By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Arianna Khan (So., OPP, Yuba, CA/River Valley HS) and Natalie Klotz (Fr., OH/OPP, Bonner Springs, KS/Bonner Springs HS) of Willamette University each recorded 15 kills to lead the Bearcats to a 3-2 victory over Whitman College in Northwest Conference action on Saturday, Sept. 15. The Bearcats earned a .256 team hitting percentage, and registered 74 digs and 10.0 team total blocks on defense.
The Bearcats won the first two sets, 25-19 and 25-23, but Whitman rallied with wins of 25-23 and 25-21 to force a fifth set. Willamette surged out to a 4-1 lead in the decisive set and went on to win 15-10. Willamette improved to 4-6 on the season, 1-1 in he NWC. Whitman dropped to 5-5 overall, 1-1 in the NWC.
"We played a really tough match tonight and proved to ourselves that we can become a solid team," Willamette Head Coach Tom Shoji said. "If we continue to work hard, improved in every match and not lose confidence in ourselves, we will be competitive in all of our matches. We had a really nice team win, but Arianna Khan had a really good night. This is always a very hard trip and I thought we played very well both nights."
The Bearcats placed four players in double figures for kills. Following Khan and Klotz were Jennifer Lane (Jr., MH/OH, Salinas, CA/Notre Dame HS) with 12 kills and Kendall Fox (Jr., OH, Dupont, WA/Steilacoom HS) with 11 kills. Lane hit .308, while Khan connected at a .297 rate. Klotz attacked at .256 and led WU with 19 digs.
Jaiden Mason (So., S/OPP, Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian School) provided the Bearcats with a career-high 43 saves, plus 16 digs and five total blocks. She also earned five kills and no attacking errors, while hitting .357. No one in the Willamette lineup committed more than four attacking errors.
The Bearcats finished with 59 kills and 16 errors. Whitman accumulated 66 kills, but ended the match with 28 attacking errors and hit .211 overall.
Codie Conching paced the Blues with 20 kills and contributed 15 digs. Megan Henry supplied 14 kills, while Rebecca Hall achieved 11 kills. Claire McCarthy topped all players with 22 digs. Tate Cadang was credited with 53 assists for the Blues.
Willamette gained a 9-2 lead in the first set on the strength of two kills by Fox, one kill each by Lane and Klotz, and a service ace by Khan. Whitman closed the gap to 11-9 on a kill by Brooke Randall, and later tied the set at 15-15 on a service ace by Conching. WU tallied the next three points for an 18-15 edge on a kill by Mason, a service ace by Fox and a combo block from Mason and Lane.
The Blues pulled within 18-17 and 19-18, but another 3-0 run, this time on a kill from Lane, a service ace by Mason and a combo block by Klotz and Kyana Benjamin (So., MH, Lubbock, TX/Lubbock HS) put Willamette in control. The small run started a 6-1 surge, as the Bearcats won, 25-19.
Willamette took the second set after building a 9-3 advantage. Whitman fought back to take five one-goal leads from 17-16 through 21-20. The Blues then added a kill by Conching for a two-point margin, but the Bearcats registered three consecutive points. Another kill from Conching tied the score at 23-23, before Willamette triumphed, 25-23.
In the third set, Whitman trailed 5-3, but later led 9-7. The set featured seven ties in the first 20 rallies, which ended at 10-10. Whitman earned the next six points -- three on service aces by Conching -- to take a 16-10 lead. Willamette got as close as two points four times, including 24-22 after a kill by Khan, but the Bearcats couldn't catch the Blues.
The fourth set included 10 ties, with the final tie at 12-12 on a kill for Henry of Whitman. The Blues eventually held a 19-15 lead, but WU pulled within 20-19 on a kill by Fox. A 5-2 run completed the 25-21 win for Whitman.
A 4-1 start for the Bearcats in the fifth set was met by a 3-0 run from the Blues. WU broke the 4-4 tie with three straight points, as Jo Stensaas (Sr., MH/OPP, Weed, CA/Weed HS) registered a solo block and Lane produced back-to-back kills. A bit later, Willamette led 10-5 on a kill by Lane. The Blues pulled as close as 12-10 on a kill from Conching, before the Bearcats ended the match with a 15-10 victory.
Willamette will play at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. (PDT), and will complete its season-opening 12-match road swing at Linfield College at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21. The Bearcats will host Pacific Lutheran University in Willamette's home opener on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m.