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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Volleyball team catches fire

Junior Joellee Buckner attempts a dig in Western's match against University of Alaska Anchorage, Thursday, Sept. 22. // Photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen.
Junior Joellee Buckner attempts a dig in Western’s match against University of Alaska Anchorage, Thursday, Sept. 22. // Photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen.

Despite having six losses on the season, the Western volleyball team finds itself in a position to make a postseason run. Currently ranked number 20 in the country and riding a five game win streak, Western is one of two teams from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25 poll. The other is defending conference champion University of Alaska Anchorage.

Before the start of the season the Vikings were ranked number five in the country, but then dropped its first three games for the first time under Head Coach Diane Flick-Williams.

The results are a far cry from the dominant play of last season, in which the team finished with an overall record of 27-6, garnering the fifth most wins in program history.

However, the response from the team has been swift. The Vikings sits in second place in the GNAC, tied with Central Washington University and Simon Fraser University.

Western swept rival Central Washington at home and is coming off a 3-1 win over Northwest Nazarene University.

“We’re getting closer and closer to our potential,” Flick-Williams said.  “We have a lot to learn, and I think they’re excited to see that when they do learn, it actually pays off in the match.”

The Vikings have 13 more opportunities to learn and grow, including a stretch of four home games beginning Thursday, Nov. 10, to close out the season.

“The biggest thing that we’ve done is we’ve sat down and really gone over our mental game and what defines us as a team, and we’ve started really committing to that,” sophomore outside hitter Abby Phelps said.

“We’ve done a good job at working through all the stuff that comes with having a new team.”

Abby Phelps

Phelps’ 2016 campaign is off to a great start, ranked seventh in the GNAC with 3.25 kills per set and eighth with 3.74 points per set.

As a team, Western leads the GNAC in hitting percentage­ ­— a term used to evaluate how effective a hitter or a team is over a span of games.

“Just knowing that we can have that control the entire time, inside out, every single time against a really good team, I think it gives us a lot of confidence into the rest of the season,” junior outside hitter Arielle Turner said.

Turner is helping pace the Viking offense and is tied for second in the GNAC with 0.47 aces per set.

With trips left to first place Alaska Anchorage and Central Washington still on the schedule, the Vikings have plenty of chances to prove they belong in the postseason conversation.

Just one player on the Western roster is a senior, defensive specialist Bryce Larson. Three juniors, six sophomores and eight freshmen, four of whom are redshirts, make up the remainder of the squad.

Sophomore Kayleigh Harper leads the GNAC, and is ranked 45th in Division II, with a .347 hitting percentage. She is also eighth in the league with 1.10 blocks per set.

“We’ve done a good job at working through all the stuff that comes with having a new team,” Phelps said.  “We have really, really good coaches, and they do an amazing job of scouting. So, we come in with a plethora of information as to how to beat the team were coming into.”

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