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Loggers Topple Lutes, Set Up Big Final Weekend

Blair Bjorkman had 27 digs.

Puget Sound stayed in the chase for at least a share of the Northwest Conference volleyball title Wednesday night with a closely contested 31-29, 25-22, 25-22 victory over Pacific Lutheran in Olson Auditorium.

The Lutes (19-5, 13-2 NWC) entered the match having already earned at least a share of the conference title, while at the same time needing either to win the match or take at least one set from the Loggers to wrap up the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA postseason tournament. The sweep by Puget Sound (18-5 overall, 12-3 NWC) instead pushes that determination down to the final weekend of the season.

Pacific Lutheran can wrap up the automatic berth with a win at fifth-place George Fox on Friday night, but a loss opens the door for Puget Sound, which plays Saturday at last-place Lewis & Clark. If PLU loses and UPS wins, the Loggers take the automatic berth by virtue of the conference tiebreaker.

Befitting a match between two of the top-ranked teams in Division III volleyball - Puget Sound is ranked 13th, PLU 14th - each set was fought down to the final point. In this case, it was the Loggers who scored that deciding point three straight times.

Pacific Lutheran opened the first set like it was going to take care of the NCAA tournament automatic berth in quick fashion, building an 11-5 lead with Haley Urdahl providing three kills. The Lutes later took a 19-13 advantage on a service ace by Amber Aguiar, forcing Puget Sound head coach Mark Massey to call his second timeout of the set.

Whatever he said to his team seemed to work. Marissa Florant's kill ended a string of of five straight PLU points and started the Loggers on their own five-point run. A service ace by Karly Edwards and another Florant kill highlighted the surge, which brought the Loggers to within 19-18.

At 20-20 the teams exchanged points and both had chances to win early. The Lutes were within a point at 24-23 only to see Emily Convery put one away for the Loggers. Puget Sound wasted a 25-24 lead with a service error, and then Puget Sound's Jackie Harvey put down a kill to rescue her team from a 26-25 hole. The set finally came to an end on another Convery kill.

The Loggers hit .194 in the first set, with both Harvey and Florant putting down six kills. The Lutes hit at .147, led by Urdahl with five kills.

The second and third sets were more of the same, though UPS decided both of them in regulation.

In the second set, it wasn't until a Harvey attack error gave PLU a 12-9 advantage that either team led by as many as three points. The Lutes took a 15-13 lead on a Bethany Huston kill, but the Loggers came back with five unanswered points, including a double block by Danielle Westerman and Nicolette Reynaud, to take an 18-15 lead.

Pacific Lutheran battled back to tie the set at 21-21 on another Huston kill and then took the lead on Kacey Hartman's service ace, but the Loggers closed the set by scoring the final four points. Harvey and Westerman both had a kill and Jenni Brehove scored a service ace in that run.

Westerman had a big set for the Loggers with five kills and no errors on nine attack attempts. Additionally, UPS was tough at the net with four blocks in the set, including a solo and assist from Westerman.

As it did in the opening set, PLU got off to a strong start at the outset of the third set. Blair Bjorkman had a service ace and Chelsea Nelson collected two kills as the Lutes surged ahead, 7-1.

Puget Sound whittled away at its deficit and tied the set at 12-12 on Harvey's kill, but again the Lutes pulled away, taking a 17-14 advantage on another Nelson finish. PLU's last lead came at 18-17 on a kill by Amy Wooten before the Loggers rallied from behind and eventually closed it out on Westerman's kill.

The Lutes hit .135 for the match and got 10 kills from Urdahl and nine from Huston. Brianne Vincent had 31 assists and Bjorkman led all players with an incredible 27 digs, an average of nine per set. Vincent, Bjorkman and Kelsey Pacolt are all seniors who were honored before their final match on the home floor

For the Loggers, who hit .188 as a team, Harvey had 12 kills, followed by Westerman and Florant with 10 apiece. Brehove, the conference leader in assists, had 39 in the match, an average of 13 per set. Christina Chun and Florant both had 18 digs for Puget Sound.

- PLU -