Malia Aleaga, Viking volleyball setter, bumps a ball to her team on Thursday, Oct. 24. Vikings won the game against Concordia University three sets to zero. // Photo by Alex Moreno
By Nolan Baker
Coming off its first loss of the season last week against University of Alaska Anchorage, the Viking volleyball team bounced back in a big way Thursday night, Oct. 26, in Sam Carver Gymnasium. After the loss, the Vikings dropped from second to sixth place in the NCAA Division II national polls and were just barely holding on to a half-game lead for first place in the conference standings.
The Vikings’ performance Thursday showed they were never worried about releasing their stranglehold on the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Although Concordia University put up a fight, the Vikings won 25-16, 25-19 and 25-23. The win marked their fourth sweep in the last five games and their 10th of the season.
According to All-American middle Kayleigh Harper, the Vikings were never worried about how one loss could affect their season.
“It’s early in the season,” Harper said. “We have so much to learn and do. So, of course you hate to lose, but it wasn’t devastating because it wasn’t like anything is over.”
Still, this was a bounce-back game for the No. 6 ranked Vikings, and their defense kept them afloat against an opponent that was constantly down but never out of the match. With a team total of 15 blocks and no blocking errors, the Vikings suffocated a Concordia team that struggled to find their offensive footing.
Sophomore middle Chloe Roetcisoender led the team with 10 blocks, while Harper and redshirt freshman setter Malia Aleaga each contributed five blocks.
“Our defense was really really good,” head coach Diane Flick-Williams said. “I’m really excited to see that continue to grow because that was our focus this week.”
This win helped the Vikings improve to an 18-1 overall record and a 10-1 conference record. According to the Western Athletics website, this was the Vikings’ 37th straight home win.
The Vikings are only a half-game ahead of University of Alaska Anchorage in the GNAC standings. A loss on Thursday would’ve relinquished sole possession of first place.
The Vikings played like they had something to prove and took control of the game from the very beginning, breezing through the first set 25-16.
“I thought we maintained our composure and played some really good volleyball,” Concordia head coach Melanie Hambelton said.
Western’s service was the backbone of their offense on Thursday, recording six service aces while Concordia had one. Late in the second set, junior pin hitter Alison Davenport came off the bench to create one of the most electrifying moments of the night, when she nailed back-to-back aces on the unsuspecting Concordia defense.
“Western Washington served the ball really tough and we had a hard time handling that serve of theirs,” Hambelton said. “They have a great team, and we were outgunned.”
While Concordia never won a set on Thursday, the Vikings still struggled to seal the victory. Concordia looked especially dangerous in the third set when they stunned Western by jumping out to an early 7-3 lead. Western responded with a 6-1 run themselves and regained the lead on Concordia 9-8 before the visitors called timeout to collect themselves.
Nine of the total 19 tie scores and six of the total 11 lead changes came in the third set. After recording two consecutive blocks, Concordia looked poised to steal the third set with a 23-22 lead.
The Vikings were unfazed and went on a quick three-point run to stomp out any remaining hope for Concordia Cavaliers. Game, set, match, sweep.
“Volleyball is such a game of momentum,” Flick-Williams said. “You got to create it yourself.”
The Vikings’ next home game is against Western Oregon University, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26.