Volleyball gears up for the home stretch against strong opponents
By Peter Melling /// Sports Editor
In the face of tough conference competition, the women’s volleyball team is gearing up for their push towards the end of the season. Under Head Coach Stacie Matz, they face a tough schedule of entirely conference opponents, with four of their final six matches on the road. How will the team prepare for these final events, and how far have they come from past years?
The season did not get off to the best start. The Pioneers went 4-6 to start their conference season, after going 6-3 in non-conference play. However, they have recovered and are riding a two-game winning streak going into their final road trip.
On the team’s rebound from the rough start, team co-captain Kataleya Milan (’15) said, “I think now we’ve pushed past a lot of [our early struggles], and have really worked hard to come out of it, and we’re just starting to see in the second half of our conference [that we’re] making a turnaround. Now we’re going in the right direction, and that’s exciting.”
This was especially apparent last Saturday, in a 3-0 win against the Pacific University Boxers. Throughout the game, the Pios lead all three sets, and had a .320 attack percentage. One of the standout performers was that of Alexe Navarro (’17), who recorded 10 defensive digs (a pass of the ball when it is close to the ground, which can be performed in both offensive and defensive).
On Alexe’s impact all-year, co-captain Vanessa Hall (’15) said, “She’s the best libero (middle blocker) in our conference. Defensively, she keeps us in a ton of games.”
Another player of note would be Isabel Valentine (’15), who was named Northwest Conference Volleyball Student-Athlete of the Week, following two great performances this week (11 kills with a .241 hitting percentage, as well as two digs and two blocks at Willamette University and 14 kills with a .480 hitting percentage, with two digs and three blocks.
This year’s squad represents a marked improvement over previous years, as the 2013 squad managed a 6-16 record with a 5-11 conference record and the 2012 team finished 6-19 with a 2-14 conference record.
On their rebuilding, Milan said, “I don’t think it’s complete yet. Unfortunately, I think we had a really good chance at fulfilling it this year, but we didn’t quite take a hold of it at the beginning. But that is what’s so exciting about the second half is that we have the chance to come back and show everyone that this is who we really were the entire time.”
Hall said, “It’s only Stacie’s second year coaching, and so she’s just getting more on the reigns of things and she’s ready to grow this program even more and we’re just glad to be part of starting that process.”
On their final push, the Pios will face the three best teams in the Northwest Conference (Pacific Lutheran University, Whitworth University and University of Puget Sound). “The top-three thing isn’t super scary because we know we can beat any team in our conference if we show up, and that’s really inspiring to make us work harder because everyone we have left in conference, we can beat,” Hall said.
The Pioneers look to finish the season strong and steer the program towards future successes.