BELLINGHAM — Getting off to a fast start has been a goal for the Western Washington University volleyball team both in its matches and for the season.
After sweeping Western Oregon University 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 at home to remain undefeated in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play, it’s hard to imagine a faster start to conference play for the Vikings.
Emily Jepsen finished with 13 kills and Kathryn Mertens added nine more to lead WWU past the Wolves on Saturday, Sept. 18, at Carver Gym.
With the win WWU (7-1, 4-0) takes sole possession of first place in the GNAC standings and grabs some momentum heading into a tough road trip to Alaska next week. The Vikings entered the week ranked No. 18 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association/NCAA Division II Top 25 Poll and showed why with convincing wins over Saint Martin’s on Friday and then WOU.
“One of our goals is to have fast starts and I think our offense was able to do that tonight,” WWU coach Diane Flick said.
The Vikings started well in the first set, but nearly let it slip away. After holding a 13-6 lead early on the Wolves rallied to take a 20-19 lead before WWU started putting the ball away and putting the pressure on Western Oregon. The Vikings won a long rally to even things at 20-20 and a kill by Mertens gave the Vikings a 21-20 lead. Kari Rice delivered an ace to push the advantage to 22-20. After a couple more Wolves points Bailey Jones found an empty bit of floor on the other side of the net and tipped the ball over to give WWU the first set.
“I think we showed a lot of patience out there,” Mertens said. “We’re starting to take our time, be patient, and play really well as a team. There are always things you can improve on, but for the most part I think we did a good job following the game plan.”
Western Oregon (5-4, 3-1) pushed the Vikings in the second set, trading points back and forth until WWU was finally able to create some space late in the game. Mertens broke a 19-19 tie with a kill and Jepsen followed with a kill of her own to make it 21-19. An ace by Haleigh Adkins and another Jepsen kill pushed that lead to 24-21 before a Wolves serving error ended the set and gave WWU a 2-0 lead in the match.
“I was just pleased to see this team keep persevering and pushing through,” Flick said. “They put up a big block against us. That’s something we don’t mind seeing, but it’s a challenge and we just kept attacking.”
Whatever riddle the Wolves block presented for WWU early in the match was solved by the third set. The Vikings ran out to a 17-10 lead in the deciding game before weathering a late Wolves rally to eventually earn the sweep. WOU clawed to within 22-19, but again Mertens and Jepsen came up with back-to-back kills late in the game to keep the Wolves at bay.
The Vikings hit the road next week to close out September with matches at Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage.
“Alaska is a tough road trip,” Flick said. “It’s not only tough teams to play, but it’s a tough place to travel to. It’s great to have some momentum, but I also think we have a lot of work to do. I still think we need to come to practice on Monday with our hard hats on ready to go to work.”