CWU, SPU Stay Ranked, SMU Faces Big Test
No. 16 Central Washington enters the week with the momentum of three straight victories.
No. 16 Central Washington enters the week with the momentum of three straight victories.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023
by Evan O'Kelly

PORTLAND, Ore. – The midway point of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference volleyball season arrives this weekend as competition for positioning in the standings continues to heat up.

No. 16 Central Washington and No. 22 Seattle Pacific remained in the latest Division II rankings this week, while reigning GNAC Team of the Week Saint Martin’s finds itself in fourth place coming off a pair of victories last week. The Falcons remained atop the GNAC standings despite their first defeat of the conference season, a straight set upset against Western Washington. The Vikings and Wildcats meanwhile are tied for second each sitting 1.5 games behind the Falcons.

This Week's Conference Slate - Oct. 12-14
  Thursday, Oct. 12 Saturday, Oct. 14
Host Opponent Time Opponent Time
UAA #16 CWU 7 p.m. (ADT) NNU 7 p.m. (ADT)
UAF NNU 11:30 a.m. (ADT) #16 CWU 2 p.m. (ADT)
#22 SPU Bye -- MSUB 2 p.m. (PDT)
SFU WOU 7 p.m. (PDT) SMU 7 p.m. (PDT)
WWU SMU 7 p.m. (PDT) WOU 7 p.m. (PDT)


This Week's Storylines

SAINTS FACE MIGHTY TEST: After knocking off Alaska Anchorage and Alaska at home last week, Saint Martin’s will face an even tougher test this week with road matches at Western Washington (Thurs., 7 p.m. PDT) and Simon Fraser (Sat., 7 p.m. PDT). The Saints (10-6, 5-2 GNAC) sit just one game behind both CWU and WWU out of second place in the conference standings, making this week’s matches in Bellingham and Burnaby must-watch events for GNAC volleyball fans.

Things are trending in the right direction at the hands of fourth-year head coach Dan Behnke, who helped the team to its first double-figure win total (13) in 2022 since the team joined the conference in 2001. SMU is already well on its way to surpass that mark having reached 10 victories this fall. The success has been led by senior setter Karla Soto, who leads the GNAC and ranks 27th nationally with 10.29 assists per set, and third nationally with 0.66 service aces per set. Soto came up big last week with a 46-assist, 12-dig double-double in the win over UAA while chipping in four service aces. The Saints have also relied on standout freshman Sirena Peredo, who led the team with a 17-kill, 18-dig double-double against the Seawolves. Fellow freshman Emily Garten hinted on Sept. 2 she had breakout ability when she had 23 kills against Texas Woman’s, and came up big last week with 27 total kills and six service aces in the win over the Nanooks.

FIRST-PLACE FALCONS BOUNCE RIGHT BACK: It didn’t take long for No. 22 Seattle Pacific to get over its first GNAC hiccup of the season, as the Falcons shook off last Thursday’s 3-0 loss to Western Washington and reversed the script with a 3-0 triumph over Simon Fraser last Saturday. SPU (13-3, 7-1) is guaranteed to stay in first place if it can secure a win at Montana State Billings (3-15, 1-7) in the teams’ lone match of the weekend.

Senior middle blocker Hannah Hair continues to lead NCAA Division II in blocks per set, entering the week with a mark of 1.56. Hair racked up eight total blocks in the match against Simon Fraser, climbing three spots on the GNAC all-time chart to No. 14 as she is on the cusp of 400 blocks in her career.

GNAC Career Blocks Leaders
Rank Player School Blocks Career
1 Kayleigh Harper Western Washington 597 2015-16, 18-19
10 Kaitlin Quirk Central Washington 428 2012-15
11 Tessa May Simon Fraser 424 2015-18
12 Nikki Lowell Seattle Pacific 419 2010-13
13 Louise Free Northwest Nazarene 402 1999-2002
14 Hannah Hair Seattle Pacific 397 2020-23

The Falcons have relied on the steady play of senior Allison Wilks, who leads the GNAC in hitting percentage at .421 and is averaging 1.68 kills per set. Sarah Brachvogel and Emily Tulino are the other two Falcons to have started all 16 matches this fall, with Brachvogel leading the conference with 3.35 kills per set.

Read More: SPU Nears Midpoint Of Conference Slate (SPU Preview)

‘CATS HAVE MOMENTUM HEADING TO FINAL FRONTIER: Central Washington (11-4, 5-2) heads to Alaska on the heels of three straight victories, pulling itself into a tie for second place with the Vikings. Emma Daoud-Hebert is right behind Hair ranking second nationally with 1.47 blocks per set, while preseason player of the year Tia Andaya is third in the GNAC in hitting percentage (.323), second in assists (9.20) and fourth in blocks (1.07).

