Bearcats Grab First Set, but Pacific Rallies with Trio of Two-Point Wins

Kendall Fox (Jr., OH, Dupont, WA/Steilacoom HS)
Kendall Fox (Jr., OH, Dupont, WA/Steilacoom HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University Bearcats played a nearly perfect first set for a 25-14 win, but Pacific University won each of the next three sets by two-points each, as the Boxers rallied for a 3-1 victory in a Northwest Conference volleyball match on Friday, Sept. 28. With the Cone Field House crowd behind the Bearcats, Willamette pounded out 17 kills and hit .484 in the first set. The crowd also helped the Bearcats overcome deficits several times in the second, third and fourth sets, but the Boxers claimed close wins each time, 25-23, 28-26, 25-23.

Pacific advanced its record to 9-5 on the season, 3-2 in the NWC. Willamette fell to 6-9 overall, 3-2 in the NWC. The Bearcats played just two days after defeating Lewis & Clark College, 3-1, at Cone Field House on Wednesday (Sept. 26) . The Boxers were playing for the first time since losing to Whitworth University, 3-0, on Sunday (Sept. 23).

Milana Ivkovic led Pacific with 14 kills. Kendall Fox (Jr., OH, Dupont, WA/Steilacoom HS) paced the Bearcats with 15 kills.

With three close sets, the liberos also played key roles. For the Boxers, Haley Walz registered a match-high 27 digs. Elena Vasquez (So., LIB/DS, Kingston, WA/North Kitsap HS) earned 22 digs for Willamette.

Other key players for Willamette were Jaiden Mason (So., S/OPP, Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian School), Jennifer Lane (Jr., MH/OH, Salinas, CA/Notre Dame HS), and Natalie Klotz (Fr., OH/OPP, Bonner Springs, KS/Bonner Springs HS).

Mason just missed a triple-double, as she pounded out eight kills, supplied 39 assists and earned 11 digs. She hit .375 on offense and made three total blocks on defense. Lane contributed 10 kills, a .333 hitting percentage and five total blocks. Klotz amassed nine kills, seven digs, three service aces and three block assists.

"We played a good match, but they beat us on the serve and pass game," Willamette Head Coach Tom Shoji said. "Once we let them get a run, it was hard for us to make a comeback. We fought back, but it was a little to late. It was good to see that our girls didn't give up. Jaiden had some great hitting and Elena did a great job digging in the back row."

In addition to Ivkovic and Walz, additional top performers for the Boxers included Morgan Mendicino, Bailey Servoss and Ellie Parker. Mendicino produced 11 kills and five service aces. Servoss achieved eight kills with a .429 hitting percentage, and also led Pacific with five total blocks. Parker registered 38 assists.

Willamette bombarded Pacific with quality play in the first set, including five kills from Klotz and four kills each by Fox and Lane. WU committed only two attacking errors during the set. Meanwhile, the Bearcats connected for powerful serves that didn't lead to aces but kept Pacific's offense out of sync for most of the set. Willamette held leads of 10-4 and 17-6 on its way to the 25-14 win.

Pacific gained some momentum in the second set by taking a 12-8 lead after a kill by Mendicino. Willamette scored the next four points for a 12-12 tie following a combo block by Klotz and Lane, two service aces from Klotz and a kill by Fox. Pacific countered with its own 4-0 run that featured two aces by Mendicino. Later, the Boxers owned a 21-16 lead, only to have the Bearcats pull within 22-21 six rallies later on a kill by Lane. The set was tied at 23-23 after a combo block by Mason and Lane, but the Boxers won the 25-23 as Mendicino provided a kill and then combined with Ivkovic for a block.

WU trailed 11-6 in the third set, before rallying for a 13-13 tie on a solo block by Jo Stensaas (Sr., MH/OPP, Weed, CA/Weed HS). The Bearcats went on to take a 22-18 lead at the end of a 6-2 run, but the Boxers eventually forced a 24-24 tie. A service error by Pacific put Willamette in front, and a kill from Servoss brought the Boxers back into a deadlock at 25-25. The teams were tied for the eighth time in the set two points later, and then Servoss and Jordan Zweifel provided back-to-back kill to give the Boxers a 28-26 win.

The Boxers held a 9-5 margin after 14 rallies in the fourth set. A block by Stensaas and Klotz, plus three consecutive attacking errors by the Boxers, allowed WU to tie the score. Pacific went in front 10-9 and also held a one-point edge at 16-15. The Boxers then went on a 5-1 run that included two kills by Karlee Duncan, as Pacific built a 21-16 lead. Again the Bearcats fought back, eventually pulling within one point at 24-23 on a kill by Fox. The final point went to Pacific on an attacking error by Willamette.

Up next for the Bearcats is an NWC match at University of Puget Sound on Friday, Oct. 5. The action is scheduled to begin in Tacoma, Washington, at 7 p.m. (PDT).