Willamette University’s women’s volleyball team played four matches between Friday, Aug. 30, and Saturday, Aug. 31, in the Oregon Trail Classic. The Classic took place on even ground, with Friday’s matches being held at Pacific University and Saturday’s matches at George Fox University.
The team began the Classic strong in a three-set victory over Central College (Iowa). WU easily won the first set 25-19, but faced strong opposition from Central in the second set. After the Bearcats scored four quick points, Central struck back, seizing an 11-10 lead. After three errors were committed by the opposition, first-year Shyla Sato put the Bearcats firmly in control of the game, scoring decisively on two service aces. Willamette pushed ahead to a 21-15 lead, but Central found success behind Erin Dilger’s serves, surging to tie the game at 21. However, fueled by first-year Emma Porter’s strong serving and sophomore Natalie Klotz’s kill, WU closed out a narrow 25-23 second-set victory.
In the third set, Central started out strong but quickly surrendered the lead to WU. The Dutch managed to cut the deficit to 20-18, but the Bearcats won both the set (25-21) and the match. Senior Jennifer Lane led the Bearcats with 10 kills. Klotz (nine kills) and first-year Dani Queja (seven kills) also turned in strong performances for the match. The team overall held an advantage in kills (33-28), digs (62-55), and service aces (11-4). This was the Bearcats’ first match of the season. The match was especially impressive for the Bearcats, considering that it was their first of the season.
Play continued later that afternoon for WU against Hamline University. Each set was competitive, and unlike the first match, it took all five sets to determine a winner. In the first set, WU quickly rattled off six points behind the serving of first-year Jessica Nash, claiming an early 7-1 lead. Hamline took a timeout to rethink their strategy, and the set remained close for the rest of its duration. Trailing 21-20, several WU players rose to the challenge. Junior Kyana Benjamin’s kill tied the game, and Porter’s service ace pushed the Bearcats ahead for good.
WU led for much of the second set, but a late surge from Hamline tied the match at one set apiece. The third set would prove to be WU’s strongest set yet. Jumping to a 12-8 lead, WU’s offense began to hum, going on a 10-3 run. Hamline ultimately lost the set 25-15 in the most lopsided defeat of the match. However, Hamline rebounded in the fourth set. Powered by the serving of Gabby Robinson, Hamline broke a 19-19 tie to claim a 25-20 victory. Hamline also won the final set to seal the match in their favor. Lane registered 13 kills and four blocks, while Klotz added on nine digs and 11 kills. Porter amassed 39 assists and 14 digs, and Sato led both teams with 29 digs.
Play resumed the next day as WU played two more fiercely competitive matches. The first match was against the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota). WU took St. Thomas, which had a 25-9 record last season, all the way to five sets. In the first set, Willamette dominated the Tommies, taking a 22-10 lead due to Porter’s multiple service aces and Lane’s multiple kills. Right when the set seemed to be over, St. Thomas went on a 10-2 run to cut the score to 24-20. Lane averted near disaster with a decisive kill to end the set.
Down 22-16 in the second set, the Bearcats went on a nine-point winning run, powered by two kills by Queja, a kill by Lane and a service ace from Sato. WU was unable to keep up its momentum for the final three sets of the match. The Tommies took the next two sets easily, and while the Bearcats came close in the fifth, St. Thomas took a four-point victory to end the match 3-2 in their favor.
WU’s final opponent of the Classic was John Carroll University. After losing the first set, WU triumphed 25-18 in the second set. The Bearcats claimed a 25-24 advantage in the third set, but since the deficit was less than two points, the game continued. The Blue Streaks rallied and won the set, 27-25. The fourth set was close throughout. WU closed a late deficit to 22-20, but the opponent was able to rally and win the set and match.
While the team ended the Classic with a 1-3 record, they won eight sets, while only losing nine. WU’s women’s volleyball team performed better than their 1-3 record, creating plenty of optimism for the rest of the season. The team’s home opener will come on Tuesday, Sept. 3 against Northwest Nazarene University.