Read More: Wildcats Return To Nicholson With Resounding Win (CWU Recap)

WWU UPSETS SPU, MAINTAINS SPOT IN 2ND: Western Washington (5-10, 5-2) became the first GNAC team to solve No. 22 Seattle Pacific, knocking down the Falcons on the road last Thursday in straight sets. Emily Vossenkuhl led an efficient WWU attack with 11 kills and just one error, while setter Adele Holland dished out 31 assists and Devyn Oestreich led the team with 15 digs. Despite coming out on the wrong end of a five-set affair at MSUB on Saturday, WWU enters the week tied with CWU for second place in the conference standings. Vossenkuhl has climbed to No. 3 in the conference in blocks per set at 1.16 and Oestreich ranks 10th in the league in points per set with 3.15.

BLUE SHINING UP NORTH: Senior outside hitter Nicole Blue has maintained a torrid offensive pace all season long and has proven good on her preseason all-conference recognition up to this point. Blue enters the week ranked third in the GNAC in kills per set with 3.21 and second in service aces with 0.51. Blue’s Seawolves have split each of their last two weekends, and will look to build momentum with four straight matches at the Alaska Airlines Center starting with Thursday’s tie against No. 16 CWU.

Read More: UAA Hosts #16 CWU, Looks To ‘Pack The House’ Vs. NNU (UAA Preview)

NIELSON, NANOOKS SET FOR HOMESTAND: Like their in-state rivals, the Alaska Nanooks will also begin a four-match home stand on Thursday morning against Northwest Nazarene. The early 11:30 a.m. (ADT) first serve is to accommodate Alaska’s annual Field Day match, with 1,000 elementary school students expected to be in attendance. Karli Nielson is the top attacking player for the Nanooks, entering the week ranked sixth in the GNAC with 3.00 kills per set. Libero Grace Steurer is putting together a solid campaign as well, ranking sixth in the conference with 3.61 digs per set.

Read More: Volleyball Welcomes NNU, CWU To Town (UAF Preview)

SFU TO HOST WOU, SMU: After splits in its last two weeks of play, Simon Fraser (9-6, 4-3) will look to use home court advantage in matches against Western Oregon Thursday and Saint Martin’s Saturday. SFU took care of Montana State Billings in straight sets last week, before being swept by the Falcons in Seattle. Jocelyn Sherman, Sophie Lachapelle and Brooke Dexter have led the Red Leafs attack, with Lachapelle ranking seventh in the conference in hitting percentage at .286 and Sherman seventh in kills per set with 2.94. Eva Person has continued her pace as one of the league’s top setters, with her 8.42 assists per set slotting her fourth in the conference.

MCMAHON ON THE CUSP OF CRACKING TOP-10: Northwest Nazarene senior libero Caroline McMahon enters the week three digs away from breaking into the top-10 in GNAC career history. The Medford, Ore., native ranks third in the conference with 4.57 digs per set this season, and has racked up 1,771 digs across her five seasons with the Nighthawks. NNU (7-8, 3-4) will look to shake off last week’s defeat against CWU and lift its record north of .500 facing UAA and UAF on the road this weekend.

GNAC Career Digs Leaders
Rank Player School Digs Career
1 Courtney Schneider Western Washington 2,695 2004-07
2 Samantha Hutchinson Western Washington 2,438 2011-14
3 Kyla Morgan Central Washington 2,342 2016-19
4 Anna Herold Seattle Pacific 2,316 2008-11
5 Alison McKay Simon Fraser 2,094 2013-16
6 Maggie Safranski Seattle 2,008 2002-05
7 Kaely Kight Central Washington 1,955 2011-14
8 Abby Phelps Western Washington 1,915 2015-18
9 Christie Colasurdo Western Oregon 1,838 2013-16
10 Brandie Vea Central Washington 1,774 2007-10
11 Caroline McMahon Northwest Nazarene 1,771 2019-23

‘JACKETS UPSET VIKINGS IN 5 SETS: Montana State Billings snapped a 26-match conference game losing streak that dated back to the 2021 season with a thrilling five-set win over Western Washington on Saturday at Alterowitz Gym. It was the Yellowjackets’ first win over the Vikings since 2014, and MSUB (3-15, 1-7) will look to establish some momentum facing a big test at GNAC-leading No. 22 SPU on Saturday afternoon. Senior Olivia Schwartz went off for a career-high 19 kills in the win over the Vikings, while setter Emma Fa’alogo had 44 assists and libero Christine Funk added 18 digs. Funk enters the week leading Division II in total digs with 404 and ranking fifth in digs per set with 5.77.

