Volleyball earns first conference win 3-2 over Pacific

By Morgan Wahler | October 10, 2019 11:01pm
The team recuperates during a time out.
Media Credit: Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

The Pilots are no longer winless in conference, notching their first West Coast Conference win against the Pacific Tigers in a scrappy, five-set match. 

“Tonight I thought we really rallied,” junior setter Kellie Hughes said. “We haven’t really had a lot of five-set matches and it was such a gritty win at the end and everyone gave 100%.”

In the first set, the score was tight until the Pilots hit the seven-point mark and went on a run of points. 

Senior middle Shayla Hoeft was a force at the net, commanding the play when the ball came her way, recording 10 kills and eight blocks. 

The pilots reconvene after they challenge the referee's call.
by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

On the other side of the net, Pacific’s block frustrated Portland hitters in the first and second sets but didn’t shut them down completely. 

“Our hitters have done a really good job putting in a lot of work during practice and we’re just working on running our speed and staying off the net,” Hughes said. “We’re just getting more and more comfortable as time goes on.”

The connection between setter Hughes and the hitters improves with each match. Freshman outside hitter Jayde Harris stepped up for the Pilots, with 13 kills while hitting over .300 and seven digs. Sophomore opposite Claire Forrest also notched seven kills.

Junior outside hitter Liz Reich recorded 19 kills and three blocks. Her leadership and communication were apparent on and off the court. 

Junior Liz Reich tips the ball over the opponents block.
by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

Set two started with each team fighting tooth and nail for each point, with no long scoring runs, but Pacific with the upper hand most of the set. Serve-receive passing was inconsistent at times with Hughes setting from the back row, which forces the hitters to step back to pass. The team often struggled with passing, giving up crucial points to communication errors. 

“Those plays are really gritty and hard so we just take a breath and look at each other, connect, and move onto the next play,” Reich said on how the team reconnects during the chaos.

The third set started tight between the two teams, but the momentum swung in Portland’s favor once they hit 10 points. Strength by blockers at the net and from the service line kept Portland in possession, especially when senior middle Katie Barker and opposite Forrest teamed up. 

Pilots on the sidelines celebrating a point wining set.
by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

“I thought we really picked up our defensive game,” Reich said. “In the beginning (of the match), it was a lot of back and forth with kills and we upgraded throughout the match and even our blocking game got better.”

The fourth set went point for point until the Tigers gained steam midway through the set, pushing forward and taking the set by forcing the Pilots into out of system plays.

“It’s difficult if you win the crazy play or lose it, but that’s a point of emphasis for us,” head coach Jeff Baxter said. “It’s how good can we be in the moments and how good can we be about leaving the past in the past and focus on relevant things.”

Pilots on the sidelines celebrating a point wining set.
by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

The Pilots found the most success offensively when passing in-system, or passes easily within the setter’s reach. The defense also made some scrappy plays, with libero Carey Williams headlining a few emergency saves.

“I think back row defense stands out to me tonight, we’re taking care of the ball more on defense,” Baxter said. “It’s been a point of emphasis this week, just digging the ball well, high and off the net.”

Defense came up big tonight with three Pilots ending the match with double-digit digs: Williams, Emma Scanlan and Grace Zilbert, recording 22, 12, and 12 respectively. 

The Pilots and the Tigers shake hands after the game.
by Paula Ortiz Cazaubon / The Beacon

The fast-paced fifth set was a close one, but unity on the Pilot’s side of the Court pushed them past the Tigers and to their first conference victory. 

The Pilots’ next match is on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. in the Chiles Center as they take on the St. Mary’s Gaels.

Morgan Wahler is a sports reporter at The Beacon. She can be reached at wahler20@up.edu.