Late wins show true potential

With 12 returning players next year and finishing the season with five wins in their last eight matches, the SPU volleyball team is ready to put this season, and their losing record, behind them.

In their final eight matches, in which the Falcons rode a four-game winning streak, head coach Chris Johnson noticed how the extra swagger helped his team’s mindset and their play.

"It’s helping us build our confidence," Johnson said. "We’ve turned a corner on the mental side. We are more confident from start to finish. It’s helping us believe in ourselves even more."

The Falcons (8-18 overall, 5-11 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC)) won their fourth straight match last Wednesday over their cross-town rival, the Seattle University Redhawks (10-23) by scores of 25-15, 22-25, 32-34, 26-24, 15-11.

"We really wanted to beat them. They thought they were better than everyone because they moved up to [Division I] from [Division II]. Since they’re our rivals, we wanted to beat them. We only play them once this season and we wanted to come out on top," freshman outside hitter Paige Hoffman said.

The Falcons battled the Redhawks in a five-game match that took over two hours. Senior outside hitter Nikki Finley led the way for the Falcons with 22 kills and 11 digs. Junior middle blocker Robin De Jong registered 14 kills.

Freshman defensive specialist Anna Herold broke the school record for single season digs by getting 35, pushing her season total to 548.

On Monday, Herold was named as the GNAC Freshman of the Year. Last year, fellow Falcon sophomore Joelle Perez won the award.

"It’s really exciting. I’m a perfectionist," Herold said. "It feels really good and I’ve been working hard to improve this season."

Freshman outside hitter Lindsey Wodrich returned to the court for the first time since Oct. 9 after missing the last several matches with an injury. Wodrich quickly filled in the stat sheet with nine kills, two service aces and four digs in just the final two games.

Perez had 32 assists for the Falcons, and junior setter Cortney Weedman had 19. Perez and sophomore middle blocker Kylie Johnson also had seven blocks apiece.

"We limited their outside hitters. We got them out of their system. Their middles hit us hard, but we adjusted to it nicely," Coach Johnson said.

Despite the win, the Falcons were inconsistent hitting the ball. They hit .312 in the first game, .062 in game two, .266 in game three, .243 in game four, and had the same amount of errors as kills (eight) in the final game for a hitting percentage of zero.

"We were more ready to play in game one than they were," Coach Johnson said. "Game two they stiffened up their defense. Nikki had no kills. We hit .000 in the last game, but they hit .190."

Saturday, for their second game of the week, the Falcons were defeated in four games (19-25, 26-24, 12-25, 20-25) to the No. 20 Western Oregon University Wolves (22-2 overall and 15-1 in GNAC).

Freshman outside hitter Priscilla Collings led all Falcons with 11 kills. Perez led the way with 21 assists, giving her an even 600 for the year. It is her second straight season of leading the Falcons in assists.

Finley, who played her last game as a Falcon, left the third game of the match after she sprained her ankle. She ended up with nine kills, giving her a total of 279 for the season.

The Falcons lost the first game and were down 19-14 in the second when they ran off nine of the next 10 points for a 23-20 lead. The Wolves quickly tied it at 23-23, but SPU scored the final two points — the first on a kill by Johnson, and the game clincher on a combined block by Johnson and Hoffman.

Yet, the Wolves always seemed to be in just the right spots on defense.

"They’re a really good team. It was frustrating because they were stopping us and we had to get points off tips," De Jong said. "We had to work harder than usual because of how good they are. They’re first in conference, and obviously they are really good, but balls that usually go down for us they were digging out."

After SPU had caught up 14-10, the Wolves scored 11 of the final 13 points to win game three. In game four, the Wolves never trailed after an early 2-2 tie. SPU limited WOU to a .145 hitting percentage but only hit .087.

"I think we got back to our old habits of being inconsistent, "Hoffman said." We were making poor choices and got blocked a few times. We were not as aggressive as we have been the past couple weeks."

Yet, in an otherwise disappointing season, the four-game win streak showed just how much potential the Falcons have. With 12 returners for next season, the Falcons hope to start right where they left off.

"I am very excited for next season. We have a young team and are going to mature a lot. I have high hopes for next season," Hoffman said. "I think we’re going to leave where we picked off this season. It was hard to see the seniors leave because they made such a huge impact on and off the court. But I know that we will be resilient and have a great season."

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Title: Late wins show true potential | Author: David Tristano | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2008-11-19 | Internal ID: 5911