By Samuel Biehn
With a sweep against the No. 13 Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks at Sam Carver Gymnasium on Thursday, Nov. 16, Western volleyball not only extended their win streak, but gave the Vikings a new title.
2017 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Champions.
It’s the first GNAC championship in four seasons for the Vikings, who went on to sweep Central Washington 3-0 on Saturday, Nov. 18, at home.
Western, the fifth-ranked team in the nation, received a No. 2 seed at the NCAA Division II West Regional quarterfinals where they will face No. 7 seed Alaska Anchorage (19-10.) The tournament will be held on Nov. 30, in Riverside, California.
The Vikings now stand 25-3 on the season, and 19-1 in GNAC play, tied for the best record in GNAC history, and are riding an 18-game win streak.
“We keep trying to look at every game [as] one game at a time,” Vikings coach Diane Flick-Williams said. “I think this is at least an opportunity for us to actually pick our head up and go, ‘what have we done so far?’”
Going into the match, the Vikings knew Northwest Nazarene well.
The Nighthawks handed the Vikings their only loss in the last 18 games. The Nighthawks, ranked 13th in NCAA Division II volleyball, beat the Vikings 3-1 on their home court in Nampa, Idaho on Sept. 16.
This time, with the GNAC title on the line, the pressure was on. Vikings outside hitter Abby Phelps, who led Western with 19 kills, also known as “The Terminator,” was busy relishing the moment.
“These are the kinds of games that you like,” Phelps said. “As an athlete, this is the kind of game you want to play in. The big game at the end of the season that determines a championship.”
Vikings’ setter Brette Boesel, who finished with a team-high 38 assists, said the Nighthawks are no easy foe.
“[Northwest Nazarene is] a really good team,” Boesel said. “They’re ranked up there for a reason.”
During the first set, the Vikings led 21-13, but watched as the Nighthawks crawled their way back into the game, trimming the deficit to 24-22 before Western finally escaped 25-22 following a serving error by Northwest Nazarene.
“Our mindset is always the next play,” Vikings opposite Joellee Buckner said. “I think we’ve done really good at that this year. We knew it was going to be a battle. They’re a super good team, so we were just focusing on that one point and staying in the next ten seconds.”
The Vikings had to fight their way through two more sets with the Nighthawks, falling down early in the third and final set before coming back from a 15-11 deficit to win the match and take the title.
Flick-Williams said the victory was a reflection of the strength of her team.
“It took every single person,” Flick-Williams said. “Whether it was the people on the court, or the people that prepared us yesterday to come to what we did today. I’ve got the best team; I’m so proud of the team that I have.”
Buckner, a senior on the team who was honored during Western’s Senior Night game against Central Washington University, said she was on the 2013 GNAC Championship team for the Vikings in her redshirt freshman season.
“I don’t think I understood how amazing it was because I was just a redshirt here,” Buckner said. “Just to win it as a senior again with the best team ever, I give it all to my team. We battled, and it’s such a team effort. It means a lot to me and it’s a big accomplishment, so I’m really proud of them.”