SPOKANE - Pacific Lutheran came into Friday night's Northwest Conference volleyball match match unbeaten in NWC play and bearing the nation's No. 14 ranking, and it got all it bargained for from Whitworth before finally winning 17-25, 25-15, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11.
The victory, which came against the 2011 conference champions, improves PLU's overall record to 15-2 and also maintained the team's perfect mark in nine league matches. Whitworth showed its mettle against the Lutes before finally succumbing and falling to 6-10 overall and 2-7 in the NWC.
A disasterous start to the first set put PLU in a big hole from which they never recovered. Whitworth jumped out to an 11-4 lead, with the home team earning only one of the points on a block. Otherwise the Lutes had seven attack errors, two service errors and a ball handling error. The Pirates maintained a lead of at least five points through the remainder of the set and jumped out to a 1-0 lead over the nationally ranked visitors.
PLU won the second and third sets and more closely resembled the team that came into the match with an unblemished 8-0 record after the first half of conference play.
Benefitting from three straight Whitworth attack errors, the Lutes opened the second set with the first three points, and a kill by Amy Wooten pushed PLU ahead by an 8-3 score. At that point, however, it was more a matter of Whitworth mistakes than the Lutes playing their best volleyball. Jalana White kept the Pirates in it for awhile, but two kills by Kelsey Pacolt and another by Wooten put PLU on top 20-12 before Haley Urdahl finished it with a kill.
The Lutes actually trailed 11-7 in the third set before mounting a comeback by scoring six of the next seven points. Samantha North had a pair of kills and Bethany Huston added a solo block to highlight the run. Holding a tenuous 18-17 lead, PLU got a kill from Pacolt, two more from Wooten and another from Allison Wood to take a 24-18 lead. Whitworth pulled two points back but, as she had in the previous set, Urdahl ended this one with a kill.
That set up a closely contested, back-and-forth struggle in the fourth set. Pacific Lutheran had a two-point lead on two different occasions, but never more, and it wasn't until Whitworth got on top 22-19 on a PLU attack error that either team led by as many as three points. The Bucs finally put the win in their column, forcing the Lutes to a fifth set for only the second time this season and the first since they beat Texas-Dallas on Sept. 8 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the fifth-and-deciding set, the Lutes fell behind 6-4 as Whitworth's Kristine Kardell put away one of her 12 kills in the match. That's when Wooten took over. After kills by Pacolt and Urdahl tied it, Wooten combined with Samantha North on a block to give the Lutes a 7-6 advantage. After the Pirates knotted it at 7-7, Wooten put away two more attacks to start the Lutes on a run of four straight points. Chelsea Nelson later added a pair of kills, the second of which gave the team a 14-9 advantage, and Huston finally finished the set and match with a kill.
Wooten led the Lutes with 14 kills, followed by Pacolt and Huston with 10 apiece. PLU had its troubles in the attack, however, managing to hit just .098 against a Whitworth team that finished with eight team blocks and 81 digs.
Huston, one of the national leaders in blocks, ended with two solos and six assists, and Blair Bjorkman and Wood cleaned up in the back row with 28 and 19 digs, respectively. North ended wth match with 39 assists.
White had an outstanding game for the Pirates, finishing with 17 kills.
PLU returns to conference action at 5 p.m. Saturday when it faces the Whitman Missionaries in Walla Walla.
- PLU -