Occidental Ends PLU's Season in Regional Opener
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Occidental College defeated Pacific Lutheran in a five-set thriller, 25-17, 24-26, 23-25, 25-17, 15-8, on Friday afternoon in opening round match at the NCAA Division III Volleyball regionals at California Lutheran University's Gilbert Arena.
With the loss, the Lutes end their season with a 21-6 overall record. Occidental, 22-8, advance to a regional semifinal contest against the winner of the match between Colorado College and Hardin-Simmons.
Seeded fourth in the tournament, Occidental came into the match with momentum from an upset victory over Cal Lutheran in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference postseason tournament. In fact, without that win, it is likely that the Tigers wouldn't have been included in the regional tournament.
That momentum was on display in particular in the opening set when the Tigers took it to an unsteady PLU team, 25-17, with Kasey Rose and Logan Boyer-Hayse combining for nine of Oxy's 11 kills.
The Lutes, the tournament's fifth seed, struggled passing the ball and had trouble getting into their offense, finishing the set with just eight kills and a .057 attack percentage. That also ended up being an issue when, later in the match, the Tigers rallied to win the final two sets.
"I attribute it to, probably, Occidental serving the ball tough and serving different areas," PLU head coach Kevin Aoki said. "When we did pass the ball well we could run our offense. We talk about passing and serving. I thought they were better than we were today."
The Tigers continued their strong play in the second set, and in fact led by five points before the Lutes finally got untracked. With better passing to setter Samantha North, the Lutes found their offensive rhythm and rallied to win the set, 26-24. PLU finished the set with 16 kills, including five from Erin Bremond and three from Bethany Huston, and a .250 percentage.
Another factor in the set was the blocking. PLU came into the match ranked third in Division III volleyball in blocks per set, and after managing just one in the opening set they added three more. As it turned out, however, that was the only set in which the Lutes controlled play at the net with their defense.
PLU did its best hitting in the third set to take a 2-1 lead. With Kelsie Moore getting five kills and Huston adding four, the Lutes hit .324 in the set. Still it was close, and even a strong attack didn't help the Lutes separate themselves from the Tigers, who hit .244.
"The two games we did win, the second and third sets, I thought we passed the ball well and served the ball tougher," Aoki said. "We had a little bit of the momentum. Those two games were close, so it's not like we beat them badly."
In the fourth set, Occidental's Jessie Altman served three consecutive aces to regain the momentum for her team. Two of those serves hit the top of the net and landed on the PLU side. Moments later, an attack by Stephanie Gann hit the net and fell for an Occidental point. Middle blocker Katie Wiese took over with seven of her 15 kills coming in the set, and the Tigers hit .355 as a team.
With the sets tied at two apiece, Occidental grabbed the crucial momentum in the deciding set. Rose, who had a huge game for the winners with a match-high 19 kills, served four points to open the set. The Tigers had three of their five team blocks early in the set, and the Lutes never recovered.
Boyer-Hayse added 17 kills for Occidental, which finished the match with a .227 attack percentage. Setter Jessie Altman had a career-high 62 assists, Madyson Cassidy led all players with 30 digs, and Boyer-Hayse showed her all-around play with 28 more.
Moore closed her outstanding PLU career with 12 kills, tying Huston for team-high honors. Bremond added 11 kills for the Lutes, who also got 47 assists from North and 23 digs from Blair Bjorkman. PLU finished the match with a .188 attack percentage.
The Lutes, who had dominated a number of opponents this year at the net, managed just 5.5 team blocks. Occidental also finished with 90 digs compared to PLU's 69.
The loss was the fifth consecutive in the opening round of the NCAA postseason tournament for the Lutes, who were making their seventh overall appearance. Occidental advances on in its first trip to the Division III tournament since 1992.
"We always talk about enjoying the journey," PLU head coach Kevin Aoki said, "and for us getting here was part of our journey.... We're disappointed that our season ended, not necessarily that we lost the game, (but that) we don't have a chnce to be together as our 18-member team, and that's where most of the sadness lies.
"That's what our program is built upon, the relationships that we have. There are so many more positives than the win and loss that we saw today."
Click here to view Coach Aoki's post-match interview.
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