The Washington volleyball team earned a ticket to uncharted territory a berth in the NCAA Final Four with a dramatic, five-game victory over UCLA last night. The Huskies' historic 3-2...
The Washington volleyball team earned a ticket to uncharted territory a berth in the NCAA Final Four with a dramatic, five-game victory over UCLA last night.
The Huskies’ historic 3-2 triumph in the Seattle Regional, which earned them their first trip to the national semifinals, didn’t come easily.
They had the fourth game under control with a 12-3 lead, but lost 30-24. And in the fifth game, the Huskies trailed but recovered to win 15-9.
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The team celebrated with wild hugs on the court, then burst into the stands and circled Edmundson Pavilion to thank the cheering crowd of 4,532.
“We’re going to the Final Four and we’ve got two more to go (for a national title),” said sophomore setter Courtney Thompson. “We’re not done yet. … I’m tired, I’m excited. I can’t contain myself.”
The final scores were 27-30, 30-19, 30-28, 24-30, 15-9.
In the decisive game, the Huskies trailed 8-6, then outscored the Bruins 7-1 with Brie Hagerty contributing three kills. The match-winning point came on a kill by regional MVP Sanja Tomasevic.
The home crowd was given credit for a big role in the win.
“You could feel the energy,” Tomasevic said. “Before the fifth game, I was saying, ‘Guys, do you feel this? Because I do. I want to win this game.’ It was awesome.”
UW coach Jim McLaughlin called it “just an unbelievable match.”
UCLA coach Andy Banachowski compared it to a heavyweight fight, saying, “In the end we were going at each other with not a whole lot left, by the end of the fourth and fifth games.
“There were some beautiful rallies out there, some great digs. There was great heart exhibited by both sides.”
Tomasevic led the Pac-10 champions with 24 kills and also had 27 digs. Hagerty had a career-high 23 kills, Candace Lee made a career-high 40 digs, and Thompson had 21 digs to go with her 67 assists.
Both teams played strong defense the Huskies had 127 digs and the Bruins 109, both eye-popping totals.
The Huskies’ worst stat was service errors 18.
It was the second straight week of Saturday night suspense for UW, which required five games last weekend to eliminate Kansas in the second round.
The Final Four, which begins Thursday in Long Beach, Calif., could be renamed the Pac-10 Invitational.
Washington (28-2) will face Stanford (28-6) in one semifinal. The Huskies and Cardinal split two matches this season. In the other semifinal, two-time defending champion USC (23-5) will face Minnesota (32-4). The championship match is Saturday.
“I like this Final Four,” said McLaughlin.
The Huskies’ goal since last season, when they lost in the Elite Eight to Minnesota 3-2, was to reach the Final Four. Their season-long rallying cry had been “six points” a reference to Minnesota’s 15-9 win in the final game.
After the match, McLaughlin was mentioning how the “six points away” had motivated his team when Tomasevic leaned over with a stat sheet that showed the Huskies’ winning margin in the fifth game.
“We won it by six points,” McLaughlin marveled. “That’s ironic.”
On a down note, Washington may be without one of its best weapons at the Final Four. Christal Morrison, the Pac-10 freshman of the year who played this weekend despite a torn knee ligament, had just two kills in 12 attempts last night.
“She’s compensated and has landed on her (left) foot,” McLaughlin said. “She’s got something wrong with her foot now.”
Morrison’s injury opened playing time for Hagerty, who said McLaughlin gave her the simple and emphatic instruction to “hit the ball hard” in the final game.
In the first game, the Bruins used a 7-0 run to take a 22-17 lead, but the Huskies responded with a 5-0 run of their own to go up 23-22. The game was tied at 25, 26 and 27 before UCLA ended it with a 3-0 spurt, completed with an ace by Chrissie Zartman.
The Huskies never trailed in the second game and led 25-20 in the third game, but the Bruins caught them at 28. Tomasevic put away her seventh kill of the game for point No. 29, and Darla Myhre made a block for the final point of the game. Hagerty had eight kills in the game.
In the fourth game, the Huskies jumped to a 6-0 lead with Thompson serving. They built the 12-3 lead, then watched as the Bruins caught them and passed them, setting up the dramatic fifth game.
“I’ve never seen a team that I’ve coached do what we did in Game 4,” Banachowski said.
UCLA’s season ended with a 21-11 record.
“It’s frustrating to lose,” said the Bruins’ Nana Meriwether. “I thought we had it.”
The Huskies will be seeking the school’s fourth women’s NCAA championship in any sport, with the previous three titles coming in rowing in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or email@example.com