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Area volleyball notebook: Community Colleges of Spokane Sasquatch off to impressive 20-0 start in NWAC

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 18, 2018, 5:47 p.m.

Community Colleges of Spokane volleyball coach Jenni Hull has been on the job since 2005, so she knew she had the makings of a good team.

Roughly four weeks into the 2018 season, Spokane has left good behind and is pushing for greatness, perhaps even all-time greatness.

The Sasquatch boast a 20-0 record. They’ve won 47 of 49 sets. They’ve claimed Northwest Athletic Conference crossover tournament titles in their home gym, a sparkling new $18 million facility, in Bellevue and in Springfield, Oregon.

“They’re playing well,” Hull said, “but they’re meshing really well as a group.”

That’s one of the tricks of coaching, fusing returning talent with incoming recruits. Hull explained that CCS had a head start in the blending process with strong returners, four freshmen coming from Mead High, and the Edwards sisters (Mihaela and Gabby), products of Kiona-Benton High.

The Russell triplets, setter Lindsey, middle blocker McKenna and defensive specialist/setter Allison, and outside hitter Jordan Shoff prepped at Mead and played together on club teams.

Sophomore middle blocker Joelle Mahowald (Lakeside High) has committed to Montana State University-Billings. Sophomore outside hitter Alisha Straw (Freeman) has been in the program three years after redshirting earlier in her career with a knee injury.

Straw was MVP and Mahowald and Lindsey Russell made the Bellevue crossover all-tournament team last weekend.

“Our attitude and leadership is in right spot with our sophomores,” Hull said. “The team’s work ethic in practice is unbelievable. We might have had our best practice (Monday). As much as we’ve done well, we still have a lot to prove.”

That is the next task, especially in the rugged NWAC East. While Spokane was winning in Bellevue, North Idaho College captured the Lower Columbia Crossover and Blue Mountain rolled to the Walla Walla Crossover title.

The latest coaches’ poll top eight has Spokane No. 1, NIC No. 2, Walla Walla No. 6 and Blue Mountain receiving votes. There are 32 NWAC teams.

“This is going to be a really tough East region,” said Hull, whose team has 15 East Division matches left, beginning with home dates against Columbia Basin on Wednesday and Blue Mountain on Saturday. “It might be toughest one I’ve seen.”

Spokane doesn’t have a player in the top five in eight individual statistical categories charted by the NWAC, but all six starters have a hitting percentage above .250. McKenna Russell leads the way at a .343 clip, followed by Straw’s .340 and Lindsey Russell’s .320.

Mahowald is on pace to break the program’s blocking records. Shoff and freshman Brooklyn Rainer join Straw, Mahowald and McKenna Russell with at least 100 kills.

“We’re pretty evenly spread out,” said Hull, who guided Spokane to an NWAC Tournament title in 2009 and runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2014. “Statistically, nobody knows where we’re going.”

The last NWAC team to go unbeaten was Chemeketa, which finished 50-0 in 2008.

“I think we’ve got a huge target on our backs,” Hull said. “We’re working on that aspect a little bit. Everyone is going to get better around us. We have to make sure we do, too.”

Cougars nearly perfect entering Pac-12

Washington State made a run at preconference perfection but fell in five sets to East Tennessee State on Saturday. The Cougars enter Pac-12 play with a 9-1 record.

The setback didn’t change WSU’s No. 22 ranking, an indication that AVCA pollsters took notice of the Cougars’ nonconference performance, which included a pair of road wins over then-No. 17 Northern Iowa.

“Overall, it was a good preseason,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said. “Really getting used to running a 5-1 offense with (setter) Ashley (Brown) and getting more hitters involved, I’m happy to see that as we progressed. I still want more consistency throughout the weekends.”

Or, in the case of the Pac-12’s opening week, a weekday and weekend. The slate begins with the traditional WSU-Washington matchup, Thursday in Seattle, followed by a road match Sunday with No. 12 Oregon. UW is No. 13, one of the conference’s eight ranked teams.

“It’s always a tough opener, and closer (the rivals clash annually in the regular-season finale),” Greeny said of facing the Huskies. “There are a lot of good teams in the Pac-12, just maybe not ranked quite as high (as usual). I don’t expect any easy matches or weekends.”

Quick sets

WSU’s Alexis Dirige is No. 6 in all-time digs, 14 behind No. 5 Jacie Harris. Teammate Taylor Mims is eight kills from cracking the all-time top-10 list. … Fresno State senior Haile Watson, a Lake City High product who played her freshman season at Eastern Washington, ranks third nationally in single-match hitting percentage after a 19-kill, one-error effort (.720 percentage) against Saint Mary’s last month.

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