Read More: Yellowjacket Volleyball Knocks Off Vikings (MSUB Recap)

Player to Watch

Emma Fa’alogo – Montana State Billings

Fa’alogo delivered in a big way in the Yellowjackets’ win over the Vikings, with her 44 assists marking the first time in her young collegiate career that she broke 40 assists in a single match. The freshman from Harbor City, Calif., has reached double figures in assists in all but four matches this fall and has put together five double-doubles as she has proven to be an effective defender. Fa’alogo’s seven kills against the Vikings also marked a season high, as she has begun to move into her comfort zone midway through her freshman campaign. “Emma has done a good job of adding some consistency to our offense in the past couple of weeks,” said MSUB head coach Casey Bonner. “She was a key player in our success against Western Washington. She has continually gotten better each week, and I’m excited for her continued success throughout the season.”

National Rankings

The AVCA/TARAFLEX NCAA Division II rankings are released every Monday throughout the 2023 season.

Central Washington dropped three spots to No. 18 in the national rankings after a 1-1 week on the road. The Wildcats’ five-set loss to Seattle Pacific propelled the Falcons into the top-25 for the first time this season at No. 24. SPU worked its way up from the third-to-last team receiving votes in the preseason poll to cracking the list this week. Western Washington, Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser all received votes to make it three straight weeks with five conference teams represented in the national rankings.

Poll Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Team 5
Preseason 14. UAA 15. WWU RV CWU RV SPU --
Sept. 4 21. UAA 22. WWU 23. CWU RV SPU --
Sept. 25 18. CWU 24. SPU RV WWU RV UAA RV SFU
Oct. 2 17. CWU 21. SPU RV SFU -- --
Oct. 9 16. CWU 22. SPU -- -- --
GNAC Volleyball In The NCAA Statistical National Rankings

Through matches on Oct. 10.

Team Rankings (Top-30)
Blocks Per Set: 3. SPU, 2.69; 4. CWU, 2.63
Hitting Percentage: 23. CWU, .250
Win-Loss Pct.: 26. SPU, .812
Total Assists: 8. UAA, 901; 19. UAF, 841
Attacks Per Set: 26. SFU, 37.86
Total Digs: 21. UAA, 1,193; 24. MSUB, 1,181
Total Kills: 8. UAA, 966; 24. UAF, 902
Service Aces: 18. UAA, 150; 30. UAF, 137
Total Attacks: 12. UAA, 2,777; 19. UAF, 2,651; 20. MSUB, 2,635
Total Blocks: 6. UAA, 162.0; 7. UAF, 160.5; 12. SPU, 153.5
Individual Rankings (Top-50)
Service Aces Per Set: 3. Karla Soto, SMU, 0.66
Assists Per Set: 27. Karla Soto, SMU, 10.29
Blocks Per Set: 1. Hannah Hair, SPU, 1.56; 2. Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU, 1.47; 32. Emily Vossenkuhl, WWU, 1.16
Digs Per Set: 5. Christine Funk, MSUB, 5.77; 26. Hannah Stires, CWU, 5.02
Hitting Pct.: 25. Jennifer Soha, SMU, .382
Service Aces: 5. Nicole Blue, UAA, 42; 13. Karla Soto, SMU, 37
Assists: 50. Karla Soto, SMU, 576
Attacks: 6. Nicole Blue, UAA, 784
Blocks: 4. Hannah Hair, SPU, 86; 18. Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU, 75; 42. Leilani Elder, UAA, 66; 42. Isabel Evans, UAA, 66
Digs: 1. Christine Funk, MSUB, 404
Kills: 20. Nicole Blue, UAA, 263
Triple Doubles: 4. Tia Andaya, CWU, 2

2023 GNAC Volleyball Players of the Week
Date Offensive Player of the Week Defensive Player of the Week
Aug. 28 Nicole Blue, Alaska Anchorage Elizabeth Jackson, Alaska
Sept. 5 Madison Hornback, Western Oregon Christine Funk, Montana State Billings
Sept. 11 Sarah Brachvogel, Seattle Pacific Hannah Stires, Central Washington
Sept. 18 Bethany Tuchardt, Alaska Anchorage Tia Andaya, Central Washington
Sept. 25 Brooke Dexter, Simon Fraser Caroline McMahon, Northwest Nazarene
Oct. 2 Scottie Ellsworth, Central Washington Hannah Hair, Seattle Pacific
Oct. 9 Karla Soto, Saint Martin's Sirena Peredo, Saint Martin's

Oct. 9 GNAC Volleyball Players of the Week

Offensive Player of the Week: Karla Soto, Saint Martin’s

First-career player of the week award.

