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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Women’s volleyball snag NCAA Division II West Regional Championship

By Andrew McClain

Head Coach Diane Flick-Williams said that at the beginning of the women’s volleyball season she circled the NCAA West Regional Division II Championship Tournament on her calendar. Then, after going 0-3 to start the season, she buried that calendar and never looked at it again.

“It was clear there was work to do, so we started to take a ‘one game at a time’ approach,” Flick-Williams said.

Twenty-eight straight victories and one regional championship win later, it’s an approach that appears to have worked.

As the Vikings played through their first two tournament games, it was clear that the level of competition was the highest they’d faced throughout the year. While they managed to sweep both early games, nothing came easy as both the California State East Bay University Pioneers and the California State Polytechnic University Pomona Broncos came within just a few points of taking very close sets off of the Vikings.

But in their own building, with the home crowd behind them, the Vikings showed tenacious resilience. Despite the best efforts of their opponents, the Vikings refused to drop their first set until the final showdown against the California State University, San Bernardino Coyotes for the championship on Saturday, Nov. 17.

Western Washington University volleyball player Kayleigh Harper spikes the ball during a game against Cal State San Bernardino on Nov. 17, 2018. The Vikings won the game 3 sets to 2 to move to the NCAA II Championship Tournament in Pittsburgh. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

The Coyotes started the last game quickly, taking the first set by the slimmest of margins. Then it was the Vikings’ turn to show why they came into the tournament as the number one seed.

After taking the next two sets against the Coyotes, both times with a score of 25-22, the Vikings dropped their second, and last, set of the tournament. The 1,600 fans in attendance cheered wildly as the Coyotes forced set five, giving the game a sudden-death vibe that only hyped the crowd up even more.

The Vikings spread their offense well going into the last set, with senior setter Brette Boesel racking up nine assists in the fifth alone. The Vikings jumped out to an early 4-1 lead and rode the game out point-for-point down to the wire at 14-12. It seems almost poetic that senior Abby Phelps, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s volleyball kill record-holder, ended the game 15-12 with her 22nd successful kill of the night.

“I don’t know how you could script it any better,” Flick-Williams said in her after-game interview as she eyed the regional championship trophy perched on the edge of the table she sat at.

Fans in the student section cheer on the Western Washington University volleyball team during their game against Cal State San Bernardino. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin

Between junior Kayleigh Harper’s absurd .523 percent efficiency on 44 kill attempts, senior Aubrey Stephens’ game-leading 26 digs, and an impressive 65 assists from Boesel, the Vikings looked like a well-oiled machine throughout the game. They blended stellar individual performances with strong teamplay to earn the victory against what was undoubtedly the strongest opponent they faced in the tournament.

With this victory, the Vikings are headed to the NCAA Division II Elite 8 Tournament being held at the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania later this month. They’re sure to put up a fight against the Tarleton State University TexAnns in the first round, scheduled for Nov. 29 at 11:30 a.m. PST.

Of course, that means the Vikings’ season just got a little longer, but Flick-Williams seems amenable to the turn of events. She called winning the regional championship at home “pretty special” but gave a clue as to where her heart was really at as the season draws to an end in the closing statements of her after-game interview.

“Getting two more weeks together with this group of seniors,” Flick-Williams said about what the championship win meant to her. “That’s the thing I’m most thankful for.”

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