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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Vikings volleyball: straight to the top

By Mitch Farley

Western women’s volleyball team clinched the number one seat in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a powerful win on Thursday night, Nov. 1. The win over Western Oregon University continued the Vikings’ winning streak, elevating them to near perfection with 22 straight wins this season.

As the players took to the court, Sam Carver Gymnasium went dark and a highlight reel of the season played on the big screen. The Vikings were then introduced and as the announcer boomed their names, each player lobbed a white ball into the crowd.

The first set was a gold-star win by the Vikings, who won by 18 points. The Vikings came out firing with junior Mae Thungc as server and scored four quick points. Junior Kayleigh Harper also got off to a fast start and showed her high reach, looming above the net with a solo block- the only solo of the match. 

The Vikings played a strong game at the net. Both middles, Harper and senior Michaela Hall, took turns teaming up with senior Brette Boesel to make a wall that Western Oregon couldn’t seem to break through.

Western Washington University volleyball players Abby Phelps, right and Brette Boesel celebrate a point during a game against Concordia University on Nov. 3, 2018. The Vikings won the game in three sets to extend their winning streak to 22 games. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

“Our goal tonight was to touch any ball coming over the net,” head coach Diane Flick-Williams said.

Senior outside hitter Abby Phelps continued her reign of terror as Western’s all-time leader in kills. Phelps was all over the floorboards, scoring a double-double with 13 kills and 11 digs. 

Perhaps the clearest display of the Vikings’ synergy came in the middle of the first set when they went on a 7-0 run with Phelps as server. Five Vikings contributed to either a kill or an assist during the run, working flawlessly together.

The second set was met with an equal amount of intensity from the Vikings. Phelps explained how they practice this “keep the water boiling” mentality. 

“We practice on competitive loafing a lot,” she said.

Phelps explained competitive loafing as a theory in volleyball which says if a team wins a set by more than 10 points, then typically the next set is either much closer or ends in a loss for the team that previously won.

But the Vikings avoided that pitfall and stayed strong in the second set with a final score of 25-15. Harper exploded near the end of the set when Boesel assisted her for three consecutive kills. Harper had two blocks and seven kills in the set.

Western Washington University pin hitter Allison Davenport spikes the ball during a game against Western Oregon University on Nov. 1, 2018. The Vikings won the game in three sets to extend their winning streak to 22 games. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

One standout play came when Harper leaped up and telegraphed a big spike to draw in the defense, but then changed at the last second and scored on a precise tap over Oregon’s center into open floor space.

Phelps scored the game point of the second set after teaming up with Harper for a double block and then sending Oregon’s volley back over the net as an unreturnable missile.

Boesel and Hall were also a force to be reckoned with, playing together with near-perfect teamwork all game. 

“[Boesel and Hall] lived together for five years, they share a brain,” Flick-Williams said of their uncanny chemistry.

The Vikings continued to dominate in the third set, winning 25-8. Flick-Williams said a big challenge is always the longer break between the second and third sets. 

“We practice for those moments and bringing the intensity back up after the break,” Flick-Williams said.

The Vikings did just that as they went on a 12-0 run and almost completely shut Western Oregon out for the second half of the third set. Boesel continued with impressive assisting in the final set and ended the night with a game-high total of 37 assists.

The Vikings’ sidelines were bubbling with excitement as Thungc lined up for the game-point serve. Phelps said the moment was surreal for her.

“It meant so much to share that with such a special group of teammates,” she said.

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