Tough week prepares Pilots for WCC

By The Beacon | September 19, 2012 9:00pm

After tough defeats against Penn State and Washington to round out non- conference play, Pilots volleyball prepares for No. 18 Pepperdine and the WCC conference.

Sophomore Katie Mardesich gets ready to spike the ball against No. 5 Washington. UP goes on to lose to Washington 3-0. (Jackie Jeffers | THE BEACON)

By Katie Dunn, Staff Writer

When the Pilots head to Malibu Saturday, Sept. 22 to play their first WCC game of the season against Pepperdine, they hope to bounce back from a tough week that had them playing two teams ranked in the top five in the nation. It began against University of Washington Huskies on Sept. 11. Portland hung with the Huskies, but eventually fell in a 3-0 loss. Washington came to The Bluff ranked No.5 overall, but that didn't change the way the Pilots approached the game.

"Its just focusing on each rally all the way through," head coach Joe Houck said. "There's no difference; it's good preparation."

On Sept. 14, the team traveled to the Penn State Classic and began the tournament against the No. 4 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. The Pilots battled against the Penn State defense but lost 3-0. Portland then faced Eastern Illinois on Sept. 15 in what would be the fifth five-set match this season. The Pilots brought the extra pressure in the fifth set to take the match 3-2. This was the fifth time the Pilots have gone to five sets. They have won every one of those matches. That same night, the Pilots fell to the Duquesne Dukes 3-1 to finish the tournament 1-2.

"It's good for us to really get in there and start completing with every team that we play," said middle blocker Bea Loper.

The Penn State Classic concludes tournament play, where the Pilots are 6-8, and marks the beginning of WCC conference play. Last season, Portland went into conference play at 4-7.

Loper wants to use this week to get ready for what's ahead.

"I think it's really important to start playing some tougher, top level teams to get us ready for our league," Loper said.

Portland's challenging start to WCC play begins with the Pepperdine Waves. Pepperdine leaves tournament play with a record of 9-4 and the 2011 WCC title under their belt. "Gonzaga is a natural rivalry but we really want Pepperdine. We want to play Pepperdine every single night. That'll be a fun one," Houck said.

The Gonzaga University Bulldogs will be the Pilot's next home game, Thursday Sept.27 at Chiles Center. The Bulldogs go into conference play 8-5. Gonzaga and Pepperdine will be the two biggest games for the Pilots this season, as they fight against a long history of rivalry.

Portland hopes to keep their solid defense and aggressive offense strong for the rest of the season. The team needs to hit hard and keep digging everything to be in the top of the WCC. Determination and communication will help the Pilots achieve this.

Houck is pleased with how the team works together and how they talk to each other so much. Although it is a young team, they are learning together and making each other better every game.

"We're playing pretty much everybody," Houck said. "Our freshmen are out there, our sophomores are out there and contributing a ton."

Portland aims to bring the fire they have to start conference play. If the Pilots can manage to play on the road the way they have been at home, where they're 3-1, they should compete in the the WCC.

"We're ready to come out and kick some butt," Loper said.

Freshman Lexi Dempsey leaps into the air to set a ball for a team-mate’s kill attempt against Washington. (Jackie Jeffers | The Beacon)