Despite being ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top-25 since the preseason, it was not until Thursday evening that Western Washington's volleyball team established sole possession of first place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings.
A 9-0 start in GNAC play by Alaska Anchorage prevented WWU from rising to the top of the conference standings through the first seven weeks of GNAC play, a statement that was backed up by the Seawolves' 3-2 victory over the Vikings in Bellingham earlier this fall.
It was the first time since 2011 that WWU lost a match at home, but last Thursday evening the Vikings returned the favor with a 3-1 win at Anchorage that pushed them in to sole possession of first place and earned them GNAC Team of the Week honors.
"We had a good week of preparation for both Alaska schools and we worked on having better focus and energy going into the games," 14th-year coach Diane Flick commented on last week's results against the Seawolves and Alaska Fairbanks. "During both matches we felt like we had good composure and we really took charge of what we wanted to do."
In many ways, it was only a matter of time before the No.-10 Vikings landed on top of the GNAC, namely considering the various statistical categories in which WWU players are amongst Division II leaders.
Leading the way is 2012 All-American libero Samantha Hutchinson, who currently ranks No. 2 in the NCAA in digs per set with 6.93.
"Sam is exactly everything you want in a libero, and she's not only good at ball handling but acts as almost a second coach out on the court," Flick said regarding the play of her team's leader. "The best thing is that everybody trusts the information she has and she is really the anchor to what we do."
Kayla Erickson ranks in the top five in Division II in hitting percentage, checking in at .392. Erickson is also amongst leaders in blocks per set at No. 22 (1.22) and points per set at No. 26 (4.39).
"Kayla is the prime example of intrinsic motivation and working from within," Flick said on Erickson's rare ability to have success at the collegiate level despite never playing club volleyball. "She made herself into a great player and she takes advantage of all of her opportunities to get better."
With two more matches to go in the regular season, WWU can clinch at least a share of first place with one victory this week. Both games are against an opponent the Vikings haven't faced this season in Simon Fraser.
"They're a good team and we'll have to stay within our system and take care of the ball on our side," Flick said regarding her team's upcoming matches against the Clan. "We do the same preparation for every team that we play, and we will watch a lot of film this week and focus more as the match draws closer."
In a season with some interesting twists and turns within the ever-important West Region rankings, the Vikings checked in at No. 5 in the latest poll. "There have certainly been some interesting rankings this season, but I have learned not to worry about them until the final poll of the season," Flick said regarding the postseason-determining rankings.
The Division II selection show, set to air at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, will establish the field for the 2013 playoffs.
"You can't look too far ahead when you get into the postseason," Flick said, adding, "You have to go one match at a time or else you'll be in trouble."
Dillard named Red Lion/GNAC Offensive co-Player of the Week
Western Washington University setter Taylor Dillard has been named the Red Lion/Great Northwest Athletic Conference Volleyball Offensive co-Player of the Week for Nov. 10-16, following WWU's sweep of a road trip to Alaska.
Dillard, a junior from Milton, had 81 assists , including 48 in a 3-1 win on Thursday, Nov. 14 at Alaska Anchorage that gave the Vikings sole possession of first place in the conference. Her setting helped WWU hit .362 in the two matches, including .467 in Saturday's sweep at Alaska Fairbanks.
Dillard, who ranks 10th nationally among NCAA II leaders in assists per set at 11.66, also had nine digs, seven blocks and five kills.
Needing one more victory to clinch a second straight GNAC title, No.10 nationally ranked WWU ends its regular season with two conference matches against Simon Fraser, traveling to Burnaby, B.C., at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, and playing host to the Clan at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23 at Carver Gym on the WWU campus.
WWU, which holds the advantage in every tie-breaking scenario, is 21-3 overall with 18 sweeps, and 14-2 in GNAC play.
Dillard shared the honor with Northwest Nazarene setter Michelle Terpstra.
WWU changes time for Sunday men's basketball game
The tip-off time for the Western Washington University men's basketball home game with Quest University B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 24, has been switched from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the WWU campus.
The change was made because the Vikings will host a NCAA II national quarterfinal women's soccer game at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Orca Field on the campus of Whatcom CC. WWU, the No.-2 seed, advanced with a 2-0 win over Seattle Pacific last Saturday, while No. 1 Cal State Stanislaus was upset by Cal State San Bernardino, 1-0 in overtime.
"We appreciate Quest working with us on this," said WWU interim director of athletics Steve Card. "We were hoping not to have the two games conflict."