Men’s soccer clinches NWC title

Whitworth men's soccer team clinched the 2012 Northwest Conference title, despite losing two of its final three games of the regular season.

In the first game, the Pirates faced a Willamette team with five conference losses on the year, including one to the Whitworth earlier in the season. The Pirates needed only one more conference victory in their final three match-ups to clinch the NWC crown. Willamette's Trevor Jensen led the Bearcats with two assists and a goal, his eighth and fifth on the season, respectively.

Jensen wasted no time putting the Pirates under pressure, assisting teammate Tyler Yates to his third goal on the year in the 27th minute, putting Willamette up 1-0. Jensen put the Bearcats up 2-0 all by himself just after halftime, firing a shot from about 30 yards out and beating Pirate senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak. Although holding a 2-0 lead, Willamette did not show they were a second half team this year, allowing 25 goals in the second period of games as opposed to only three in the first period of games.

The Bucs contributed to that fact, storming back for two goals in the second half, sending the game to overtime. Sophomore forward Robby Ubben scored just after the hour mark on an assist by freshman defender Spencer Wolfe. Junior defender Balin Larson had the second goal for the Pirates, slotting away a penalty kick in the 82nd minute of play.

Willamette pushed on in the first period of overtime and found the game-winner from Austin Jacobson, assisted by Jensen. Although the Pirates lost for the first time this season, the bigger picture still allowed two more chances for the Bucs to clinch the 2012 NWC crown.

The second to last game of the season slated Whitworth against the Linfield Wildcats (7-9, 5-7 NWC). The Pirates faced off against Linfield in their first regular season game of the year, beating the Wildcats 2-0. Last weekend's match saw a closely contested game throughout, with Linfield matching Whitworth's shots on goal. However, the Bucs' pressure on the Wildcat defense and a pass from junior defender Andrew Flint opened up a shot opportunity for freshman forward Karl Muelheims, who shot it low to the near post, beating Linfield goalkeeper Scott Goodman in the 50th minute.

“[Flint] played it to me and my initial thought was to dump it in the box,” Muelheims said. “But once I pushed the ball past the defender I felt like I had time to get a shot off, so I took it and it went near post low corner.”

The goal turned out to be enough for the Conference title, as senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak and the Pirates' defense posted their 13th shutout of the year. It was the first time Whitworth won the Northwest Conference title outright since the 2009 season.

The final game of the season for Whitworth sent the Pirates to face Whitman in Walla Walla, Wash. Head coach Sean Bushey did not play a single regular starter in the game, giving less-experienced players more time on the field. And even yet, the Bucs still put up a fight, coming back from a one goal deficit to tie the game with less than 15 minutes remaining.

Sophomore midfielder Tyler Clarke saved the day for the Pirates, putting away a breakaway chance assisted by senior forward Kekoa Mountcastle.

But Whitman was not to be denied, seizing the game-winner just four and a half minutes into the overtime period, on a header by substitute Joe Virden that beat the back-up junior goalkeeper Nate Bell. Bell made just his fourth appearance of the season, and made eight saves throughout the match.

The Pirates are now preparing for a postseason run, with their first round game in the 2012 NCAA Division III Tournament being hosted by Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, this Saturday Nov. 10. The Bucs will face Mississippi College, the American Southwest Conference champions with a 12-5-2 record on the year.

Korey Hope Staff Writer

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Volleyball hosts conference opponents

Whitworth volleyball split games at home this week, falling to the Whitman Missionaries before earning its first win this season against the Willamette Bearcats. The Pirates received the first point of the game against Whitman with a kill by junior Abi Hedlund. Whitman responded with a 7-0 run. Whitworth was unable to catch back up and lost the set 25-18.

Whitworth came out strong in the second set, once again scoring the first point. This time, however, they kept the lead through almost the entire game.

“It’s nice that we can come back after losing the first set, but we have got to figure out how to start better in the first place,” head coach Steve Rupe said.

Solid defense, led by senior libero Whitney Santos, helped the Pirates to a 25-17 set victory.

“Whitney had really great defense tonight. She had a lot of crucial plays that helped us pick up our energy,” junior right side hitter Jalana White said. “We also just worked really hard on finding what was open on the other side and we finally kind of figured them out.”

Whitman took the lead early in the third set before kills from White and freshman setter Shawna Korshavn tied the game at 10. The Missionaries regained the lead with a kill and an ace, and Whitworth was never able to fully recover, losing 25-17.

Santos and sophomore middle blocker Tori LaBrie were catalysts in a competitive back-and-forth match. Just as the Bucs were about to tie the set for the ninth time, Whitman pulled away to win 25-20.

“We’re so close in all of our games and it’s frustrating,” White said. “But once we kind of mesh and start trusting each other more and playing as a team, everything is going to fall in place.”

That became evident in Whitworth’s next game on Saturday night against the Bearcats. The first set alone had 13 ties and eight lead changes, but Whitworth came out on top as a kill from junior middle blocker Briauna Stadeli pulled the Bucs away from an 18-18 tie and into a 25-19 win.

“There was just more thought when they were going up,” Rupe said.  “We were able to funnel the ball where we wanted it to go so we were able to do what we want with it.”

That focused style of play continued into the second set. The Pirates controlled most of the game, with Willamette only leading for a short period of time early in the set, and won 25-21 to put them up 2-0 in the match.

The momentum completely changed in the third game, starting off with a 3-0 lead for Willamette. The Pirates’ defense struggled to keep up and Whitworth was only able to get six kills before Willamette ended the set on top.

Despite the difficult third set, Whitworth was able to come back and win in a final fourth set.

“We never give up, we fight for every ball, and that shows in our play,” Santos said. “It shows on and off the court and the crowd can see it as well.”

Another momentum shift allowed Whitworth to come back from the third set loss. As the Bucs played longer and harder, the crowd grew more excited and the team responded.

“It feels so good to have all the fans just yelling and everyone getting so excited,” LaBrie said. “The excitement really helps pump you up and it’s just a lot of fun. I love it.”

The excitement grew throughout the entire fourth set, starting with a kill by freshman outside hitter Nicole Leonard to give Whitworth its first lead of the set, and ending with a kill by Hedlund for a 25-23 win over Willamette.

In the fourth set alone Whitworth had nine blocks, led by two apiece from LaBrie and Stadeli.

“We really came together as a team and everybody completely contributed,” LaBrie said. “There was not one dominant person. It was just everybody working together and working their hardest.”

Whitworth expects to continue to find rhythm and improved play as it anticipates the hopeful return of two injured players, Maddye Dinsmore and Kristine Kardell.

The Pirates go into their next week of conference play looking for two more wins while on the road against Lewis & Clark on Wednesday and George Fox on Saturday.

Megan John Staff Writer

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