The Whitworth Pirates opened the Northwest Conference volleyball season a month ago with road losses to Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound.
They haven’t lost a NWC match since. They’ve gone from sharing the conference cellar to sharing the conference lead.
Whitworth enjoyed one of its best weekends in years, sweeping PLU and knocking off Puget Sound in four games. Those results moved the Pirates (15-5, 8-2) into a first-place tie with Pacific Lutheran (15-4, 8-2).
“We knew if we wanted to be in a position to win the conference we were going to have to beat both teams,” second-year coach Kati Bodecker said. “We did a great job of mentally preparing.”
The Pirates handled PLU but they weren’t as smooth against UPS. They made up for it with tenacity.
“We were in system almost the entire (PLU) match and we put ourselves at an advantage because we served really tough,” Bodecker said. “Against UPS, if you looked at the numbers on the stat sheet they led us in nearly every category but we were tougher at the end.”
Whitworth’s eight-match conference winning streak has prompted Bodecker and school officials to brush up on NWC tiebreakers. There is no conference tournament. If Whitworth and PLU win out, they would share the top spot but tiebreakers favor the Pirates. The teams split head-to-head. The next tiebreaker is head-to-head set record. Whitworth lost in five sets at PLU before winning 3-0 in the rematch.
The conference champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament. At-large berths are possible, but those are largely determined by regional rankings. There are eight regions and the first West Region rankings will be released later this week.
Whitworth, pursuing its first trip to nationals since 2011, controls its destiny heading into the last six regular-season matches but challenges await, beginning with tonight’s road date versus Whitman. The Pirates pulled out a five-set victory in the first meeting last month.
“Every match you’re not going to play your best volleyball,” Bodecker said. “I’m most impressed with our mental toughness and perseverance, and the fact we can turn it around, even against great teams.”
Cougs still fighting
The Pac-12, which is to volleyball what the SEC is to football, is not the easiest place to snap losing streaks. Washington State knows this, having walked the fine line between good volleyball and winning volleyball.
WSU (9-11, 0-8) is still searching for its first conference win. If Sunday was any indication, the wait won’t last much longer. The Cougars pushed No. 18 Arizona State to the limit before falling in five sets.
“It’s definitely frustrating because we’ve been so close in quite a few of the matches,” coach Jen Greeny said. “On the good side, we’re playing right with USC and Arizona State and these are top 25 teams, but we just have to get a little bit better.”
WSU has taken at least one set off its last six opponents. The Cougs were swept to open Pac-12 play by current No. 3 Washington and No. 1 Stanford. Both of those teams remain unbeaten.
“Overall we’ve been doing a really good job defensively,” Greeny said, “but our offense hasn’t been producing enough.”
Greeny adjusted the starting lineup last week, inserting sophomore Emmy Allen for sophomore Kyra Holt, the team leader in kills, at outside hitter. The coach said the starter for Friday’s home match against Colorado will be determined in practice.
Six of the remaining 12 matches are against unranked teams and eight are at Bohler Gym.
“They’re definitely still fighting, working hard and trying to get the job done,” Greeny said.
Idaho (10-10, 6-2 Big Sky) and Eastern Washington (8-13, 4-4), coming off sweeps of the Montana schools, remain at home this week. The Vandals, tied for first with North Dakota in the North Division, entertain Weber State on Thursday and South-leading Idaho State on Saturday. EWU meets ISU on Thursday and Weber State on Saturday. … Gonzaga (13-6, 4-4), which dropped five-set matches to Pacific and Saint Mary’s last week, visits Portland on Saturday, the first of three straight road games. … North Idaho College entertains fifth-ranked Salt Lake on Thursday and No. 8 Snow on Saturday. … Community Colleges of Spokane, winners of six in a row, visits East Division rival Blue Mountain on Friday and Treasure Valley on Saturday.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.