It was an eventful weekend at the Washburn Invitational for Northwest volleyball Sept. 6-7. The Bearcats started their season off 4-0 with wins over No. 23 Central Washington, Quincy, William Jewell, and No. 18 Drury.
Northwest began the tournament, Sept. 6, against Central Washington; winning three straight sets by scores of 25-23, 27-25 and 25-17. Junior Hallie Sidney led the team with 11 kills and 12 digs. The Bearcats finished their first day of action with a four-set win over Quincy; winning by scores of 25-17, 25-16, 21-25 and 25-18. Junior Morgan Lewis tied Sidney for a team-high 15 kills in the match.
As Saturday rolled around, Northwest beat William Jewell by completing a three-set sweep with scores of 25-18, 25-22 and 25-19. The defense was the advantage for the ‘Cats as they held the Cardinals hit percentage to -.026.
The last game of the tournament came against No. 18 Drury. The Panthers kept the pressure on Northwest, but the Bearcats held on to win in five sets by scores of 24-26, 25-22, 25-21, 17-25 and 15-10.
Starting a season undefeated is no easy task, and Northwest is looking to replicate the 2015 season when the ‘Cats started out 15-0. Coach Amy Woerth saw the weekend’s success come through teamwork.
“They worked well together through some challenges,” Woerth said. “They’re very coachable and listen to the systems.”
Northwest is a team relying heavily on juniors and sophomores. While most teams would not benefit from having under-experienced players, Woerth believes this does not impact the Bearcats.
“The ability for our juniors and seniors to go in and do their jobs at a high level was important,” Woerth said. “We grabbed some people off the bench the second day and had some huge subs that bought into their role.”
The ‘Cats fared well throughout the weekend with the help of three players that were named to the All-Tournament team. Sophomore Bethany Elkins, partnered with Lewis and Sidney, headlined the personal accolades for the team with those honors. Those three, although stand-outs of the weekend for Northwest, attributed their success to how much the Bearcats were coming together as a team.
“We’ve been working with each other since July, so I wasn’t surprised by anything,” Lewis said. “I was really proud of how we all worked together and our passing was on, which allowed our hitters to be on.”
Hannah Koechl, a sophomore transfer from Boise State, found high praise from Woerth in her first tournament as a Bearcat. Koechl had .53 assists per set and 2.07 digs per set.
“She was only playing through rotations, and she did a phenomenal job just with being new to the program,” Woerth said. “For her to step up and do what she did was really neat.”
However, the success the Bearcats accomplished did not come without some mistakes. The ability to face different schools with different skill levels brought to light some areas that can be worked on.
“We need to get better at serving and getting balls into play. We gave teams too many points,” Woerth said. “We can always strengthen relationships to better our passing. We’re looking to add some layers offensively as well.”
Northwest players aren’t taking this 4-0 start lightly and believe this doesn’t change their mindsets or game plans.
“I think we are still focusing on what we can do to get better,” Sidney said. “We’re staying focused on the next game and the next practice.”
As a result of posting a perfect record to start the season, the Bearcats find themselves entering the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 at No. 18. This is the 10th time the Bearcats have been ranked in the AVCA Top 25.
Junior setter Maddy Ahrens was named MIAA Specialist of the Week after posting numbers of 11.27 assists per set, 2.40 digs per set and 169 assists throughout the ‘Cats’ first 4 games. Along with that, Sidney received honors as well, being named Co-MIAA Hitter of the Week with 4.13 kills per set, 2.67 digs per set and a pair of double-doubles.
The ‘Cats know that the Washburn Invitational was the beginning of the tough competition, which they hope to face throughout their next tournament in an effort to prepare them for the rest of their conference schedule.
“I think this upcoming tournament we’re going to be facing top-ranked teams, and that’s what the MIAA is like,” Sidney said. “If anything, this is preparing us more going into the season looking into the end of the season tournament.”
Woerth has focused all her energy on this upcoming tournament.
“This tournament is what you’d see in a postseason conference tournament, and it’s very similar to what you’d see in regionals. It’s very game-like,” Woerth said. “You’re going to get the best of the best. We’re going to face good teams and good coaches.”