The Central Washington Wildcats (16-6, 12-3 GNAC) have no reason to like the Seawolves (21-2, 13-2 GNAC) after Thursday night’s loss to UAA. The Seawolves now account for two of only three Great Northwest Athletic Conference losses the Wildcats have suffered this season.
Identical conference records for both the teams before the game — 12 wins and 2 losses — guaranteed Thursday’s match immediate implications in the GNAC standings. After going up 2 sets to 0, UAA was unable to close out the third set, thus the beginning of a valiant Wildcat’s comeback effort. UAA would prevail in the end — 25-17, 25-12, 22-25, 20-25, 15-13 — after over two hours of heated play and raucous cheering.
“It’s huge,” Seawolf senior Julia Mackey said of the victory. “This is the last three weekends in the GNAC and so our goal — everyone’s goal — has been to win GNAC.”
With a win over CWU and some favorable results elsewhere in the conference, UAA moved into a first place tie with Western Washington. The GNAC bases its champion on regular season records — forgoing a conference tournament altogether.
The first two sets were controlled by the Seawolves. UAA’s core of Mackey, Katelynn Zanders, Leah Swiss, and Morgan Hooe broke into an offensive rhythm right away. The Seawolves went on an 11-2 run to start the game. UAA hit above .300 in the first set compared to the Wildcats’ .154. Hitting percentage is calculated by dividing the total attacks a team makes by its number of kills minus attack errors ((13 kills – 4 errors)/ 26 total attacks = 0.346 hitting percentage)).
The Wildcats were again outplayed in the second set. Despite being one of the best blocking teams in the country, CWU had trouble clogging the Seawolves’ hitting lanes. Zanders was nearly flawless in the second set, making kills on nearly every ball she sent over the net. The senior outside hitter had 6 kills in the second set and finished the game with a team-high 14.
After a brief intermission, the teams retook the court in the third set; CWU’s last opportunity to get back into the game. The Wildcats’ lives looked in jeopardy with the Seawolves up 16-12 after several seismic UAA blocks from Mackey, Swiss, and middle blocker Erin Braun. UAA’s shaky passing though haunted them in the third set, opening the door for CWU make up those points.
“It was just a simple thing called ball control and we just didn’t have it as much in the first two (sets),” head coach Chris Green said.
The Wildcats took the fourth set, which led to the all-decisive fifth set, in which the Seawolves took 15-13.
The Wildcats were led by Linden Firethorne who delivered 12 kills, 7 digs, and 3 blocks.
UAA faces off against Northwest Nazerene tomorrow at 7:00 in another important GNAC tilt. The Crusaders are 12-3 in the GNAC after a surprise defeat in Fairbanks against the Nanooks last night.