SPOKANE, Wash. – The Whitworth Pirates, 2019 Northwest Conference volleyball champions, still have some work to do in the regular season before they can focus on the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Pirates will finish out their NWC schedule this weekend with matches at George Fox (Friday, 7:00 pm) and Lewis & Clark (Saturday, 6:00 pm).
Watch the Whitworth volleyball schedule for live links to this weekend's matches.
The Pirates: Whitworth (19-5 overall, 13-1 NWC) clinched the 2019 NWC title with home victories over Willamette and Linfield last week, paired with a loss by second place Pacific. That combination allowed the Pirates to win the title with room to spare. They now hold a four-game lead over Pacific, Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran and George Fox, who are all tied at 9-5 in the NWC.
Whitworth played one of its most consistent offensive matches of the season in Friday night's 25-19, 25-21, 25-19 win over visiting Willamette. The Pirates hit .266 as a team with 45 kills. Emiko Kahler led the team with 14 kills and hit .324. Iris Tikhonov hit .400 with 11 kills and added four block assists. Kaitlyn White added 17 digs and served a pair of aces. Whitworth swept the season series with Willamette and earned its eighth win in a row against the Bearcats.
If the Pirates were consistent offensively on Friday, they were explosive at times in Saturday's 25-9, 25-10, 23-25, 25-12 win over Linfield. Whitworth hit above .360 in each of the sets it won, including a team hitting percentage of .520 in the second game. The Bucs committed only a single hitting error through the first two sets. Whitworth added 11 service aces and nine blocks. Kahler dominated play with 23 kills and added 13 digs and three block assists. Tikhonov finished with nine kills and five block assists. Madison Douglas served four of the team's aces.
NWC Crown: Whitworth won its 10th Northwest Conference volleyball title. It is the ninth championship since 2001 and fourth under head coach Kati Bodecker, who is in her seventh season leading the Pirates.
Kahler Honored Again: Emiko Kahler was named as the NWC Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week in volleyball for the fourth time this season. She had a huge offensive weekend, leading Whitworth to a pair of wins that clinched the 2019 NWC title. She averaged 5.29 kills per set and hit .367. She added 20 digs, six block assists and two service aces.
The Leader: Emiko Kahler is back in form in 2019. A four-time NWC Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week in 2019, she currently leads the conference in kills per set (4.12) and in total kills (371). She was the 2016 NWC Freshman of the Year and earned a second straight first team All-NWC honor in 2017. Kahler was honorable mention All-NWC in 2018 after starting slowly due to injuries. She surpassed 1,000 kills in her career on October 4th at Willamette and now has 1,168 and counting. She has moved within range of Whitworth's all-time career record for kills (1,190) set by Kaimi Rocha from 2008-2011.
Among NWC Leaders: Several other Pirates rank among the conference leaders in key statistical categories. Iris Tikhonov ranks second in the NWC in blocks per set (1.00). Saylor Anderson is sixth in the conference in service aces per set (0.44). Kiana Vandaele is sixth in digs per set (4.14) and sixth in total digs (373).
The Coach: Kati Bodecker, 110-50 heading into her seventh season guiding the Pirates, is a three-time Northwest Conference Coach of the Year after leading Whitworth to three straight NWC titles from 2014 through 2016. Bodecker also directed the Pirates to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. In 2013 she coached the Bucs to a 15-13 record, becoming the first Whitworth volleyball coach to post a winning record in her first season since Margaret Campbell in 1990. She previously had been the head coach at Priest River High School, leading the Spartans to five state tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2012. She was a four-year starter at the University of Idaho, helping lead the Vandals to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as a sophomore and junior.
The Opponents: No Northwest Conference team is hotter than George Fox University (12-11 overall, 9-5 NWC). The Bruins have won eight consecutive matches, beginning with a 3-1 victory at Whitworth on October 10th. They defeated Lewis & Clark 3-0 at home last Wednesday then won 3-0 at Puget Sound on Saturday. GFU has moved from seventh in the NWC standings to tied for second place. The Bruins lead the NWC in digs per set (18.57). Junior OH Paige O'Rear leads GFU offensively with an average of 3.01 kills per set. Freshman MB Bailey LeBreton leads the NWC in blocks per set (1.04), while junior libero Sophia Lawrence leads the conference in digs per set (5.51). Kahler had 15 kills and 19 digs for the Pirates in the first meeting this season, while O'Rear had 17 kills and 12 digs for GFU.
Lewis & Clark College is 8-14 overall and 4-10 in the NWC heading into Friday's match against Whitman. After the Pioneers fell 3-0 at George Fox last Wednesday, they were beaten 3-1 at Pacific Lutheran on Friday. L&C is third in the NWC in team digs per set (18.35). Sophomore OH Kendall Malone ranks second in the conference in kills per set (3.49) and adds 3.27 digs per set. Sophomore setter Michelle McGinn is fourth in the NWC in assists per set (8.38). Whitworth started slowly, but eventually got untrack in the second set of a 3-1 win over L&C on October 12th. Kahler had 16 kills and four service aces. Iris Tikhonov had 14 kills and six block assists. Whitworth has won 11 straight matches against L&C.
Coming Up: Whitworth will find out where and who it will play in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament when the field is announced online at 9:30 am (PST) on Monday morning.