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MCMINNVILLE, Ore. – It was short, sweet and to the point.
Needing to defeat Whitman Saturday night to avoid going winless through the first half of the Northwest Conference schedule, Linfield swept past the visiting Missionaries at Ted Wilson Gym to earn the Wildcats' first conference win of the 2013 season, 27-25, 25-23, 25-23.
Right-side hitter Victoria Thompson led the way for the Wildcats, producing a career-high 15 kills. Linfield (5-10, 1-7) outhit Whitman .150 to .077, despite 12 blocks by the Missionaires (5-16, 3-5), who dropped their fifth straight contest.
The first set was evenly matched with neither team gaining a substantial lead. With Linfield leading 22-21, a desperation dig by Audrey Frazier caught the Missionaries by surprise, leaving Thompson unblocked for an easy kill. Whitman responded by scoring the next two points to tie the set before an attack error by outside hitter Shae Kanakaole gave the ‘Cats a one-point advantage. Linfield eventually took the set 27-25 on a kill from Kailana Ritte-Camara.
The second set remained just as close as the first. The Wildcats took a four-point lead at 13-9. But the Missionaries stormed back, scoring five of the next seven points to slice the lead to one, 15-14. Despite having their lead cut to one at 20-19 and 24-23, the Wildcats refused to yield, taking the set 25-23.
The third set remained a nailbiter. The Missionaries jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but the Wildcats closed the margin with back-to-back kills from Thompson and Ritte-Camara. Neither team gained a lead larger than two points until Whitman rattled off three straight to go in front 22-19. Linfield answered with kills from Shayli Coppock and Thompson to knot the score once more. Thompson ended it emphatically with a pair of kills, helping Linfield take the set and the match 25-23.
Frazier led the Wildcats with 22 assists while Casie Gaza added 17. Both Quinn Takashima and Ritte-Camara had 13 digs and Kelsey Ludin tallied an impressive .500 hitting percentage with seven kills.
Jillian Davis totaled 10 kills and 12 digs to pace Whitman. Rachel Cline had 15 assists and had a hand in seven block assists.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Both squads entered the match with lengthy losing streaks, with Whitman dropping four consecutive while Linfield had lost nine straight matches and 14 straight sets…it marked the longest losing stretch of Wildcats coach Shane Kimura's 36 seasons on the bench…Linfield's last conference win was nearly a full calendar year ago, Nov. 2, 2012, also over Whitman in McMinnville. . . the match was a reunion of sorts for Ritte-Camara and second-year Whitman coach Matt Helm, who who, who as player and coach, combined to win a Hawaii state championship at Molokai High School in 2010.
NEXT: The Wildcats host Puget Sound Friday and Pacific Lutheran on Saturday. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. in Ted Wilson Gymnasium.