Washington's first visit to the NCAA volleyball Final Four turned out to be a short one. The magic carpet ride that had included the school's first Pac-10 title and a No. 1 ranking for seven...

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LONG BEACH, Calif. — Washington’s first visit to the NCAA volleyball Final Four turned out to be a short one.


The magic carpet ride that had included the school’s first Pac-10 title and a No. 1 ranking for seven weeks smacked into a brick wall called Stanford last night.


The Cardinal eliminated the Huskies 3-1 at Long Beach Arena. The scores were 30-25, 23-30, 30-27, 30-24 and the crowd was 8,339.


“I don’t feel we were having fun tonight,” said UW co-captain Sanja Tomasevic, referring to the previous joy that seemed attached to the team while on the floor during the season.


Indeed, evidence abounded that the night was about as much fun as a pair of socks under a Christmas tree. Like Humpty Dumpty, the Huskies took a great fall.


The Huskies blew a 25-21 lead in the third game, made four of their nine service errors in the final game, and were outblocked and outhit by the Cardinal, which also made more digs than the UW (91-89).


Ogonna Nnamani, the Stanford outside hitter who played on the U.S. Olympic team last summer, made 33 kills — including the match-winner. It will be a shock of Mount St. Helens proportions if the senior from Normal, Ill., isn’t named national player of the year when the equivalent of volleyball’s Heisman is announced today.


Nnamani also had 21 digs and a game-high five blocks, but she was only the lead wave in the storm that capsized the Huskies’ season.


Sophomore outside hitter Kristen Richards had 14 kills and 22 digs and freshman setter Bryn Kehoe had a solid performance with 57 assists.


“From start to finish, they served better than we did, and I think they passed better than we did,” said coach Jim McLaughlin, who summed up the loss with three words:


“This one hurt.”


Courtney Thompson, sophomore All-American setter, said, “We kept trying to get into a rhythm and we couldn’t.”


In addition to Huskies unforced errors, Stanford snuffed too many UW shots at the net. The Cardinal was credited with 10 individual blocks; the Huskies had none.


The Huskies had only limited help from one of their best players — Christal Morrison, the Pac-10 freshman of the year. She played despite a tear in the meniscus of her right knee and a left-foot injury.


“She wasn’t 100 percent,” said McLaughlin, named Division I coach of the year yesterday. “She got better as the match went on.”


Morrison had five kills and was used extensively as a server. After the match, she said she had been about 75 percent healthy. She will undergo surgery now that the season has ended.


Junior Brie Hagerty, who got extra playing time because of Morrison’s three-week-old injury, responded with a team-high 21 kills and an attacking percentage (kills minus errors divided by attempts) of .367 that was even higher than Nnamani’s .333.


The Huskies were attempting to win their first women’s NCAA title in a sport other than rowing, where they have won three NCAA titles. Instead, the best season in school history ended 28-3 against a team they split matches with during the regular season.


Stanford (29-6) advanced to play Minnesota in tomorrow’s televised national championship. Minnesota beat USC 30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20 last night.


Hagerty said the Huskies are stung by the loss but will recover.


“Maybe some people were wide-eyed,” she said. “Now that we have this experience under our belt, we want to be back here for the national championship next year and we have the firepower to do it. We can’t look back now, but we’ve had a great season. We can call ourselves the best UW volleyball team in history.


“It hurts right now, but in a few days we’ll realize what we accomplished.”


Stanford claimed to benefit from its round-of-16 loss to Washington last year in the West Regional in Long Beach.


“Since we lost at Long Beach last year, I’ve been thinking, ‘How can I get this team back to the Final Four?’ ” said Nnamani, who was on Stanford’s 2001 title team.


Last night — with the Huskies’ help — she found a way.


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



NCAA Division I Women’s Tournament



SEMIFINALS


Yesterday’s results


At Long Beach, Calif.


Stanford beat Washington, 3-1 (30-25, 23-30, 30-27, 30-24)


Minnesota beat USC, 3-1 (30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20)


CHAMPIONSHIP


Tomorrow’s game


At Long Beach, Calif.


Stanford (29-6) vs. Minnesota, 1 p.m.