Bearcats Battle Back from 2-1 Deficit to Defeat Linfield, 3-2

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Led by senior outside hitter Jessie McGraw (Gaston, OR/Yamhill-Carlton HS/Corban College), the Willamette University volleyball team rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat visiting Linfield College, 3-2, in a Northwest Conference match at Cone Field House on Wednesday, Oct. 28. McGraw registered 18 kills, earned a .357 hitting percentage and registered 27 digs, as Willamette rallied for 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-13 victory.

Willamette improved to 9-12 overall, 6-7 in the Northwest Conference. The Bearcats moved into fifth place in the NWC standings, one-half match in front of Whitworth University (5-7). WU has won four of its last five matches.

Linfield fell to 8-12 overall, 5-8 in the NWC. The Wildcats are one match behind the Bearcats in the conference standings.

The Bearcats won the first set, 25-23, but Linfield took the second and third sets by scores of 25-23 and 25-21, respectively.

"A lot of teams would not have come back from that situation," Willamette Head Coach Tom Shoji said. "I'm really pleased with the result."

Willamette took a 5-0 lead in set #4 and a 4-1 lead in set #5 on its way to the come-from-behind triumph. Linfield never led in the decisive set, but rallied to tie the score four times between 8-8 and 13-13.

WU recorded the go-ahead point with a solo block by Nicole Mertens (Fr., OH, Olympia, WA/Olympia HS) on a second-touch kill attempt by Linfield setter Stephanie Purser. The final point in the 15-13 win was scored by senior middle hitter Julie Stutzman (Olympia, WA/Olympia HS), who earned her 10th kill of the match.

McGraw tied for Willamette's team lead with her 18 kills. Molly Blankenship (Jr., OH, Priest River, ID/Lamanna HS/Spokane Falls CC) also earned 18 kills for the Bearcats, but was limited by an abdominal injury and left the match during set #4. Jaci Abeloe (Fr., OH, Medford, OR/North Medford HS) provided WU with 13 kills, as the Bearcats placed four players in double figures.

Setter Brigit Miller (Fr., Olympia, WA/Olympia HS) accumulated a season-high 61 assists. Libero Kathy Lee Glenn (Fr., Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) contributed 19 digs.

"I can't say enough good things about our freshman setter," Shoji said of Miller's season-best performance. "She just works and works and works."

Emily Vuylsteke of Linfield topped all players with 20 kills. She hit .513 for the match. Rosa Gimson tacked on 13 kills for the Wildcats. Samantha Lau registered 27 digs and Kelsey Franklin added 20.

Blankenship was spelled periodically during the second and third sets by Danika Reed (Fr., OH, Arvada, CO/Arvada HS). Reed achieved three kills and three digs.

When Blankenship left for good with the score tied 16-16 in the fourth set, she was replaced by Mertens, who had seen action in just 18 of 75 sets this year prior to Wednesday night.

"It that kind of a situation, putting in a player with such limited experience as Nicole ... she came through for us," Shoji said. "For someone who hasn't played that much, she was really good for us tonight."

Mertens earned one kill on two attacks and kept several rallies alive with five digs in addition to her solo block for the next-to-the-last point of the match.

WU trailed 18-14 in set #1, but tallied the next five points, including three kills by Blankenship, for a 19-18 lead. The set was tied at 19-19 and 20-20 before the Bearcats reeled off four unanswered points for a 24-20 advantage. Linfield won the next three rallies, including a pair of kills by Gimson, but Stutzman pounded out a kill for Willamette to claim the set, 25-23.

The Wildcats surged out to a 10-3 lead at the start of set #2. Willamette rallied to move in front, 15-13. The 12-3 run ended with six consecutive points. WU and Linfield remained close the rest of the set, with a kill by Blankenship pulling the Bearcats within 24-23, before a kill by Rae Smith of Linfield completed the set.

Linfield took a 7-3 lead in set #3. The Bearcats got as close as 21-19 on a kill by Blankenship, before the Wildcats won four of the next six points to claim the set, 25-21.

Willamette held leads of 5-0 and 14-9 in set #4, but Linfield eventually created a 16-16 tie. McGraw recorded kills on three consecutive rallies to give WU a 19-16 edge. The Bearcats then closed out the set with a 6-2 run.

"In set 4, we showed some toughness," Shoji commented. "We were always wondering how good we would be in a match like that. It was really nice to see."

During set #5, Mertens' block for a 14-13 lead and Stutzman's ensuing kill provided the winning edge. WU hit .292 in the set, with nine kills and just two attacking errors. Meanwhile, the Bearcats limited Linfield to a .103 hitting percentage.

WU produced a .232 team attack percentage for the match, as the Bearcats achieved 70 kills. Linfield hit .209 with 57 kills. The Bearcats had 9.5 team total blocks and the Wildcats ended the match with 9.0. Both teams finished with 79 digs.

Up next for Willamette is a short trip to Portland, Ore., to take on Lewis & Clark College in an NWC match on Friday, Oct. 30. The first set is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. (PDT).

Willamette University 3
Linfield College 2
25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-13
Jessie McGraw recorded 18 kills and 27 digs as Willamette rallied past Linfield.

Jessie McGraw recorded 18 kills and 27 digs as Willamette rallied past Linfield.

Setter Brigit Miller serves for Willamette.

Setter Brigit Miller serves for Willamette.

Nicole Mertens played well off the bench for Willamette.

Nicole Mertens played well off the bench for Willamette.