Final Four. The words have a ring to them that is topped by only two others: national champion. Today, the Washington volleyball team plays the first Final Four match in school...

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Final Four. The words have a ring to them that is topped by only two others: national champion.


Today, the Washington volleyball team plays the first Final Four match in school history when the Huskies (28-2) face Stanford (28-6) at 5:30 p.m. at Long Beach Arena in Long Beach, Calif.


The winner will advance to Saturday afternoon’s final against the survivor of tonight’s USC (23-5) vs. Minnesota (32-4) match.


The Final Four is uncharted territory for the Huskies but they insist that they aren’t content just to reach it.


“We are going down there to win it all,” said senior co-captain Sanja Tomasevic just before the team departed on Tuesday.


UW coach Jim McLaughlin was upbeat yesterday.
















NCAA Final Four


When: Semifinals today, championship Saturday.


Where: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, Calif.


Today’s matches: Washington (28-2) vs. Stanford (28-6), 5:30 p.m. USC (23-5) vs. Minnesota (32-4), 7:30 p.m.


TV: Delayed telecasts of semifinals — Washington-Stanford, ESPN2, 8 p.m. tonight; USC-Minnesota, ESPN2, noon, tomorrow. Live coverage of championship, 1 p.m., ESPN2, Saturday.


UW tournament history: This is first appearance in Final Four for Huskies in the school’s ninth NCAA tournament appearance. Last year, Huskies eliminated Stanford 3-1 in the round of 16, then lost to Minnesota 3-2 in Elite Eight in Long Beach.


Key to beating Stanford: Keep Cardinal outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani, who played on the U.S. Olympic team, from having a monster night. The Pac-10’s leading scorer and MVP made 37 kills when Stanford beat Huskies 3-2 on Nov. 18 in Palo Alto.


Web site: www.longbeachchampionships.com


“We had a good practice today,” he told reporters in Long Beach. “I like where we’re at physically and emotionally. By the behavior I have seen, we are ready to go. We have a pretty good team, and if we play to our standards, we will do fine.”


The Huskies and Stanford were 1-1 against each other this season. Last year, UW eliminated Stanford in the round of 16 in a match played in Long Beach.


Stanford’s No. 1 weapon is U.S. Olympian Ogonna Nnamani, a senior outside hitter who had 37 kills when the Cardinal fought off repeated match points to beat the Huskies 3-2 on Nov. 18 in Palo Alto.


“When she’s on, the team is on,” said Tomasevic. “We just need to stop her.”


However, McLaughlin said, “You can’t give too much focus to her or she takes you out of your game.”


Nnamani was on the 2001 Stanford team that won the NCAA title. She called this year’s team “very young” and said, “We laugh a lot and have a good time and we enjoy working together. In 2001, it was an older team, so we were much more down to business.”


In addition to Nnamani, another Huskies concern has to be poor serving. UW made 18 service errors last Saturday in a 3-2 Elite Eight victory over UCLA in Seattle.


Service errors might be a concern for UW, but setting is not. An indication of that came yesterday, when Huskies sophomore setter Courtney Thompson was named a first-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.


Thompson, who starred at Kentlake High School, became the seventh Husky to be named to the first team. True freshman Christal Morrison was named to the second team and junior libero Candace Lee was an honorable-mention pick.


Morrison is playing with a torn knee meniscus and a sore foot.


McLaughlin said yesterday, “We have to try to use her in some way. Using her is contingent on how her foot reacts. … She had a good practice and I think she’ll be ready to go, but it comes down to the doctors and Christal.”


With three of the four teams from the Pac-10, this Final Four looks like a Pac-10 invitational. That may bode well for McLaughlin, who seeks his second national title. The fourth-year UW coach guided the USC men to an NCAA title in 1990.


USC is the two-time defending champion and Stanford won the title in 2001. The Cardinal also won it in 1994, 1996 and 1997.


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