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Lutes Open Conference Play Against Visiting Whits

Blair Bjorkman

CONFERENCE OPENER: This Friday and Saturday, Pacific Lutheran volleyball will open conference play against the visiting Whitworth Pirates and the Whitman Missionaries. Friday's match against Whitworth is set for 7 p.m. while Saturday's contest will start at 5 p.m., both will be played on Olson Auditorium's Names Family Court.

FOLLOW THE LUTES: If you can't make it to Olson Auditorium you can follow the action online two ways. Track live stats at www.golutes.com/livestats, or listen to the call by PLU student Brennan Day at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/plu.portal#.

NATIONALLY KNOWN: The Lutes enter Northwest Conference play with a 6-2 overall record and are currently ranked No. 20 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III poll. Sophomore setter Samantha North has picked up where she left off from a season ago, cranking out 10.3 assists per set through the pre-conference schedule. Also making her presence felt in the front row is junior middle blocker Bethany Huston. The 6-2 Kennewick native leads the Lutes with 44 total blocks (1.47 blocks per) set while also leading the way offensively with 86 total kills (2.87 kills per set). The Lutes are currently leading the Northwest Conference in total kills, assists, digs, and total blocks.

THE PIRATES FIRST: Whitworth enters conference play as the defending NWC champions from a season ago but comes to Tacoma with a 4-3 pre-conference record. Last year, Pacific Lutheran bested Whitworth in the Puget Sound Invitational in a tight 3-0 match. The Pirates then held home court in conference play with another close 3-1 contest before getting swept in three sets again in Tacoma later that season. The defending champions graduated outside hitting force and two-time NWC Player of the Year Kaimi Rocha, as well as her sister and Second Team All NWC middle blocker Ka'ipo Rocha. The Pirates' new-look attack is highlighted by freshman outside hitter Nicole Leonard, who is currently second in the Northwest Conference with 3.35 kills per set. Junior right side Jalana White is also active in the attack averaging 3.0 kills per set.

GETTING TO KNOW THE MISSIONARIES: Whitman found itself at the bottom of the Northwest Conference table last season tallying an overall record of 3-13. Pacific Lutheran has taken 11 of the last 12 matches against the visiting Missionaries including a pair of 3-1 victories last year to complete the season sweep. So far in 2012, Whitman is anchored defensively by senior middle blocker Olivia Nielson, who leads the conference with 1.62 blocks per set. The bulk of the Missionaries' offensive front has been carried by junior outside hitter Jillian Davis, who leads the team with 62 kills.

LUTES EARN COACHES' NOD: Coming off of the sixth 21-victory season in the past seven years, the Pacific Lutheran volleyball team has been picked to be NWC champions, according to the 2012 poll of league head coaches. The Lutes received five out of nine first-place votes and 65 total points in the poll. Whitworth (54 points) edged out Puget Sound (50 points) for second place.

NWC HONORS NORTH: Samantha North was named to an all-tournament team for the second straight weekend and as a result has earned Northwest Conference Student-Athlete of the Week honors. North (Gig Harbor, Wash. / Gig Harbor HS), a sophomore setter, averaged 10.8 assists, nearly 3.1 digs and 1.5 kills per set to help the 20th-ranked Lutes finish with a 3-1 record at the Colorado College Classic in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

LUTES FINISH 3-1 IN COLORADO: Pacific Lutheran won three and lost one at the Colorado College Classic. Haley Urdahl, a junior outside hitter, led the Lutes on Friday with 14 kills in PLU's 25-13, 25-18, 25-19 victory over Wheaton, and she again paced the team with 10 kills in a 25-19, 25-17, 25-22 win over Texas Lutheran. The PLU vs. Wheaton match featured plenty of excellent defense at the net as the the Lutes finished with 11 team blocks compared to nine by the Thunder. Bethany Huston, who led all of Division III in blocking last season, had a solo block and five block assists for PLU, which also got five assists from Amy Wooten. Samantha North finished with 40 assists and Allison Wood had 12 digs for the winners. A total of 16 different PLU players saw action in PLU's win over Texas Lutheran. Wooten supported Urdahl's offensive output with nine kills and a team-best .353 hitting percentage. Huston again led PLU with four block assists and the team finished with eight team blocks. North had four kills, 30 assists and three block assists, and Urdahl was the team leader in digs with 14, one more than Bjorkman. On Saturday, the Lutes beat Texas-Dallas 25-20, 25-20, 25-27, 18-25, 15-8 before losing to No. 15-ranked and tournament host Colorado College, 12-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-21. Huston finished with 19 kills and a .548 attack percentage, North added 11 kills and a .458 percentage, and Blair Bjorkman finished with 29 digs in the win over Texas-Dallas. In the tournament's final match, The Lutes took apart the 15th-ranked Tigers in the first set, limiting the hosts to a .000 attack percentage while recording 15 kills and only three errors for a .353 mark. By the time the match ended PLU still had a better team attack percentage - .176 to .171 - but Colorado College dominated at the net, a part of the game that the Lutes usually own. The Tigers had 13 team blocks, including six solo, comared to a total of six team blocks for the Lutes. Huston led the team with 12 kills while hitting .258, while Wood chipped in 11 kills and 18 digs. North finished the match with 40 assists, five kills and 20 digs and Bjorkman paced PLU with 22 digs.

ALL-TOURNAMENT: For the second consecutive tournament, both Bethany Huston and Samantha North earned all-tournament recognition.