POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 12:40 p.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011
The thrill was the same and the excitement was just as great.
But, Whitworth senior Kaimi Rocha admits, winning a second straight Northwest Conference volleyball championship was also a sense of relief.
"I think it was more challenging and the pressure on all of us seniors who had experienced it already made it tougher," Rocha said. "Our emotions were different because it wasn't our first time, but it still felt just as amazing."
The Pirates took the conference championship last Friday, sweeping Lewis & Clark in three sets at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
ALL-NORTHWEST CONFERENCE HONORSPlayers with local ties
» Player of the year: Kaimi Rocha, senior, Whitworth, Seabury Hall (2008)
» Libero of the year: Samantha Lau, senior, Linfield, Saint Francis (2008)
» Kaimi Rocha, senior, Whitworth, Seabury Hall (2008)
» Kelsy Takashima, senior, Pacific, Molokai (2008)
» Samantha Lau, senior,
Linfield, Saint Francis (2008)
» Ka‘ipo Rocha, senior, Whitworth, Seabury Hall (2008)
» Leia Matsunaga, junior, Lewis & Clark, Kamehameha (2009)
» Kailana Ritte-Camara,
freshman, Linfield, Molokai (2011)
» Shannon Waltz, sophomore, Willamette, La Pietra (2010)
It was the final home match for twin sisters Kaimi and Ka‘ipo Rocha, who closed out their final regular season in college by helping Whitworth win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2001-02.
"It wasn't a surprise because we knew we were capable of doing it," Ka‘ipo said. "There was more pressure and we knew we had the target on our backs, but we also knew we had the ability to do it."
The 23rd-ranked Pirates will make their fourth appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament, facing No. 15 Cal Lutheran on Friday in the first round.
Whitworth advanced to the second round a season ago and is poised with a senior-heavy team to make it even further.
"I think this year we do have a better team and we're definitely more experienced," Ka‘ipo said. "We're playing Cal Lutheran. … Our freshman and sophomore year we lost to them in a preseason tournament in five sets, … so there's kind of a personal thing going on and we need to beat them to get some kind of revenge."
Four Pirates earned all-conference honors on Tuesday, with Kaimi repeating as conference player of the year, while Ka‘ipo was named to the second team.
Roommates for the first time this year as seniors, the 2008 Seabury Hall graduates almost decided against going to the same college.
But as the deadline to make a decision grew closer, the two realized more and more they wanted to stay together.
"We had never been apart for, like, more than three days," Ka‘ipo said. "(Kaimi) had three or four different schools she was looking at that I wasn't, … but when it came down to it, we realized we didn't want to be apart from each other."
Kaimi visited George Fox, Western Washington, Humboldt State and Southern Oregon before choosing Whitworth.
"There wasn't a school I came back saying I really liked and I started talking to (Whitworth coach Steve) Rupe," Kaimi said. "I felt really comfortable talking to him and didn't feel pressured and he talked about the school really well."
Playing in Eastern Washington meant getting used to the cold weather. It has already snowed in Spokane, Wash., this year and neither sister comes home during Christmas break, so they're used to the extreme cold.
"The hardest part was learning how to manage it," Kaimi said. "Having gloves, the right kind of boots and socks, I think I've at least learned how to manage it now."
Kaimi, a starter at outside hitter, finished the season leading the NWC in points per set (4.3), kills per set (3.68) and total kills (331). She also ranked fourth in the conference with 34 service aces and was a three-time NWC player of the week.
Ka‘ipo, who starts at middle blocker, finished sixth in the conference with 0.92 blocks per set and was fifth with 83 total blocks. She hit .242 for the season and set a school record with 13 bocks in a five-set win at George Fox.
Redshirt sophomore Whitney Santos, a 2009 Kamehameha-Maui graduate, is also a key contributor for Whitworth. The 5-foot-6 libero is second to Kaimi with 285 total digs, averaging 3.48 per set.