BELLINGHAM - Avenging Western's only Great Northwest Athletic Conference loss was a small luxury for WWU. Plain and simple, coach Diane Flick's Vikings weren't about to lose to their biggest in-state rival at Carver Gym.
"I'm sure the loss adds fuel to the fire, but it's a Central-Western rivalry," Flick said. "If it was a game of tiddlywinks or chess, I think we'd both want to beat each other."
The Wildcats marred WWU's league record, handing Western its only conference loss three weeks ago in a four-set match in Ellensburg.
Flick said her club came out sluggish and tentative.
With the GNAC lead up for grabs, there was nothing timid about the Vikings this time around.
Since the loss, WWU has won five straight and made it six in a row, as No. 15-ranked WWU made quick work of No. 21 Central in a 25-19, 25-20, 25-18 sweep Thursday night, Oct. 18.
"It felt really good," outside hitter Kelsey Moore said of the rivalry win. "I think we look forward way more to this match than any other match. The last time (against Central), it was really frustrating. We wanted to come out strong and come out swinging."
The Vikings swung and swung and swung some more.
Hitter Marlayna Geary led Western with 13 kills, and the 6-foot-1 Moore swung high and swung often, compiling 11 kills in the win.
Flick preached aggression leading up to Thursday's matchup. The Vikings (16-2, 9-1 GNAC) responded, and Moore acted as the catalyst.
"She really set the tone for us tonight," Flick said of Moore. "She starting hitting high and into spots we knew we had to hit, and she stayed aggressive. She does a really good job of having short-term memory. If anything goes wrong, she goes into the next play. I've been really happy with Kelsey. She's really been coming on as of late."
Flick said she's been using a "win the next play" mantra with her club. Western didn't encounter too much adversity against Central with the exception of a 17-15 deficit in the second set.
Four kills by Geary and kills by Kayla Erickson, Emily Boerger and Jennica McPherson helped WWU enjoy a 10-3 run to close the second set with a 25-20 win.
"I think that is something I've seen them do in many situations," Flick said of WWU's ability to play well under pressure. "We did that against (Alaska) Anchorage, and we did that against Sonoma. I think it's good to know that when we get in tight situations, we actually feel more comfortable than we do when we have a big lead."
Boerger said it was WWU's persistence that helped them win the pivotal second set.
"The first time playing them, we weren't aggressive enough," Boerger said. "Even if we hit it out, we just need to keep on hitting."
Western never trailed in the first set. Central tied it at 10-10 and again at 13-13, but five kills each by Geary and Moore helped Western pull out a win. Erickson recorded one of her game-high six blocks to close the first set.
The Vikings built on their early momentum in the third, as a McPherson kill and three consecutive blocks by Erickson, Boerger and McPherson helped the Vikings build a 5-0 lead, which prompted a CWU timeout.
WWU held a 9-2 advantage, but Central scored four straight points. Three points was the closest Central got the rest of the set. Moore rose from the left side of the court and buried a cross-kill to seal the victory. Geary dropped to her knees in excitement, and WWU embraced at mid court.
"Boerger got a ton of blocks, especially in that third game," Moore said. "That didn't even let them get an attempt. We played great defense all around. I think everyone had a really good game."
Boerger said she was happy to get another shot at Central, because she thought Western had improved tremendously since the two rivals last played.
"I think our practices are so competitive," Boerger said, referring to how WWU has been able to win six straight matches. "It makes it like a game situation, and everybody gets better."
Laurie Yearout accounted for 41 of Western's 43 assists. Samantha Hutchinson compiled a team-high 23 digs and Geary had 11. The Wildcats were led by Marcy Hjellum's and Emmy Dolan's combined 25 kills. Kaely Kight had a game-high 24 digs for Central.
The Vikings face Northwest Nazarene University next at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Carver Gym.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.