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Whitworth, CCS, NIC in hunt for volleyball titles

Whitworth senior middle blocker Ka’ipo Rocha has 137 kills this season, second on the team. (Whitworth University)
Whitworth senior middle blocker Ka’ipo Rocha has 137 kills this season, second on the team. (Whitworth University)

Midway through their conference seasons, three non-Division I volleyball programs in the region are pursuing titles.

That’s not a surprise. Whitworth, North Idaho College and Community Colleges of Spokane are often in the mix in their respective conferences.

Defending Northwest Conference champion Whitworth (12-5, 7-1) defeated Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran a few weeks ago and lead both teams by one game.

Whitworth was 2-4 before rattling off 10 straight wins, a streak that ended with a road loss to Lewis & Clark last week. The Pirates were without outside hitter Amanda Grumbach (foot injury) for the L&C match and she was limited or sidelined in a couple of their early-season setbacks.

“When we have all our starters in and we’re playing just one match a day (instead of multiple matches at a tournament), it makes a big difference for this group,” coach Steve Rupe said. “Amanda is one of those kids that everybody gets better when she’s on the floor.”

Rupe is optimistic Grumbach will return for this week’s road matches against George Fox and Pacific.

The NWC title will likely be decided when Whitworth visits UPS and PLU in late October.

“If we don’t get the automatic bid, our resume from preseason isn’t good enough so it’s an all-or-nothing deal for us, ” said Rupe, whose team dropped out of the Top 25 after last Friday’s loss.

North Idaho College was 2-5 before winning 14 of its next 16. The ninth-ranked Cardinals bring a five-game winning streak into home matches with Snow on Thursday and Salt Lake on Saturday.

“We’d never played together, so there was a lot of team chemistry we had to figure out,” coach Kandice Kelly said. “You test out a gazillion rotations and we finally came up with one that worked well for us. We have a short team, so our blocking and defense have to be a 100 times better. In preseason all we worked on was defense and we worked on shots over the block, inside the block, because we’re not a team that can pound away.”

NIC is 3-1 in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, including five-set marathons against Snow, No. 4 Salt Lake and No. 6 Southern Idaho.

The Cardinals won SWAC and Region 18 titles last season en route to finishing fifth at nationals.

“The team that wins this conference is going to be the team that’s most consistent day in day out,” Kelly said.

Spokane (21-5, 6-1), which entertains Big Bend today (SWX, 6 p.m.) and hosts a six-team crossover tournament Friday and Saturday, is tied for first with defending champion Blue Mountain in the NWAACC East Division. CCS rallied from two sets down to defeat Blue Mountain two weeks ago.

The rematch is Nov. 4 in Spokane.

“We played well at the beginning of the year and we dipped down at our tournament (last month), so we spent the next few weeks taking it up a notch at practice,” coach Jenni Hull said. “Our practice speed has increased, so our intensity in matches has increased.”

CCS has won at least 30 matches each of the last four seasons and captured the NWAACC tournament title in 2009.

“The top four qualify and we want to make sure we have a good seed,” Hull said.