Junior middle blocker Becca Holtgeerts had the match of her career on Saturday night in Olson Auditorium, and it couldn't have come at a better time for her and the Pacific Lutheran volleyball team.
With Holtgeerts pounding down a career-high 20 kills and hitting .459 during the match, the Lutes earned at least a share of the Northwest Conference championship with a nail-biting 25-19, 25-23, 12-25, 18-25, 15-6 victory over the upstart Willamette Bearcats.
PLU, ranked 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Top 25 poll, improves to 19-4 overall and 13-1 in the conference. With only two matches remaining in the conference season, the worst that the Lutes can finish is in a tie for first place with Puget Sound.
The Loggers, who have an 11-3 NWC mark, come to Olson Auditorium on Wednesday night to take on the Lutes. Pacific Lutheran can win the conference title outright, but a Puget Sound win would keep the Loggers in the hunt for a share of the title. The cross-town rivalry match is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m.
Pacific Lutheran needed every one of Holtgeerts' 20 kills to put away the Bearcats, who pushed the hosts to the end before finally succumbing. With the loss, Willamette is now 7-14 overall and 5-9 in the conference.
As they had the night before in a three-set sweep of visiting Pacific, the Lutes looked particularly sharp in taking the first two sets. In the opener, Holtgeerts had six kills in as many attack attempts, and she added a block assist as the Lutes collected three team blocks. Amy Wooten and Chelsea Nelson added three kills each as the Lutes hit .308 as a team in taking the set.
Willamette started to show its mettle in the second set, with Madisyn Leenstra collecting five kills and the team hitting .222. The Lutes had an answer, however, and it came in the form of Holtgeerts. She continued her impressive hitting display with eight kills in 10 swings. Through the first two sets Holtgeerts had 14 kills and no errors in 16 attempts, an almost unheard of .875 attack percentage.
Coming out of the eight-minute intermission, Willamette grabbed the momentum and pounded the Lutes in the third set with a great display of attacking volleyball. With setter Emily Compton running the offense, five different players - Elisa Ahern, Carly Hargrave, Leenstra, Shannon Waltz and Nicole Mertens - all had three kills apiece and the Bearcats hit an amazing .484 as a team.
The fourth set started with the Lutes scoring six consecutive points on Brianne Vincent's serve, with Holtgeerts and Huston combining on one block and Huston getting a solo stuff on the sixth point.
Once the Bearcats stopped the run, however, they went on a tear of their own and tied it at 8-8 on two straight PLU attack miscues. Willamette finally took the lead at 14-13 on a kill by Mertens, and they eventually broke away from a 16-16 tie by scoring eight consecutive points. Waltz and Leenstra had kills during that surge, but the real difference was outstanding blocking by the visitors. Compton and Waltz combined on one block, and Leenstra joined Waltz on two more.
The Lutes were able to hold off the Bearcats for two more points, those coming on kills by Kelsey Pacolt and Wooten, before Leenstra ended the set with a kill.
That brought about the deciding fifth set. Willamette got the first point on a kill by Leenstra, but a blocking error by the Bearcats led to PLU running off six of the next seven points, capped by a Blair Bjorkman service ace and Nelson kill.
Wooten and Vincent combined to block Mertens, making the score 10-3 in favor of the Lutes, and they finally closed it out on a Willamette attack miscue. Pacific Lutheran hit .278 compared to -.158 for Willamette in the deciding set.
Besides Holtgeerts, the Lutes were led on offense by Nelson with 13 kills, Huston with 11 kills and Vincent with 48 assists. Defensively, the Lutes finished with 10 team blocks, led by Huston with three solos and four assists, and by Bjorkman with 31 digs.
For Willamette, Leenstra had 15 kills, Waltz 11 and Mertens 10, with Compton credited with 44 assists. Defensively, Waltz was tough at the net with a solo block and five assists, while Elizabeth Balding added 26 digs from the back row.
- PLU -