Vikings Back In Regional Final, Down Nighthawks In Four
Joellee Buckner was one of four WWU players to have a double-double in the match, finishing with 11 kills and 19 digs. Photo by Conner Schuh.
Joellee Buckner was one of four WWU players to have a double-double in the match, finishing with 11 kills and 19 digs. Photo by Conner Schuh.

Friday, December 1, 2017

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – For the third straight year, Western Washington will play for the regional championship after the No. 2 seeded Vikings downed No. 3 seed and GNAC rival Northwest Nazarene in four sets, 22-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-23, in the semifinals of the NCAA West Region Championships at Van Duyn Gymnasium.

The Vikings rebounded from one set down to claim their 20th victory in a row and their third trip in as many seasons to the championship match. The Vikings have not lost since Sept. 16 when they fell in four sets to NNU.

With the victory Western Washington (27-3) earns the right to face either No. 4 seed Cal State San Bernardino, who upset No. 1 seed and previously undefeated Cal Baptist, in the final on Saturday at 7 p.m. It is a rematch of the 2016 regional final, which the Vikings won in four sets. Northwest Nazarene ends at 25-5 in one of the finest seasons for the Nighthawks since its transition to NCAA Division II in 2001.

Junior outside hitter Abby Phelps posted a second big double-double, leading the Vikings with 21 kills and 22 digs while amassing a .270 hitting percentage. Senior opposite Joellee Buckner had a double-double of 11 kills and 19 blocks and senior outside hitter Arielle Turner also had a double-double with 10 kills and 14 digs. Junior setter Brette Boesel joined the double-double parade with 52 assists and 12 digs.

Senior middle blocker Madi Farrell ended her college career by leading NNU with 18 kills and seven blocks. Senior outside hitter Kendra Bodine had a double-double of 15 kills and 12 digs while junior outside hitter Cami Heninger added 15 kills. Senior setter Hailey Cook ended her career with a double-double of 51 assists and 18 digs to go with five blocks.

In the early going it looked as if the Vikings would run away with the first set, darting out to an 8-3 lead on Joslyn Bopray’s first kill of the match. The Nighthawks slowly worked their way back into the frame, coming within one on Farrell’s kill at 14-13 and tied it at 17-17 on a Bodine kill. The Vikings extended the advantage to 21-18 on Buckner’s kill, but the Nighthawks surged to win the next six points, three of Heninger kills, and closed out the 25-22 win on a Bodine kill.

It was Northwest Nazarene opening the second set on fire, building a 4-0 lead on Farrell’s kill. Like the Nighthawks in the first, Western Washington rebounded to tie things at 6-6 on a Bopray kill. After NNU went back up two points, the Vikings jumped back in the driver’s seat as they built a 13-10 advantage on Phelps’ kill. Northwest Nazarene came back to within one at 16-15, but three service aces down the stretch, including two by Turner, allowed the Vikings to tie the match with the 25-19 win.

Western Washington never trailed in the third set, but also could not shake the Nighthawks. The Vikings never built more than a four-point lead in the frame, that coming on an attack error at 20-16. Even then, NNU narrowed the deficit to within one two more times before Buckner and Michaela Hall put the set away at 25-22.

The Vikings broke a close fourth set open with a run of seven straight points, going up 13-8 on Bopray’s second and third kills of the frame. Northwest Nazarene was not done, though, taking a 16-15 lead on a WWU attack error. It was a close set the rest of the way with the Vikings going up 24-22 on Buckner’s kill before Turner put away the match two rallies later.