COMING UP: Assured of at least a share of the program's seventh Northwest Conference championship since 1999, Pacific Lutheran hosts second place Puget Sound at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a chance to wrap up the title outright. The Lutes and Loggers will meet for the third time this season - they split the two previous matches - and for the first time in Olson Auditorium.
FOLLOW IT LIVE: The PLU vs. Puget Sound match will be available online via live stats (http://www.golutes.com/information/livestats), audio stream (http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/plu.portal#) and video stream (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/plu-volleyball).
CONFERENCE CHAMPS: With a 13-1 conference record, PLU has a two-game lead over second place Puget Sound, 11-3, with two matches remaining for both teams. The Lutes need to win just one of their two remaining contests - Wednesday night at home against Puget Sound and Friday night at George Fox in Newberg, Ore. - or have the Loggers lose one of their final two (they play at Lewis & Clark on Saturday night) to finish alone atop the conference standings. Previously, the Lutes won NWC championships in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, the 2006 crown shared with Linfield.
WHAT'S AT STAKE - REVISED: Yesterday's version of this weekly release contained inaccurate information regarding the conference tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head match record in conference matches ONLY. Pre-conference matches are not considered as indicated in yesterday's release. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head game record, wins and losses, between the tied teams, in conference matches ONLY. That means that if PLU is able to win at least one set today, even in a loss, it would secure the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament which starts with regional play the second week of November. That is because PLU swept Puget Sound the first time the teams played a conference counter this season. The NWC's third tiebreaker is record against NWC opponents in descending order of finish. Based on the conference standings, that tiebreaker would go to Puget Sound. There is a good chance that both PLU and UPS will get into the regional tournament by virtue of their current NCAA West Region rankings - PLU at No. 4, UPS at No. 5 - but neither team wants to take that chance. That is why Wednesday's match, and each program's final conference contest, have such import.
WHERE THEY'RE RANKED: As mentioned in the last note, PLU is No. 4 and Puget Sound No. 5 in the NCAA West Region poll, which is used to determine region tournament seeding and at-large bids. In the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, UPS is ranked 13th, one spot better than PLU, despite trailing the Lutes by two games in the conference standings.
PREVIOUS MEETING: In the most recent meeting between the two teams on Oct. 3, Pacific Lutheran defeated the Loggers, 25-20, 25-22, 25-23, in Memorial Fieldhouse. The match counted in the conference standings and provided PLU with a two-game lead over Puget Sound, an advantage it still enjoys. Allison Wood and Bethany Huston both had 11 kills and Haley 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 Samantha 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. It should be noted, however, that both Wood and North have since suffered season-ending injuries. Puget Sound finished with a .077 attack percentage, with Jackie Harvey pounding 13 kills and Marissa Florant adding 12. The first time the teams played on Sept. 1, Puget Sound rallied from a one-set deficit to take a 21-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18 triumph. The Lutes won the opening set behind the play of Huston, who had five kills in seven attack attempts. PLU seemed to have the second set in hand, racing to an 18-10 lead before the Loggers took the momentum away by scoring 10 of the next 11 points to gain a 20-19 lead, their first of the set. The Lutes contributed to the Puget Sound rally, however, with five attack errors. Jackie Harvey had seven of her match-high 20 kills in the second set. The third set again showed PLU gaining the early lead. Puget Sound tied it on a couple of occasions, but the Lutes took a 19-16 advantage before the Loggers closed it out by scoring nine of the final 11 points. In the final set, the Lutes led 6-3 early but couldn't stay with the Loggers the rest of the way. Huston led the Lutes in that match with 11 kills, one solo block and three block assists.
SERIES HISTORY: If you look at the overall numbers it is clear that Puget Sound has dominated PLU in volleyball, winning 54 times and losing just 21. At one point, however, UPS held a 40-1 series lead. The only PLU win during that stretch came in 1990. Since Kevin Aoki took over as head coach at his alma mater in 1996, the Lutes have won 20 matches and the Loggers 22.
ABOUT THE LOGGERS: Outside hitter Jackie Harvey, named the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Player of the Week, is a strong candidate for Northwest Conference Player of the Year. She leads the NWC with 3.90 kills per set. Setter Jenni Brehove leads the circuit with 10.62 assists per set, and libero Christina Chun is third with 5.16 digs per set.
AOKI WINS NO. 300: 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, last Friday night in Olson Auditorium. Aoki, a 1984 Pacific Lutheran alum now in his 17th season as head coach, is 301-141, including Saturday's five-set thriller over Willamette.
ABOUT GEORGE FOX: Pacific Lutheran beat the visiting George Fox Bruins, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17, the first time the teams met on Oct. 5. Haley Urdahl ended up with 11 kills, six in the first set, and Allison Wood and Bethany Huston contributed 10 apiece as the Lutes hit .212 as a team. Samantha North continued her outstanding play as the sophomore setter finished with 35 assists, three kills and three block assists. Blair Bjorkman had 20 digs and Amber Aguiar added thre of PLU's seven service aces. The Bruins will enter Friday's match 9-12 overall and 7-7 in the conference, good for fifth place.
NATIONAL LEADERS: Three PLU volleyball players continue to rank among the Division III national leaders in their specialties. Bethany Huston ranks third with 1.37 blocks per set, Samantha North is 31st with 10.14 assists per set, and Blair Bjorkman is 26th with 5.79 digs per set. In the team "per set average," PLU is 29th in assists (11.86), 39th in kills (12.73), 19th in digs (19.46), and 22nd in blocks (2.21).
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