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PLU Opens NWC Play With Win Over Defending Champ

Samantha North hits the floor to make a dig.

PARKLAND - Pacific Lutheran opened Northwest Conference volleyball play Friday night with a 3-1 victory over defending champion Whitworth in front of a boisterous crowd of 550 at Olson Auditorium's Names Family Court.

PLU, ranked 20th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Top 25 Poll, won 25-13, 25-19, 18-25, 25-20, and improves to 7-2 overall and 1-0 in the NWC, while Whitworth falls to 4-4 and 0-1.

Haley Urdahl had 11 kills, Bethany Huston added 10 and Samantha North directed the offense with 44 assists to pace the Lutes to victory. Amy Wooten had nine kills and a .421 attack percentage, Blair Bjorkman led her team with 24 digs, and Huston added three solo blocks and two block assists. Huston was honored prior to the match for leading all of Division III volleyball in blocks per set last season.

The Lutes' first set performance was as impressive as any this early in the season as they compiled an impressive .438 attack percentage with 15 kills and just one error in 32 attempts. A total of six different players had at least two kills in the set, led by Urdahl with four on just seven swings. On the defensive side, the team recorded three team blocks with both Urdahl and Huston recording two block assists apiece. Pacific Lutheran never trailed in the set, opening up an 8-3 lead that later reached double digits at 20-10 on a kill by Allison Wood. The team's biggest lead came with the final score.

Whitworth held the early advantage in the second set, building an 8-4 margin with Kristine Kardell getting three kills and Jalana White adding two more.

A Pirates attack error opened the door to a 6-0 PLU spurt, including two kills each by Wood and Amy Wooten, and the Lutes were on top 10-8. Whitworth eventually tied the match at 12-12 on a kill by Nicole Leonard and later at 17-17 on Abi Hedlund's kill, but the Lutes scored eight of the last 10 points to take a 2-0 lead in sets. Wood led the Lutes with four kills while Urdahl and Wooten both added three. Kardell was impressive for the Pirates with six kills and just one error in nine attack attempts.

White took over for Whitworth in the third set, registering seven kills with one error in 14 swings. The teams battled on mostly even terms through the midway point when Pacific Lutheran took a 15-12 lead on a kill by North. The Pirates responded by scoring 10 of the next 11 points to take a 22-16 advantage. Appropriately enough, White closed out the set with kills on two of Whitworth's final three points. Whitworth hit .344 in the set compared to .000 for PLU.

The fourth set turned on the play of Huston, PLU's middle blocker from Kennewick. She had five kills and no errors in eight attempts and added a pair of solo blocks.

The visitors from Spokane took an 8-4 lead before the Lutes surged ahead, 12-11, on a Huston kill. The teams were later tied at 15-15 before PLU pulled away and eventually won the set and match on North's eighth kill.

PLU finished with a .223 attack percentage compared to .152 for Whitworth. White led all players with 14 kills and she was joined by Hedlund with 11 kills and Kardell and Leonard with 10 apiece. Shawna Korshavn had 29 assists and Leonard led both teams with 26 kills. Whitworth finished with five team blocks, including five block assists by White.

Both teams return to conference action tomorrow, PLU hosting Whitman and Whitworth traveling across Tacoma to meet Puget Sound.

- PLU -