Soto’s stat line stood out last week, as she ranked second among GNAC players with 11.14 assists per set while dialing up five service aces and averaging 3.29 digs per set on the defensive side of the ball. Soto facilitated the Saint offense with 46 assists – three off her season high – in the team’s 3-1 win over Alaska Anchorage on Thursday, while completing her fifth double-double of the year with a dozen digs. Soto followed up with a 32-assist, 11-dig performance in Saturday’s 3-0 sweep of Alaska.

“She’s exactly what you would want in a senior captain,” said Behnke. “She is a floor leader, is vocal and there is not a day when she is not smiling. She made some adjustments in the matches last week and was really good on the decision making side. In the postgame talk I said that she is resilient, and that is what we are seeing from our group right now.”

Also Nominated: Nicole Blue, UAA; Ainsley Smith, UAF; Ashley Kaufman, CWU; Emma Fa’alogo, MSUB; Brooke Dexter, SFU; Emily Vossenkuhl, WWU.

Defensive Player of the Week: Sirena Peredo, Saint Martin’s

First-career player of the week award.

Peredo continued her standout freshman campaign with an average of 4.86 digs per set to go along with 3.43 kills per set to help her team to a pair of victories. Peredo started her week with a season-high 17 kills and completed her fifth double-double of the season adding a season-high 18 digs in SMU’s 3-1 win over UAA. Peredo followed with 16 digs and seven kills in the sweep of the Nanooks, and contributed three total blocks on the weekend.

“She has a balanced game,” said Behnke. “She’s on the shorter side, so she has to be really creative offensively. She stays aggressive but knows when to throw in some off-speed shots. Making adjustments is something she is doing a really good job of right now.”

Also Nominated: Reilly Plumhoff, UAA; Grace Steurer, UAF; Emma Daoud-Hebert, CWU; Christine Funk, MSUB; Kalyn Hartmann, SFU; Devyn Oestreich, WWU.

2023 All-Tournament Selections
Hawaii/Alaska Challenge 
Aug. 24-26 at Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska, Host)
Alaska: Grace Steurer, OH; Karli Nielson, OH
Alaska Anchorage: Nicole Blue, OH; Makana Eleneki, S
Otter Classic
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Seaside, Calif. (Cal State Monterey Bay, Host)
Northwest Nazarene: Maren Dent, OH - MVP; Caroline McMahon, L; Gabi Moore, S
Stanislaus State Labor Day Tournament
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Turlock, Calif. (Cal State Stanislaus, Host)
Western Oregon: Madison Hornback, OH-MVP; Bailee Hartsook, OH
2023 Seawolf Invitational
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Anchorage, Alaska (Alaska Anchorage, Host)
Alaska Anchorage: Leilani Elder, MB; Reilly Plumhoff, DS
Alaska: Ella Bines, RS
Yellowjacket Invitational
Sept. 1-2 at Billings, Mont. (Montana State Billings, Host)
Montana State Billings: Christine Funk, L; Julia Gordon, OH; Paiten Langston, MB)
2023 Yotes Classic Showcase
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at San Bernardino, Calif. (Cal State San Bernardino, Host)
Central Washington: Tia Andaya, S
Western Washington: Delaney Speer, OH
2023 UCCS Mountain Lion Classic
Sept. 8-9 at Colorado Springs, Colo. (UC Colorado Springs, Host)
Saint Martin’s: Sirena Peredo, DS
Western Oregon: Madison Hornback, OH
Cougar Classic
Sept. 8-9 at San Marcos, Calif. (Cal State San Marcos, Host)
Seattle Pacific: Sarah Brachvogel, OH-MVP; Hannah Hair, MB; Emily Tulino, S; Allison Wilks, OH; Erin Smith, MB; Maddie Pruden, OPP
Denali State Bank Ice Block Classic
Sept. 7-9 at Fairbanks, Alaska (University of Alaska, Host)
Alaska Anchorage: Nicole Blue, OH
Alaska: Karli Nielson, OH; Lily Stewart, PIN
Up North Tournament
Sept. 8-9 at Duluth, Minn. (University of Minnesota Duluth, Host)
Central Washington: Tia Andaya, S/OH; Scottie Ellsworth, OH; Hannah Stires, DS/L
Reddie-Tiger Invitational
Sept. 15-16 at Arkadelphia, Ark. (Ouachita Baptist & Henderson State, Hosts)
Alaska Anchorage: Leilani Elder, MB; Bethany Tuchardt, OH
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