Volleyball focusing on the road ahead

By The Beacon | September 5, 2012 9:00pm

UP volleyball placed first in the Nike Portland Invitational last weekend after beating UNLV, Idaho State and Tennessee State. All matches went the full five-sets with the Pilots winning 3-2.

(From left to right) Sophomore Jacqueline Rodriguez, junior Monica Jordan (3), Autumn Wedan (11) and Kate Bostwick celebrate after a kill to win the game. (Kayla Wong | The Beacon)

By Kaitlyn Dunn, Staff Writer dunn16@up.edu

The Pilots volleyball team must like drama. Their match against UNLV marked the third time that the team went into the fifth set to get a win. Last year they played 13 five-set games and only won three. This weekend alone, the Pilots won three five-set matches at the Nike Portland Invitational, beating Idaho State and Tennessee State on Aug. 31 and UNLV on Sept. 1 each 3-2, taking home first in the tournament.

"It's a sign of how much more they trust each other, how their expectations are for each other and they're starting to push each other," head coach Joe Houck said.

UP came back against UNLV after trailing in the first set to win 25-21 but fell to the Rebels in the next two. In both sets the Pilots jumped ahead quickly but lost their momentum in the middle.

"When we keep our own swagger on the court it's when we do best," sophomore setter Sam Moore said.

The key to their success this weekend was communication and determination.

"We had a lot of over-communication, an over-use of high-fiving, and looking forward through the windshield," Houck said.

Going into the fourth set, no one was looking in the rear-view mirror. Moore and freshman setter Lexi Dempsey were all about the next play.

"Obviously we were good enough to beat them because we did it in the first game," Dempsey said.

It was clear that nothing was going to stop the Pilots from winning the fourth set against UNLV. They came out strong and kept the lead throughout the game. Taking the match 25-21, fans were on edge for the fifth and deciding set. It was close at the beginning but a few key kills by the Pilots led to a 15-9 victory and a tournament win.

Senior middle Ariel Usher was named to the All-Tournament team and junior outside hitter Autumn Weden was named MVP with 14 kills on Saturday, Sept. 1. Both players were crucial for the succcessful weekend.

Another key player was Dempsey. Just a few weeks into the season as a Pilot, Dempsey looked like she had been playing with the team for years.

"The first match I played last weekend was nerve wracking, but now it's more comfortable," Dempsey said.

Dempsey's control and ability to make quick decisions was noticeable. She consistently knew right where to place the ball and who to give it to in every situation.

In the first set, sophomore Emily Liger, one of the team's big hitters, went down with a knee injury. She left the game but stayed to cheer on her team as senior Kate Bostwick went in for her.

The Nike Portland Invitational ended with the Pilots taking first, Idaho State in second, UNLV placing third and Tennessee State finishing fourth.

With a 4-3 record, the Pilots head to the New Mexico Tournament this weekend.

They will play New Mexico, UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Southern. Their next home game will be Tuesday, Sept. 11 against the University of Washington at the Chiles Center.


in the


Ellen Nurmi and Annika Holopainen

Ellen Nurmi and Annika Holopainen are freshmen basketball players from Helsinki, Finland. Nurmi is a 6' 0" guard and Holopainen is a 6' 1" power forward. Both business majors, they bring their talents to the UP women's basketball team after playing on the same Finnish club team, Makelanrinteen Lukio.

Do you play any other sports?

Ellen: Just basketball. We don't have high school sports, just club teams.

Why did you choose to come to UP?

Ellen: The staff, coaches and players are really friendly. This place is probably the most like home.

Annika: Yeah, I was visiting University of San Diego and UP and this place felt like a more comfortable place to live. It is also a good school academically.

What do you miss most about Finland?

Annika: Food, friends and family.

What is one thing you wish was at UP from home?

Annika: I brought lots of Finish licorice.

Ellen: Something we don't have at home that we wish we had at UP was a football team because we've never seen an American football game so we'd really like to go. Our coaches and teammates promised they'd take us to a Portland State game.

What is your favorite American food?

Annika: Probably waffles and pancakes. We don't eat sweet stuff in the morning in Finland.

Ellen: I love the breakfast here because it's so big.

How does the fashion differ?

Ellen: Finnish people, I think they dress up a bit more. Especially because we are from the capital, Helsinki, it's a bit like our New York. Here it's kind of laid back and you can just walk around in sweat pants and no one really cares.

Are the people here different?

Ellen: People are so much friendlier here. They say, "Hi, how are you," when you walk by someone. It was kind of weird in the beginning; like a cultural shock.

Senior Ariel Usher spikes in a ferocious kill against UNLV. (Kayla Wong | The Beacon)

Junior Autumn Wedan readies with anticipation for an upcoming serve. (Kayla Wong | The Beacon)