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Short-handed Lutes Make Final Conference Push

COMING UP: Pacific Lutheran hosts Pacific on Friday and Willamette on Saturday in Northwest Conference matches slated to start at 7 p.m. The matches will be played on Names Family Court in Olson Auditorium. 

LUTES ARE SHORT-HANDED: There is never a good time for a team to be beset by injuries and illness, but that is the case for Pacific Lutheran as it begins its final push for the Northwest Conference volleyball title. The Lutes will be without all-region and all-conference sophomore setter Samantha North for the remainder of the campaign after she injured her knee during warmups prior to last Friday's conference match against Linfield. Additionally, junior outside hitter Allison Wood is out indefinitely with a wrist injury suffered in last Saturday's victory over Lewis & Clark. Senior outside hitter Kelsey Pacolt and senior libero Blair Bjorkman did not play in PLU's midweek non-conference loss to Saint Martin's because of illness, and their status for the weekend matches has not been determined, though it appears likely that Bjorkman should be ready. Finally, sophomore middle blocker Amy Wooten also sat out the Saint Martin's match but is expected to play this weekend.

PLU IN A GOOD SPOT: If you do have to contend with injuries and illness, it's best to be on the top looking down, and that's the situation for the Lutes. The conference standings show Pacific Lutheran in first with an 11-1 record and with three of its remaining four matches at home.  Puget Sound at 9-3 and in second place, has two matches at home and two on the road, while Pacific at 9-4 and in third has one away (this Friday at PLU) and two at home. The Lutes can eliminate Pacific from title contention with a win on Friday night. Following the two home matches this weekend, PLU hosts Puget Sound in another big conference match at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, before closing the NWC at George Fox on Nov. 2.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The conference champion receives and automatic berth in the NCAA Division III volleyball postseason tournament, which starts the second week of November. Should there be a tie atop the conference standings, a preset tiebreaker format is used to determine which team gets the NWC's automatic bid. Pacific Lutheran has won outright or shared six conference titles since 1999 and has appeared in the Division III postseason tournament seven times during that time, including last season when it went as a second-place conference team.

NATIONAL AND REGIONAL RANKING: Pacific Lutheran moved up one spot to No. 15 in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association Divsion III Top 25 poll. More important is where the Lutes sit in the NCAA West Region poll. The first poll, put out a week ago, showed PLU in fourth place behind Cal Lutheran, Chapman and La Verne. Puget Sound was fifth in the region poll. We will update this release with the most current region ranking once it is posted on the NCAA web site.

ABOUT PACIFIC: The Boxers are the surprise team of the conference with a 9-4 record and a 10-11 overall mark. Under the direction of first-year head coach Kip Yoshimura, formerly a head coach at Lewis-Clark State and Gonzaga, the Boxers are contending for the conference title. Outside hitters Marie Rewick (.264 attack percentage, 3.18 kills per set) and Alexa Block (.238 percentage, 2.90 kills per set), the Boxers have a high-powered attack. Middle blocker Mariah McHolland leads the defense at the net with 1.05 blocks per set, and libero Becky Sheller has 4.90 digs per set. In the first meeting between these teams on Sept. 28 in Forest Grove., Ore., Bethany Huston and Allison Wood both finished with 10 kills as Pacific Lutheran defeated the Boxers, 25-19, 25-18, 25-14. 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. After hitting a solid .357 in the second set, the Boxers had a -.030 percentage in the final set and finished at .130 overall.

ABOUT WILLAMETTE: The Bearcats are 7-12 overall and 5-7 in the conference, good for sixth place. The leader is outside hitter Madisyn Leenstra, who averages 3.45 kills per set while hitting .239 this season. Shannon Waltz has a .303 attack percentage and averages 1.23 blocks per set, while Carly Hargrave hits at a .269 clip while adding 1.20 blocks per set. Emily Compton runs the offense and averages 9.39 assists per set, while Kathy Lee Glenn contributes 5.27 digs per set to the Willamette cause. Pacific Lutheran won the first match against Willamette, 26-24, 25-17, 27-25, on Sept. 29 in Salem, Ore. As has been the case throughout the season, the Lutes used a balanced offensive attack. Bethany Huston was the kill leader for the Lutes with nine, and she added eight block assists as PLU finished with 11 team blocks. Samantha North had six kills, 30 assists and five block assists, Allison Wood added seven kills, and Kelsey Pacolt had six kills and four block assists. Blair Bjorkman had 17 digs and Amber Aguiar added 14 to lead the back row defense.

NATIONAL LEADERS: Three PLU volleyball players continue to rank among the Division III national leaders in their specialties. Bethany Huston ranks sixth with 1.33 blocks per set, Samantha North is 29th with 10.14 assists per set, and Blair Bjorkman is 30th with 5.71 digs per set. In the team "per set average," PLU is 14th in assists (12.20), 26th in kills (12.99), 18th in digs (19.39), and 23rd in blocks (2.19).

VINCENT EARNS NWC HONOR: It was quite a weekend for the Pacific Lutheran volleyball team, and in particular for senior setter Brianne Vincent, who was named Northwest Conference Volleyball Co-Student-Athlete of the Week. She shared the honor with Lucy Capron from George Fox University. Vincent, a reserve on the 15th-ranked PLU team, was pressed into a starting role when all-region and all-conference setter Samantha North went down with a knee injury in warmups before Friday's game against Linfield. While leading the Lutes to a 3-1 win over Linfield, and a 3-0 victory over Lewis & Clark the following night, Vincent compiled 79 assists, five block assists, two solo blocks and two service aces. She averaged nearly 11.3 assists per set as the Lutes maintained their two-game lead in the Northwest Conference standings. What makes the story more interesting is that Vincent, who was a volleyball statistician last year, turned out for the team this season after being asked by head coach Kevin Aoki to fill the role of reserve setter. Vincent had played for Pacific Lutheran in 2010, so Aoki knew the quality of player and person he was getting on the team.

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