Cook starts tenure strong, as William Woods volleyball sweeps triangular

William Woods volleyball coach Kandace Cook celebrates during the Owls' William Woods Triangular Saturday at Anderson Arena. Cook started her coaching career at William Woods with two victories. (William Woods Athletics/Courtesy)

FULTON -- William Woods Owls coach Kandace Cook started her first college head coaching position just as she wanted, going 2-0 in the William Woods Triangular.

"I spent a lot of time at Columbia (College), and I did a lot of work there and growth," Kandace Cook said. "I wanted to make sure that coming into a head coaching job, I was able to put that same effort forward and have the girls buy into what I was doing right away.

"This spring, they really did. We brought in so many newcomers that they've jumped right on as well, and they wanted to fight for it too. Especially in our first game of the day, they wanted to fight for the win, not just for me, but for themselves too. And there's a whole team effort."

In their season/home opening matches, the Owls beat the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Pomeroys in a five-set thriller, then finished off the triangular by sweeping the Bethany College Swedes Saturday at Anderson Arena.

Kandace Cook's William Woods tenure began with a game that was nothing short of memorable, as the Owls lost the first two sets 25-18 and 25-19 to Saint Mary before completing a three-set comeback (25-14, 26-24, 15-12).

This back-and-forth affair took 2 hours and 18 minutes to reach its conclusion. Making the result impressive, the Pomeroys won 11 more games than the Owls last season -- Woods (2-0) went 15-17, Saint Mary (1-1) 26-6.

"It's definitely a thrill to reverse roll is something that many people don't come back from, but it was definitely worth it," Kandace Cook said. "I think the girls wanted it, and they saw the passion that I had for it. They wanted to fight just as well."

The Owls' Kassidy Phillips recorded a game-high 16 kills, Rhakayla Blackmon -- a Jefferson City graduate -- tied the Pomeroys' Lillian Breaux for a game-high 27 assists, Erin Treis had a game-high three aces and Lanie Lowry -- a Blair Oaks standout -- notched a game-high 15 digs and Lauren Adams registered a game-high three blocks.

Since Woods' first match lasted so long, the Owls didn't begin their game versus Bethany until 6:30 p.m. -- 90 minutes after the scheduled start time.

It didn't matter. Woods carried the momentum from the final three sets in its first game, cruising to a 25-10 first-set win.

During the initial set, the Owls had a 5-0 run from when they went up 2-1 to 6-1, and they led by double digits for the remainder of the set after they went up 15-5.

Helping Woods secure the dominant set win, Adams tallied five kills and one block, Phillips four kills and Kennedy Lane an ace -- the Owls' only ace in the match.

Since the Owls starters played six rotations through five sets between the first match and the first set against Bethany, Kandance Cook decided to rotate her team for the final two sets.

Woods struggled in the second set after recording an 80% hit percentage and having three players notch more than one kill in the first.

In the second set, the Owls registered a 58% hit percentage. Luciana Pereira Paiva -- playing her second contest for Woods -- recorded two kills to be the only WWU player with multiple kills.

While the Owls may have struggled for their standards, they still had three more kills than the Swedes (15-12) and a 4% higher hit percentage.

"We decided to have everyone see the opportunity to see the court and get to play and show that we're all capable of beating a team and how well they can play together no matter who's on the court," Kandace Cook said.

Those numbers paid dividends toward the end of the set, as Pereira Paiva tallied a kill to tie the contest at 23-23 for the Owls, and after the Swedes hit the ball out, Emmalea Cook recorded her lone kill of the game to secure a 25-23 set two victory.

Similarly to the second set, William Woods wasn't in total control, but it did enough to outplay Bethany. In the third set, the Owls had one more kill (14-13) and a 5% greater hit percentage (62% - 57%).

Woods had to fight back in the third set, as it trailed by as much as seven points and was down for most of the middle portion.

After they were down 18-13, the Owls' Blackmon notched a block and a kill, Adams two blocks and Paige Lamm 0.5 blocks.

With Owls fans on their feet and screaming as loud as possible, Adams and Lamm combined to block the Swedes' final serve to walk it with a 26-24 tiebreaker triumph.

"We want to be on the ball right away, block is our first line of defense and then our defensive line behind them," Kandace Cook said. "We really thrive, and we get the whole thrill of screaming. They get so excited when we get that stuff -- the block.

"Our girls wanted it; they were ready for it. I can hear the crowd screaming for the stuff block as it happened. And those are just moments that they know are coming out. We have that capability, and we were just pushing for it right away."

Phillips recorded a game-high 12 kills and Adams three blocks for the second straight match, while Treis had a game-high 27 assists and Phillips, Emmalea Cook and Lauren Hiestand tied the Swedes' Mandy Knipp for a game-high nine digs.

Bethany's Cameron Boyd notched a game-high three aces.

William Woods will hope to keep it up when it plays its first road match of the season, facing William Penn University (0-0) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The Owls are seeking their first-ever victory against the Quakers, as they are 0-3 in the all-time series and fell 3-0 (10-25, 18-25, 26-28) at William Penn last season.

"They're a strong team," Kandace Cook said. "They're usually about third in their conference on their side, and we're looking to beat people that are playing there usually. Saint Mary of the Woods is third in their conference. So we're ranked third again this year for AMC, and we're just looking to start knocking those teams that are also third, so we can start knocking out ones and twos and keep rolling."

photo William Woods middle/outside hitter Kassidy Phillips prepares for a serve in the William Woods Triangular Saturday at Anderson Arena. Phillips recorded game highs 16 kills against Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College and 12 versus Bethany College. (William Woods Athletics/Courtesy)
photo William Woods defensive specialist Lauren Hiestand serves against Bethany College in the William Woods Triangular Saturday at Anderson Arena. Hiestand notched the Owls' only ace against the Swedes. (William Woods Athletics/Courtesy)