The Wildcat volleyball team entered week two of conference play with confidence and a great chance to take control of the NWC standings. The Wildcats were off to a 2-0 start with a streak of five consecutive home matches, but they lost Sept. 24 against University of Puget Sound.
The ’Cats also proved they are a tough group of players, with all of their conference wins up to this point lasting five matches. This spirit has become a theme that junior Tara Hill hopes opponents will catch on to.
“Every game matters for us,” she said. “We are willing to play five games to show the other team how determined we are and how much heart we have.”
The opponents for the ’Cats were the nationally ranked Puget Sound Loggers on Sept. 24, and Lewis & Clark College on Sept. 25.
The game against the Loggers was as close as they come. In a back-and-forth game, both teams had stretches when they appeared to gain control, only to lose the serve and their momentum.
With the score tied at 22, the Loggers took advantage of two Linfield errors to pull ahead and eventually win the game 25-23. After that, the Wildcats never seemed to find their stride, dropping the second game, 12-25, and the third, 20-25.
While the Loggers played well, coach Shane Kimura was quick to recognize that his team can’t give up easy points when playing a team like UPS.
“We just had too many physical mistakes and gave up double digit points in each game,” he said. “We have to cut down on the unforced mistakes.”
The ’Cats didn’t have much time to think about their loss, because less then 24 hours later, the team was back in the gym playing against Lewis & Clark.
Kimura and junior outside hitter and libero Samantha Lau were thankful for the chance to get back on track so quickly, they said.
“We were excited for that match, and we wanted it,” Lau said.
The key to the match, was making the Pioneers earn their points and not give up too many unforced errors, Kimura said.
“Right now, the key is we don’t want to beat ourselves,” he said. “Our goal for this week is to cut down on those physical mistakes.”
The Wildcats started off in what was becoming the norm for them, by losing the first game 17-25. This time, however, the ’Cats responded to the challenge and took the second game, 25-21.
After losing the third game 20-25 the Wildcats had their backs against the wall knowing that another loss would drop them to 2-2 in the conference.
Looking down and out, the Wildcats rallied behind the heart and hustle that Lau and the rest of the team have come to embrace and won the final two games 25-20 and 15-11,
“We put all our heart in those two games,” she said. “We played to win and played all out because we didn’t want to lose.”
With this win, Linfield is right in the thick of NWC play, stuck in a three-way tie for second and just one game out of first place.
After two weeks of play, Kimura said he is happy with where the team stands but also knows there are things that need to be improved.
“We’re three-and-one. The matches we have won were all close. The team has a resilience out there,” he said. “We can be down but bounce back and come through. We need to try to be better starters though.”
The next two opponents for the ’Cats are Whitman College and Whitworth University on Oct. 1 and 2. Whitman is 0-4 in conference, and Whitworth is part of the three-team tie for second at 3-1.
Both games should be close, with each presenting its own challenges. Kimura said he knows there is some tough competition ahead.
“Whitman is a pretty young team, but very athletic,” he said. “Whitworth is a solid team. They have some strong returning players so it should be a pretty good match.”
Including these two matches, Linfield has three more home games before hitting the road for a week. After the women host Whitman and Whitworth, they host George Fox Univeristy on Oct. 9. All games are at 7 p.m.
Jerry Young can be reached at email@example.com.