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No. 17 Pacific Lutheran Sweeps Away No. 10 Loggers

The Lutes had plenty of reason to celebrate on Wednesday night.
The Lutes had plenty of reason to celebrate on Wednesday night.

The home team came into the match with an 11-3 record and a No. 10 ranking in Division III volleyball. The visitors took their 12-2 record, a No. 17 ranking and a six-match winning streak across town for the big Northwest Conference faceoff.

And incidentally, the visiting Pacific Lutheran Lutes were unbeaten in the conference, one game better in the standings than the host Puget Sound Loggers.

By the end of the night, Pacific Lutheran had opened up a two-game lead over their rivals in the Northwest Conference standings with a 25-20, 25-22, 25-23 victory.

In wiping away the frustration of a 3-1 non-conference loss to Puget Sound during the season-opening Puget Sound Premier tournament, the Lutes won for the seventh straight time, improved their overall record to 13-2 and their conference mark to 7-0. The Loggers, who have lost seven of the last 12 to PLU, fell to 11-4 overall and 5-2 in the NWC.

With Allison Wood pounding away from the outside and Bethany Huston providing offense in the middle, the Lutes twice built a five-point lead in the opening set, the last one at 9-4 on a kill by Wood. On the other side, Marissa Florant kept the Loggers in it with five early kills until Jackie Harvey crushed two straight kills to get the Loggers even at 16-16.

Undaunted, the Lutes replied by scoring the next three points on finishes by Samantha North, Haley Urdahl and Amy Wooten. PLU maintained at least a two-point lead through the remainder of the set.

With her team leading 23-20, Haley Urdahl recorded a service ace. Puget Sound took a time out, but the Lutes ended the set on Wood's sixth kill of the set on her ninth swing, good for a .667 attack percentage.

Through the first set the Lutes hit an impressive .351, including Wood's great start and four kills in six attempts by Huston. North had 12 of her assists in the opening set, and a telling statistic through the first set showed six different Lutes with kills compared to just three different Loggers.

The Lutes' hitting had to be impressive to make up for a total of four service errors in the opening set, and that was a theme that almost cost them in the third set.

As might be expected when the nation's 10th-ranked team drops the first set in its own gym, Puget Sound came out strong in the second set, taking an early 7-3 lead on a trio of kills by Florant.

Pacific Lutheran pulled within a point at 8-7 on an ace by Amber Aguiar, but three straight Loggers points, two on consecutive combination blocks from Nicolette Reynaud and Jenni Brehove, gave the hosts an 11-7 lead.

Just when it seemed like the Loggers would carry that momentum to a second set win, Pacific Lutheran came back with a flurry, tying the set at 14-14 on a kill by Huston. They took the lead for good one point later on North's dump kill. The Lutes led by as many as four points before taking the victory on the final of Puget Sound's 12 attack error of the set.

A service ace, the team's eighth of the night, provided a rather ominous start for the Lutes in the third set. No worries. Pacific Lutheran scored the next point on UPS attack error, and North proceeded to serve the next five consecutive points, including two service aces and kills by Huston, Wood and Kelsey Pacolt. Trailing 6-1, the Loggers called a timeout, ended the PLU run on Florant's kill, and then ran off five straight points of their own to tie the set at 6-6, forcing a PLU timeout.

Bethany Huston and Pacolt combined to stuff a UPS attack attempt coming out of the timeout, both teams committed service errors, and after that neither team really got hold of the set as the momentum jumped from one side of the net to the other.

Puget Sound took a 13-11 lead, the Lutes got those two back, and then PLU's 10th service error of the night followed by a Lute attack error but the hosts back on top by a pair. Pacific Lutheran again tied it at 15 apiece, but when Emily Convery dropped a kill into the center of the PLU defense the Loggers took an 18-15 lead.

Another PLU service error, a rolling dump shot by Jackie Harvey and a strong kill by Reynaud gave Puget Sound a 21-16 advantage minutes later, but Chelsea Nelson, just inserted into the Pacific Lutheran lineup, notched a kill to stop the UPS run.

Whenever the Lutes got close, they sidetracked their own rallies with service errors, committing four of their 11 in the third set. Still, they battled, eventually coming back from a 23-20 deficit to tie it at 23-23 on Harvey's attack error. Harvey's next swing was long, putting the Lutes on top 24-23, and Urdahl ended the match with a kill off a Puget Sound defender.

Wood and Huston had 11 kills and Urdahl added seven as the Lutes finished with a .213 attack percentage. Huston, who hit .476 in the match, added two solo blocks and two block assists, and as always North ran an efficient offense with 33 assists and three kills. Blair Bjorkman, PLU senior libero, had an incredible 26 digs, nearly nine per set, to easily lead both teams in that category.

Puget Sound finished with a .077 attack percentage, with Harvey pounding 13 kills and Florant adding 12.

Pacific Lutheran wraps up the first half of the conference schedule on Friday when it hosts the George Fox Bruins starting at 7 p.m. on Olson Auditorium's Names Family Court.

- PLU -