BELLINGHAM - As a future volleyball coach, senior leader Laurie Yearout displayed the right instinct to know when to make an unusual move for a setter in crunch time.
In fact, she was having so much fun setting for five teammates in one of Western Washington University's best-balanced efforts, she decided to get in on the action near the end of the GNAC-leading Vikings' 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 victory over Alaska-Anchorage on Thursday, Nov. 1, at Carver Gym.
Yearout's soft flip kill off an opponent's hit, following a rally sparked by team kill leader Marlayna Geary, put the Vikings (19-3, 12-2 GNAC) up 24-23 in the final set after they had squandered an 18-11 lead to the Seawolves (14-7, 9-4), who came in tied for second in the conference.
Emily Boerger's ensuing kill - off Yearout's 38th assist - ended an entertaining match and kept the nationally 17th-ranked Vikings in the GNAC lead and in the running to host an NCAA sub-regional, particularly if they can win their final four regular-season matches.
"I figured I would risk it (the flip kill) and see if it would cause a little chaos," said Yearout, who is 102 assists short of becoming only the fourth Viking to log 3,000 career assists. She also plagued the Seawolves with 11 digs, showing outstanding alertness for a setter.
"When we recruited Laurie, part of it was for the intangibles she has as a setter," said Western coach Diane Flick, whose team won its 12th home match in a row over two seasons. "She's going to be a coach, and she's already like a coach on the court."
Yearout, who holds a bachelor's degree in English, is the daughter of football and volleyball coaches and is a graduate student working toward earning her teaching certification.
While sophomore defensive specialist Samantha Hutchinson came up with 19 digs, Yearout got a kick out of seeing the five other regulars combine for 41 kills as the Vikings earned most of their points.
Geary, a senior who is No. 2 on Western's career list with 1,280 kills and ranks first in the conference and eighth nationally, had a match-high 11. She received plenty of support from Boerger (9), Kelsey Moore (8), Jennica McPherson (7) and Kayla Erickson (6) -- none of whom are seniors.
"We worked on balance all week in practice and we had them (Alaska-Anchorage) guessing a lot," said Yearout, who came in leading the GNAC with 873 assists and ranked No. 4 nationally in Division II. "It really paid off to have all of our hitters playing well."
Flick was excited about that, too: "Laurie did a good job of putting up sets for the full arsenal around her."
Geary moved within 99 kills of matching Western career leading Meghan Evoy, who last played in 2004.
Western's poise in the first two sets was gratifying for Flick and Yearout, but both acknowledged the third set was not nearly as smooth.
The first set was tied at 12 when Geary made one of the prettiest moves of the night. She made one of her 6 digs, then on the same sequence took a pass and powered a kill. Western never trailed in that set again and rattled off the final eight points.
The second set was also a clutch showcase for Geary, who scored Western's final two points on kills after the Seawolves rallied to within 23-21 and 24-22.
Geary is now No. 11 in career digs with 901 and is bidding to become only the third Viking to finish in the career top 10 in both kills and digs.
Hutchinson's 19 digs showed why the quick sophomore came in with the GNAC lead and the No. 6 national ranking.
Western, which dropped five spots in the national rankings after losing to Western Oregon last week, is rated No. 2 in the West behind BYU-Hawaii. Both could wind up hosting NCAA sub-regionals.
Yearout said the Vikings aren't even close to thinking about that yet, however.
"We just need to come every day ready to work hard at getting better in practice," she said, speaking exactly like the coach she is training to be.