Doing its imitation of a runaway train, Washington rolled into the Elite Eight of the NCAA volleyball tournament last night. With Pac-10 freshman of the year Christal Morrison...

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Doing its imitation of a runaway train, Washington rolled into the Elite Eight of the NCAA volleyball tournament last night.


With Christal Morrison, the Pac-10 freshman of the year, back in the starting lineup for the first time in three matches after being out with a knee injury, the Huskies stomped St. Mary’s 30-20, 30-20, 30-20, before 4,252 at Edmundson Pavilion.


The seventh-seeded Huskies (27-2) will play 15th-seeded UCLA (21-10) at 7 p.m. tonight for the Seattle regional title and a berth in the Final Four, which will be played next Thursday and Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.


UCLA defeated Penn State 3-1 in the first match last night.


Washington never has been to the Final Four in volleyball, while UCLA has won six national titles.


Last night, the Huskies made easy work of the Gaels, whose season ended at 25-4. St. Mary’s only lead the entire match was at 1-0 in the first game.


St. Mary’s coach Jon Stevenson called it “a steamroll job.”


















Tonight


UCLA @ UW, 7 p.m.

Morrison, an outside hitter from Puyallup, led the Huskies with 19 kills. Kaitlin Leck added 15 and Sanja Tomasevic had 14. Candace Lee made 21 of the Huskies’ 45 digs.


“My knee feels great,” said Morrison, who will undergo surgery in the postseason to repair a ligament tear suffered in practice Dec. 1. She played only about five minutes last weekend in one of the opening matches of the tournament.

















MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Christal Morrison puts one of her team-high 19 kills past two St Mary’s defenders last night at Edmundson Pavilion.
The Huskies’ hitting average (kills minus errors divided by attempts) last night was an impressive .396, while the Gaels’ figure was .154. Washington had just 11 errors, while the visitors made 20.


“Washington made very few errors, and I think that is a big difference,” said St. Mary’s Kaui Salzman. “They make you win the points. They don’t give them to you.”


“We played well collectively from the start to the finish in a number of areas,” said UW coach Jim McLaughlin.


Sophomore setter Courtney Thompson, who directed the UW attack with 46 assists, made it sound like the Huskies were on autopilot.


“I love my job on this team,” she said. “We have incredible passers and incredible hitters. I enjoy being out there and letting them do the work. They make my job pretty easy.”


The Huskies took a pair of 3-1 matches from the Bruins in the regular season, including a home victory on Nov. 27 that gave the Huskies their first Pac-10 championship.

















MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Candace Lee, left, bumps the ball into play as teammate Jessica Veris watches. Lee led the Huskies with 21 digs.
McLaughlin was asked about the sports truism that one of the hardest things to do is defeat a good opponent three times in a row.


“It’s a cliché’,” he said, adding, “I think the more familiar you are with things, the better it is for us.”


Said UCLA coach Andy Banachowski: “Washington is a solid team — there is no question about that — and we are both familiar with each other. The thing that has hurt us before playing Washington was that they were more consistent and steadier than we were. Tonight, I thought we were Steady Eddie out there.”


The UW-UCLA battle in Seattle guarantees the Pac-10 at least one berth in the Final Four. Two other Pac-10 teams advanced to regional finals elsewhere, with two-time defending national champion USC beating San Diego 3-1 in Louisville, Ky., and Stanford beating Texas 3-0 in Green Bay, Wis.


This marks the second straight year the Huskies have reached the Elite Eight. Last season, Minnesota eliminated UW 3-2, winning the final game 15-9.


“Six points” — the losing margin — has been a Huskies rallying cry since.


Because a large crowd is expected, tickets for tonight’s match will go on sale at the Edmundson Pavilion box office at 5 p.m. and doors will open at 6 p.m. Adult reserved tickets are $7, general admission seats are $6, student tickets are $5, and tickets for children and senior citizens are $3.



















UCLA 3, Penn State 1


The Bruins upset the second-ranked Nittany Lions 30-24, 22-30, 30-25, 30-28 to reach the Elite Eight for the fifth time in six years.


Four UCLA hitters had a dozen or more kills. Nana Meriwether and Nancy Barba had 16 each. Chrissie Zartman made 25 digs for the winners, who had 87 total.


“We’re happy campers,” said Bruins coach Banachowski. “I thought we played one of best matches.”


Banachowski said the Bruins’ preparation for the Nittany Lions was helped because “watching on tape, I thought they were a little predictable in what they did.”


Penn State’s season ended at 29-3.


Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com