PARKLAND - Kevin Aoki picked up the 300th victory of his outstanding coaching career at Pacific Lutheran as his Lutes swept the Pacific Boxers, 25-16, 25-14, 25-19, in a Northwest Conference volleyball match played Friday night in Olson Auditorium.
Aoki, a 1984 Pacific Lutheran alum now in his 17th season as head coach, saw his record improve to 300-141, while at the same time the team moved one step closer to the program's seventh conference title.
The Lutes, ranked 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Top 25 poll, improved to 18-4 overall and to 12-1 in the conference. With the loss, the much-improved Boxers saw their dim conference title hopes come to an end. Their record is now 10-12 overall and 9-5 in the NWC.
There were plenty of heroes for the Lutes, who had one of their best matches of the season despite missing three starters. Two of those players are done for the year - all-region setter Samantha North with a torn ACL and outside hitter Allison Wood with a broken wrist. Outside hitter Kelsey Pacolt was held out after a recent illness.
"We played really well," said Aoki as several hundred people milled around in the gym following the match. "This is a testament to what we try to do program-wise. Everybody needs to be ready, and people stepped up and played solid tonight. The way we played was so good. I'm not surprised because I see it in practice every day."
Aoki also complimented his long-time assistant and friend, Tim Templin. "Kudos for Tim, who has been with me the whole way."
The Lutes got off to a hot start and carried that momentum through the first two sets.
In the first set, Pacific took a brief lead at 3-2 on consecutive kills by Mariah McHolland, but once the Lutes got the lead at 4-3 they continued to add to it. Amy Wooten's kill made it 11-4 in favor of the home team, and when Becca Holtgeerts put one away PLU led 16-6. McHolland's kill got her team going on a brief run that saw the Boxers eventually close to within 19-13 on a combined block by Hannah Herbert and McHolland.
Bethany Huston returned momentum to PLU's side with a kill, and later finishes by Wooten and Chelsea Nelson led to the eventual nine-point win in the first set. The Lutes had four team blocks in the first set, which gave Pacific a -.019 attack percentage.
Though the score was tied a three times early, the Lutes never trailed in rolling to the second set victory. Kills by Brianne Vincent and Haley Urdahl and Nelson's service ace put the Lutes on top 6-3, and when Huston and Holtgeerts combined on their fourth block of the set, the score was 16-6. Amy Wooten and Nelson later combined on a block, and Wooten eventually ended the set with a kill.
In the second set alone the Lutes had six team blocks, and in that set they hit .308 while limiting the Boxers to -.100.
"The blocking set the tone for the match," Aoki said. "You could see that their outsides didn't want to hit anymore."
The final set was much tighter, and in fact Pacific held the lead most of the way until the Lutes finally broke away late. Emily Farnham's dump kill gave the Boxers a 10-7 advantage, though PLU came back to tie it at 12-12 when Huston and Holtgeerts once again combined to stuff Alexa Block at the net. Kills by Block and Tianna Greenhalgh gave Pacific temporary two-point leads at 15-13 and 16-14, but five errors by the visitors over the course of a six-point run swung the momentum, and the lead, to the Lutes at 22-19. A kill by Huston, another Boxers attack error, and finally a solo block by Huston closed the set and the match.
Pacific Lutheran finished the three-set match with 14 team blocks, including three solo and five assists by Huston, two solo and two assists by Nelson, six assists by Holtgeerts and four assists by Wooten.
Vincent, pressed into a starting role, finished with 23 assists and spread the ball around to a host of teammates. Nelson led the team with nine kills, and Urdahl, Wooten and Huston all added six apiece. Hutson hit .545 with no errors in 11 attempts. Nelson led the team wtih 18 digs, followed by Blair Bjorkman with 15 and Urdahl with 11.
For the Boxers, McHolland had six of her team-high seven kills in the first set, and she added one solo block and two block assists. Emily Farnham led the team with 18 assists, while Becky Sheller led all players with 23 digs.
Pacific Lutheran returns to action at 7 p.m. Saturday when it hosts the Willamette Bearcats in another conference contest.
- PLU -