The Linfield Wildcat Volleyball team entered its third week of Northwest Conference play in good shape. However, week four brought a mix of good and bad.
The ’Cats finished the week 1-1, making them 4-2 overall and third place in NWC play.
First up on Oct. 1 were the Whitman College Missionaries from Walla Walla, Wash. Linfield easily controlled the first two games, winning 25-16 and 25-17. Its success marked the first time this year that Linfield wasn’t tied or trailing after the first two games.
While the Wildcats were well in control, coach Shane Kimura said he knows how important it is not to lose focus.
“You have to be aggressive and you can’t let up,” he said.
This aggressivness was echoed in junior Rosa Gimson, one of the Wildcats’ veteran players.
“Once you get ahead, you can’t relax,” she said. “You just have to keep pushing and playing your game no matter who is on the other side of the net.”
Linfield stumbled during the third game, losing 23-25, but Whitman couldn’t overcome the deficit. The ’Cats prevailed in the fourth, 25-21.
With a comfortable victory in their rearview mirror, the ’Cats shifted their focus to the Whitworth University Pirates, who were also 4-1 in conference play.
The ’Cats were strong out of the gate. They quickly grabbed the first two games 25-17 and then won a thriller of a second game, 28-26, in which the teams battled back and forth for the lead.
With a 2-0 lead going into half-time, the Wildcats only needed to win one of the next three games in order to take down the skilled Whitworth team.
But Whitworth found its stride during the third game, and Linfield made some of the mental mistakes that had haunted them in their match against University of Puget Sound on Sept. 24.
Trailing 8-9, the Whitworth offense exploded and took a 19-9 lead, which was too much for Linfield to recover from. The ’Cats lost the game 18-25.
Linfield never regained its stride, losing the fourth game 12-25 and the fifth game 6-15.
Junior Kelsey Franklin was quick to acknowledge that errors got to the young team yet again.
“Whitworth definitely cut back on there unforced errors, and we increased our unforced errors,” she said. “They just played smarter and tougher.”
After such a gut-wrenching loss, a team can begin to lose confidence. What is important, Gimson said, is that the team find positives in a match like such as that one.
“We need to take away that we can compete with a really good team, and we can’t get down on ourselves when we make some mistakes,” she said. “We have to learn how to stay constant and keep a strong mentality against teams who are as good as us.”
With the loss, the Wildcats moved into third place in conference and have a tough road ahead. Six of their next seven matches are on the road.
Franklin and Kimura explained that energy is the key to success away from home.
“You’re not playing in your gym,” he said. “The big difference is that you have to bring more energy and enthusiasm because you don’t have the crowd behind you,” Kimura said.
The ’Cats have one more match at home Oct. 9 against George Fox University before hitting the road to take on the 6-0 Pacific
Lutheran University Lutes.
Gimson said that both matches will be tough.
“George Fox has some big hitters and is really scrappy, and PLU is just a good team all around,” she said.
After facing Pacific Lutheran, Linfield will return home for a match against Willamette University on Oct. 15.
Jerry Young can be reached at email@example.com.