the conference in kills per set and she’s in the top five in hitting percentage. She’s our best serve-receive passer, best attacker, best defender and one of our top servers.”
Riddle was named to the all-NWC first team, along with Kaimi Rocha. Ka’ipo Rocha was selected to the second team while Grumbach earned honorable mention.
Vandals pursue second
Idaho (14-11, 8-4 WAC), after a remarkable comeback from trailing 2-1 in sets and 18-9 in the fourth game to pull out a five-set win over Utah State on Saturday, trails second-place New Mexico State by one game.
If Idaho sweeps road matches against Fresno State and Nevada this week and NMSU loses at No. 6 Hawaii, the Vandals would earn the second seed – and a first-round bye – in the WAC tournament.
“It is important because it allows you to rest the kids one more day, allows you more recovery time and an extra day to scout,” UI coach Debbie Buchanan said.
By winning five of its last six, Eastern Washington (13-12, 9-5) is in third place with two Big Sky matches remaining. Second-place Portland State visits EWU on Saturday and fourth-place Sacramento State visits Nov. 18. The top four advance to the Big Sky tournament … Washington State will recognize senior outside hitter Meagan Ganzer’s accomplishments prior to facing No. 3 Stanford at 12:30 Sunday. Ganzer, the team’s lone senior, leads the Pac-12 with 4.79 kills per set. Her 1,405 kills rank fourth and her 51 solo blocks rank ninth in school history. … North Idaho College, co-Scenic West champion and Region 18 tournament runner-up, today will learn its first-round opponent at the national tournament Nov. 17-19 in West Plains, Mo. … Community Colleges of Spokane (31-5, 12-1) has clinched at least a share of the NWAACC East title and can secure an outright championship with a win over Walla Walla (31-7, 11-2) tonight.