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Lutes, Loggers Square Off for Tacoma Supremacy

Kelsey Pacolt (3)

WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Pacific Lutheran prepares to face its toughest conference test this season in a rematch with cross-town rival Puget Sound. The second place Loggers will host the first of two meetings with the first place Lutes this Wednesday at 7 p.m.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Reaching the midway point of the season, Pacific Lutheran has looked nothing short of spectacular, taking down NWC foes one by one on their way to a perfect 6-0 conference start. However, the Loggers sit just one position behind in second with only one blemish on their conference campaign in the form of a 3-2 loss to Willamette last week. As if bragging rights weren't enough to play for, a grasp on first place heading into the second half of the season also awaits the victor of Wednesday's matchup. To sweeten the hype, both Tacoma teams are nationally ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. The Lutes improved one spot from last week's poll to No. 17 nationally while Puget Sound held its previous spot at No. 10 from a week ago.

HAVE WE MET?: Earlier this season, the Loggers handed the Lutes one of their two total losses on the season, taking a 3-1 win at the Puget Sound Premier Tournament during the first week of the season. The Lutes took the first set behind the play of Huston, who had five kills in seven attack attempts. With the score tied at 7-7, Huston put away a kill, and PLU never again trailed. Puget Sound pulled within a point on three occasions, the latest at 22-21, but the Lutes closed with the final four points. PLU seemed the have the second set in hand, racing to an 18-10 lead before the Loggers took the momentum away by scoring 10 of the next 11 points to gain a 20-19 lead, their first of the set. The Lutes contributed to the Puget Sound rally, however, with five attack errors. Jackie Harvey had seven of her match-high 20 kills in the second set. The third set again showed PLU gaining the early lead. Puget Sound tied it on a couple of occasions, but the Lutes took a 19-16 advantage before the Loggers closed it out by scoring nine of the final 11 points. In the final set, the Lutes led 6-3 early but couldn't stay with the Loggers the rest of the way. Huston led the Lutes with 11 kills, one solo block and three block assists, followed by Wood and Urdahl with 10 kills apiece. North had 37 assists and 19 digs, while Bjorkman contributed 20 digs and Urdahl and Wood 17 and 15 digs, respectively.

ABOUT THE LOGGERS: Junior outside hitter Jackie Harvey, who leads the conference in kills per set with 3.79, highlights the Loggers attack, while junior setter Jenni Brehove orchestrates the offense, averaging a conference-best 10.54 assists per set. Defensively, sophomore middle blocker Nicolette Reynaud leads the Loggers with 43 total blocks. Puget Sound leads the all-time series with PLU, 54-20, but recently the Lutes have been making the series interesting, taking six of the last 11 matches against Puget Sound since 2009.

AMONG THE CONFERENCE ELITE: Strong individual performances continue to headline the Lutes' success this season both on offense and on defense. Junior middle blocker Bethany Huston and sophomore outside hitter Amy Wooten lead the conference in hitting percentage (.298 and .289 respectively). Huston also holds the statistical lead in blocks per set with 1.47. Senior libero Blair Bjorkman has been locking down the back row averaging 5.52 digs per set, also good enough for the conference lead, and as been the case all season long, sophomore setter Samantha North has lead the offense flawlessly, averaging 10.26 assists per set which places her second in NWC play.

NATIONAL LEADERS: With one of the top records and rankings in Division III volleyball, it is no surprise that PLU is also highly ranked in several team and individual statistical categories. First, there might be a little irony in the fact that the Lutes have a .857 winning percentage (12-2), ranking them 17th, which is also where they rank in the Division III poll. The Lutes rank second as a team with 12.58 assists per set, and sophomore setter is 24th overall, averaging 10.26. PLU ranks 17th in blocks per set with 2.25, led by Bethany Huston, fourth wtih 1.46. In digs per set the Lutes rank 24th with 19.22, led by 44th-ranked Blair Bjorkman and her 5.52 average. Finally, Pacific Lutheran ranks 16th with 13.18 kills per set.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE WEEKEND: The Lutes will return home to host the George Fox Bruins this Friday in Olson Auditorium at 7 p.m. The Bruins have gotten out to a solid 4-2 conference start, good enough for a tie for third position. The Bruins hot start can be attributed by strong performances by sophomore middle blocker Tiffany Burke who is currently third in conference averaging 1.04 blocks per set while adding 127 total kills to her offensive role. Teammate and freshman outside hitter Lucy Capron leads the conference in total service aces with 23 (0.48 aces per set). The Lutes have had little trouble in dealing with the visitors from Newberg, Ore. in recent years, winning 20 of the last 21 meetings and holding a 29-25 all time series lead.

PLU 3, PACIFIC 0:  Bethany Huston and Allison Wood both finished with 10 kills as Pacific Lutheran blitzed the Pacific Boxers, 25-19, 25-18, 25-14 in a Northwest Conference volleyball match played last Friday in Forest Grove, Ore. The victory came against a Pacific team that came into the match having won four consecutive contests. PLU finished the match with a .286 attack percentage and 11 aces, including three by Amber Aguiar and two apiece by Kacey Hartman, Samantha North and Blair Bjorkman. Wood hit .400 for the match and Huston finished with 10 kills and no errors in 16 attempts for a .625 attack percentage. North contributed 31 assists to the PLU attack.
 
PLU 3, WILLAMETTE 0:  Pacific Lutheran won for the 10th time in the last 11 matches as it defeated Willamette, 26-24, 25-17, 27-25, in a conference volleyball match played Saturday night in Salem, Ore. At 15-15 in the opening set, the Lutes used a pair of Amy Wooten kills to build a 20-16 lead, but again Willamette was equal to the task, tying the score at 23 and again at 24. At that point, Kelsey Pacolt notched consecutive kills to give Pacific Lutheran a 1-0 advantage in sets. Of the three sets played, only the second set wasn't close as PLU blitzed to a 15-5 lead before building that to 21-8 when Samantha North and Bethany Huston stuffed a Willamette attack attempt. The Bearcats rallied to within six points at 22-16 but the Lutes eventually won the set to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission. The third set provided plenty of action. The Bearcats managed a trio of three-point leads, the last one at 22-19, before Pacific Lutheran rallied to take the set and match. Willamette was twice within a point of winning the set but the Lutes battled to keep it tied. With the score knotted at 25-25, Haley Urdahl's ace gave PLU a 26-25 lead, and when Huston and Pacolt combined to block Bearcat ace Leenstra at the net, the Lutes had the victory. Huston was the kill leader in this one with nine, and she added eight block assists as PLU finished with 11 team blocks. North had six kills, 30 assists and five block assists, Wood added seven kills, and Pacolt had six kills and four block assists. Blair Bjorkman had 17 digs and Amber Aguiar added 14, along with two aces, to lead the back row defense.
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