BELLINGHAM -- Longtime volleyball fans at Western Washington University are in danger of becoming spoiled by a long string of defensive All-Americans, but that's the way they like it.
Most of the students who packed the cheering section at Carver Gym on Saturday, Oct. 5, have known only one libero, third-year starter Samantha Hutchinson, and they're perhaps a little spoiled, too.
Hutchinson, a second-team All-America as a sophomore, provided the statistical highlight of Western's 25-17, 25-16, 25-11 GNAC victory over rival Central Washington. The crowd was announced as 962 but sounded like 1,962.
Hutchinson provided her usual three-set quota of a match-high 22 digs, several of the spectacular variety, along with the leadership so much appreciated by coach Diane Flick.
That enabled Hutchinson to move into the No. 4 career spot with 1,331. The only three defensive specialists she trails were also Viking All-Americans since Flick became coach in 2000 -- Courtney Schneider, Allison Gotz and Nicola Parker.
"She's a great court leader ... she really sees the entire court well and provides great information to our hitters," Flick said of Hutchinson.
The hitters must have been listening well, indeed, as the nationally ninth-ranked Vikings (11-1, 4-0) surged in the late stages of all three sets to dominate the Wildcats (6-8, 2-4) in only the second home match of the season for Western.
Kayla Erickson, a 6-foot junior who came into the season ranked second in career attack percentage (.343), posted a .526 percentage with a match-high 11 kills and only one error for the Vikings, who began the season 26-1 at home in the previous three years.
Emily Boerger, Western's only senior, had 10 kills and a .500 percentage, and junior Kelsey Moore posted 9 kills and a .400 figure. Jennica McPherson and Rachel Roeder contributed 6 and 5 kills, respectively, with Roeder striking flawlessly to lead the Vikings to an encouraging .344 attack percentage.
"I think we do," Hutchinson said, when asked if the Vikings have the potential to claim Flick's seventh conference title. "Our people (most of them exceptionally experienced despite their youth) who played last year are (that much) more experienced."
Hutchinson said she's happy to provide a role model for what Flick constantly preaches: "To take it one point at a time, to focus only on the next point, as though it were a new match."
Moore, a 6-foot-1 powerhouse, displayed "quite an arm" with her hitting power, as Flick put it.
Meanwhile, junior setter Taylor Dillard was the epitome of efficiency, contributing 35 assists -- a high number for a three-set match. Bryce Larson, the only freshman in the regular nine-player rotation, contributed 7 digs and junior outside hitter Emily "Welcome Back" Cotter notched 11 digs.
Redshirt freshman Raney Lepper from Mount Baker High -- the team's only player from Whatcom County -- made her first college appearance near the end of the third set and served the match-ending point.
The Vikings vividly displayed the focus Flick stresses. Some of the fans, in fact, would call it a "killer instinct."
Central hung around in the first set, trailing 16-13, but the Vikings finished with a 9-4 surge. The Wildcats trailed 18-14 in the second set until Western wound up with a 7-2 run, capped by McPherson's artistic back-line ace.
In the third set, which Central trailed 16-9, the Vikings displayed no complacency while finishing on a 9-2 up note.
What also delighted Flick was the Vikings' consistency.
"We hit only five balls out of bounds, which is real good for a three-set match," she said. "We've been working hard on playing more consistently."
The students seemed as though they've been impatient for volleyball to arrive at Western. Two nights earlier, the Vikings made their home debut with a 3-0 domination of Northwest Nazarene after losing only four sets during their first 10 matches under road pressures.
The Vikings will play at home in eight of their next 12 matches, giving the fans the opportunity to crack an attendance of 1,000 and sound like 2,000. It may not be the Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man," but it's pretty impressive for a college team.
"Full stands!" was how Hutchinson put it with enthusiasm. She, for one, will never be spoiled by large crowds.