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North Idaho, Spokane chase NWAC championship

North Idaho College coach Kelsey Stanley is a newcomer to the NWAC volleyball scene. It’s old hat for 12th year Community Colleges of Spokane coach Jenni Hull.

But both programs have the same goal this week: An NWAC championship. Linn-Benton (39-0) is heavily favored in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament that runs Thursday through Sunday at the Tacoma Convention Center.

“If you look at the coaches’ poll, they’re well in front of everybody,” Hull said. “But they could get a run for their money from any of our (four) East (Region) teams.”

NIC’s first season in the NWAC after decades in the Scenic West Athletic Conference was an eye-opener for Stanley. The Cardinals went 14-2 and shared the East title with Walla Walla, which claimed the tiebreaker by sweeping the season series.

“It’s not the SWAC but there are strong teams,” said Stanley, whose squad opens against West No. 3 seed Pierce. “There are good teams out there and this tournament is going to be really tough.”

Setter Brittany Gay (Lake City High) was named East Region MVP. She was joined on the first team by middle blocker Brooke Bell.

Spokane won its last four matches, including a victory over Walla Walla. Third-seeded CCS meets West No. 2 Lower Columbia. The Sasquatch beat Lower Columbia on the opening weekend of the season in late August.

“We knew it was going to be a tough road with North Idaho coming in to make it nine teams in the East,” Hull said. “We’re excited to get into the tournament and everything is a blank slate now.”

Outside hitter Jessica Schmautz (Lakeside High) and libero Bianca Sanchez earned first-team All-East honors.

Cougs bounce back

There is no Pac-12 Conference tournament, which seems wise since the teams experience a meat-grinder, round-robin 20-game conference schedule.

Washington State bounced back from a rough patch by knocking off the Arizona schools last week. The Cougars (19-9, 9-7 Pac-12) have their most wins overall since 2002. Nine Pac-12 victories are WSU’s most since winning nine in 2001.

But more work remains. WSU has four matches left as it pursues its first NCAA tournament bid since 2009. The 2009 squad finished eighth in the then-Pac-10 with a 6-12 record.

“We’re focusing on trying to meet our ultimate goal of getting to the NCAA tournament,” coach Jen Greeny said.

Homework for Zags

Gonzaga (14-11, 7-8) concludes its home schedule against Pacific on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

The Zags are sixth in the WCC standings, one game behind Pacific and one game ahead of the Gaels.

Senior Day festivities could take a while Saturday. GU will honor six seniors, Emmy Allen, Sarah Bradley, Morgan Douglass (Mead High), McKayla Ferris, Paige Folger and Imani Wimbush.

Tourney time

Eastern Washington (13-12, 8-8) and Idaho (11-17, 6-10) secured the last two spots in the Big Sky Conference tournament, which opens Thursday in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The seventh-seeded Eagles meet No. 2 Sacramento State (19-11, 13-3), the South Division champions. The Hornets swept EWU last month.

No. 8 Idaho takes on host and top-seeded North Dakota (23-9, 14-2). Idaho lost both meetings in the regular season.

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