After a pair of five-set matches in the Bay Area, the Pilots returned to The Bluff on Saturday and earned their first conference sweep of the season against Gonzaga Bulldogs with a dominant performance from the service line and the back row defense.
The first set was close from the beginning, each point a result of long rallies and strong defense on both sides. From the Pilot’s side of the net, they showed scrappiness and hustle in every play.
“I thought the defense played a huge role as it always does because it starts with the defense and passing,” junior Kassidy Naone said. “Without a good pass or dig, we can’t run the offense, so they’re always a huge contributor.”
With the high caliber of the home team’s defensive and serve-receive passing, they showed off their quick offense when setter Kellie Hughes was given a perfect pass.
“I think the defense has been setting the tone for us a lot this year,” head coach Jeff Baxter said. “This team likes to start from the back row and we get energy from people making plays and we feed off that really well.”
Junior Liz Reich dominated the front row, taking monster swings from both pins. In the Pilot’s sweep of the Bulldogs, she marked 15 kills, hitting .412 for the sweep.
Outside hitter Kassidy Naone played in all six rotations and was a constant for the Pilots in serve-receive passing, defense and offense. Along with being a leader on the court, she had five kills, nine digs and one block.
“What Kassidy is doing for us is a really big deal,” Baxter said. “She’s serving well, passing effectively, and has gotten a lot better at attacking and that’s credit to her — it’s a nice steadiness at that position.”
“I love getting to contribute to my team, knowing that I’m playing for the girls next to me,” Naone said. “It doesn’t matter if I play six rotations, three rotations or no rotations. Just like always, everything that I do, I do it for my team and it will elevate my game no matter what.”
Portland’s biggest weapon came from the service line. While the team only recorded eight service aces, their strength and consistency from the back line forced Gonzaga out of system and to make errors, giving them a big advantage.
“It (serving) makes our lives easier for everything else,” Baxter said. “If you put (the other team) in trouble right away, it makes our blocking better, our defense better and our transition offense better.”
Started off hot in set two, the team hit harder and swung faster. By the middle of the set, a few serving and hitting errors let the Bulldogs catch up, but the Pilots didn’t let them hang on for long.
Middle blocker Katie Barker and opposite Claire Forrest have teamed up as a wall on Portland’s net all season, and this afternoon was no exception. The pair racked up three and four terminal blocks respectively and registered six and four kills each.
“Today was an exciting win,” Reich said. “We always go back and forth with them every year so that was a big-time sweep for us.”
The Pilot’s next match is next Thursday, Oct. 31, a Halloween special that starts at 7 p.m. in the Chiles Center against Loyola Marymount.
Morgan Wahler is a sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.