Volleyball | Friday, May 23, 2014
Senior Night Sweep Stuns Puget Sound
Volleyball Moment of the Year
SALEM, ORE. -- Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 11, 2013, the Willamette University volleyball team dropped nine of the ten matches they played, falling to 5-11 overall and just 1-6 in Northwest Conference play.
The final match in that long skid came in Tacoma, Wash.: a 3-1 defeat to the 19th-ranked University of Puget Sound Loggers, a perennial NWC power whose strong defense limited the Bearcats to just .111 hitting on the night.
Sitting in last place in the NWC and nearly halfway done with conference play, many teams might have folded. Instead, Willamette did something different.
The Bearcats started winning. Five victories over their next seven matches propelled Willamette to fifth place in the NWC standings, and heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Bearcats had a chance to finish as high as fourth, provided they won their final two matches.
Standing between Willamette and that goal, however, were the Loggers. Now ranked 18th nationally and sitting comfortably in second place in the NWC, UPS harbored ambitions of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.
But it was Senior Night on Friday, Nov. 8 at Cone Field House, and it was apparent early on that there was something special in the air. In the first set, the Bearcats pounded out an astounding .438 hitting percentage, jumping out to a 12-1 lead before the crowd had settled into their seats.
The 10th, 11th and 12th points came on three consecutive service aces by senior setter Emily Compton, and the Bearcats remained solidly in front for the remainder of the set. WU led 14-4, 19-7, and cruised to a 25-12 victory.
In the second frame, Willamette achieved six kills on the first 12 rallies, building a 9-3 lead. UPS got no closer the rest of the way, as the Bearcats hit .283 en route to a a 25-15 win.
In the third set, Willamette again took an early lead, this time 8-3. But the Loggers, who hadn't been swept in NWC play since October 2012, rallied to within 16-14.
At that point, the Bearcats seniors took control.
Two kills by senior Shannon Waltz (MH, Honolulu, HI/La Pietra School for Girls), one kill from senior Kristen Brehmer, a pair of successful attacks by senior Carly Hargrave (MH, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS), and terrific defense by senior Lizzy Balding (LIB/DS, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) pushed the Bearcats' advantage back out to 21-15. From there, WU closed out a 25-20 win.
For the match, the Bearcats hit .361 as a team, finishing with a remarkable 48 kills against just nine attacking errors. It was arguably the most complete performance by a Willamette volleyball team in the last decade.
"We couldn't have done it without our five seniors," Bearcat Head Coach Tom Shoji said at the time. "Their creativity on the court was amazing."
One night later, Willamette closed out its season with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over George Fox. All told, the Bearcats won six of their final seven matches to finish 12-13 overall and 8-8 (4th place) in the NWC.
But while the Bearcats' four-week stretch to close the season certainly had its share of memorable moments, Willamette's comprehensive demolition of a nationally-ranked opponent on Senior Night was surely the greatest.