Feb. 6, 2004
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - After another incredible season, a good case can be made that the Western Washington University volleyball program is among the top five nationally in NCAA Division II.
Led by two senior All-Americans - setter Liz Bishop (Seattle/Mount Rainier) and libero Nicola Parker (Auburn), the Vikings were ranked as high as No.2 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA II Coaches Top 25 during the season as they went 24-2, setting a school record with 24 consecutive victories. Western swept to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship for the third straight year with an 18-0 mark, giving the Vikings 54 consecutive conference victories, the longest current string of conference triumphs in all of NCAA II, and the fourth longest in the history of the division.
But for the second straight year, the success came to an abrupt end. The Vikings were eliminated from the Pacific Regional of the NCAA Division II National Tournament with a four-game loss to Cal State San Bernardino in the semifinals, the Vikings' opening match of the postseason after getting a first-round bye. Four of the top 10 teams in the country were in the Pacific Region.
The Vikings had beaten the Coyotes, who went on to reach the national semifinals, on the same floor the opening weekend of the season. In the post-season, Western won the first game, but CSUSB took the next three in convincing fashion.
"We started out great, and we stayed there, but Cal State San Bernardino just kept getting better," said Western coach Diane Flick (4 years, 95-19), who was named GNAC Coach of the Year for the third straight time. "They just had one notch on us that day. That's the competition we have to face to get to the next level. It's more motivating than it is discouraging."
Western's third consecutive sweep of the GNAC was actually more impressive than the previous two. The Vikings dropped just six games in the 18 matches, and were taken to five games just once, claiming a 20-30, 30-28, 30-25, 28-30, 15-11 triumph over Seattle U. at Sam Carver Gymnasium, where Western has now won 18 consecutive matches. The conference sweep came after the Vikings had won their last six non-conference matches of the year, losing just three games in that run.
"We continued our conference winning streak, and we did it more convincingly than in years past," Flick said. "We were more consistent than we had been."
Bishop was a second-team AVCA All-American, as well as being an AVCA and Daktronics first-team all-Pacific Region selection and the GNAC Player of the Year for the second straight time. She led the GNAC and ranked ninth nationally in assists (13.54 avg.), finishing her career with 4,176, the second-best mark in school history.
"There aren't enough words to describe Liz," said Flick. "People see the stats and the wins, but they don't get to see the other things - how thoughtful she is, how she always looks at the big picture. I'm impressed with her as an athlete, but I'm probably even more impressed with those other things."
Parker led NCAA II nationally in digs (6.16), earning first-team Daktronics All-America and AVCA All-America honorable mention, and being a first-team AVCA and Daktronics all-Pacific Region pick and GNAC all-star. She set school single-season marks for digs per game and total digs (542) and became Western's leader in career digs with 1,435. Her season was all the more remarkable in that a back injury severely limited her off-season training and had her availability in doubt until early in the summer.
"Nicola had a problem in front of her, was given a plan to solve it and followed it to a 'T,' never cut any corners," Flick said. "That's also how she led the country in digs. She's a methodical problem solver and she looked for the maximum way to fill the libero position. That role was only limited by what she had to do, not in the effort she could put out."
The Vikings had great strength at middle blocker in second-team Daktronics all-Pacific Region selections Meghan Evoy (Olympia/Capital) and Kristy Carstensen (Puyallup), both juniors who were first-team all-GNAC picks. Carstensen led Western in kills (386, 3.84 avg.), blocks (99, 1.12) and service aces (34), ranking second in the GNAC in blocks and fifth in kills. Evoy was second on the team in both kills (322, 3.66) and blocks (67, 0.76), being seventh in the conference in kills, and leading the GNAC in attack percentage (.334), committing attack errors just once every 13.4 attempts.
"Meghan has been so consistent, and not just in numbers," said Flick. "The effort is always there, and she never concedes that she's not going to have a good day. Christy is starting to take more of a leadership role. She still hasn't realized all her potential, and she'll just continue to blossom."
Junior outside hitter Brianna Murray (Everett/Cascade) averaged 3.24 kills a game and was sixth in the GNAC in digs (375, 4.31).
"Bri was the top non-libero in the conference in digs," said Flick. "In hitting, when we needed kills, we could go to her. Plus, she's a teacher of the game to other players because she sees things so well."
Sophomore Jamie Petersen (Kent/Kentwood) played the other outside hitter spot, averaging 2.68 kills and 3.34 digs. Another sophomore, Rachelle Cooper (Port Orchard/South Kitsap), was on the right side after missing the 2002 season with injuries, and contributed 2.34 kills and 0.42 blocks a game.
Sophomore defensive specialist Megan Tevis (Puyallup/Emerald Ridge) saw action in all but three games. She had 170 digs and 20 service aces.
The Vikings also got valuable play from sophomore Krystal Knight (Sumner), even though she only saw the court in 25 of the 88 games. Her 13 kills, nine service aces and eight blocks weren't numerically overwhelming, but their timing was, as Knight was often inserted in critical situations late in games to provide Western with an extra attacking or blocking threat.
Sophomore setter Kristin Urdahl (Spokane/Ferris) completed her second year as the backup to Bishop, notching 34 assists and occasionally seeing time as a serving specialist. Sophomore outside hitter Julie Marsh (Cheney), a transfer from Whitworth College, completed the active roster, playing in five matches.
Western's success over the last four years has been remarkable, and the orchestrator of it believes there's more to come.
"We've developed consistency in practice, we're used to doing it so that it's becoming a signature of the program," Flick said. "This year's seniors are a key part of where the program is at. We've reached the point where seniors teach the younger players how the program works, and Liz and Nicola have been the model of that.
Parker and Bishop, who were both second-team CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, may be gone, but Flick isn't going anywhere.
"I want this in writing. I'm here! I love it here, there's no reason for me to leave. I'm staying, period!"
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