M/cloudy
78°
M/cloudy
Hi 78° | Lo 58°

Washington reaches Final Four, will benefit from hometown fans

Washington’s Kaleigh Nelson (6) hits a shot down the line with Southern California’s Sara Shaw (10) defending in the finals of an NCAA college volleyball regional tournament match against Washington in Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. Washington won the match in 5 sets.  (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Washington’s Kaleigh Nelson (6) hits a shot down the line with Southern California’s Sara Shaw (10) defending in the finals of an NCAA college volleyball regional tournament match against Washington in Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. Washington won the match in 5 sets. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

It was more than exhaustion from a hard-fought match against Southern California that brought Washington’s Krista Vansant to tears.

The junior hitter’s career night sent the Huskies home to Seattle for the final push toward the NCAA championship.

“We’ve created an opportunity where we can do something really special,” Vansant said. “I think that when we all click, it could be really special for us.”

Third-seeded Washington (30-2) will face second-seeded Penn State in the semifinals at Key Arena tonight, following defending champion Texas’ match against No. 12 seed Wisconsin. The winners will play for the championship on Saturday night.

Vansant, the Pac-12’s player of the year, wasn’t the only Washington player in tears following the five-set victory over USC on the Trojans’ home court at Galen Center. The Huskies rallied from two sets down and fought off two match points to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2006.

The 6-foot-2 Vansant buried her face in her hands following a career performance with 38 kills — an NCAA tournament record — and 30 digs.

“We never said we want to get to the Final Four — we want to win the thing. That has become the standard. Thinking the wrong thoughts can hurt you. But I haven’t seen that behavior. The behavior I’ve seen makes me think we’re thinking the right thoughts,” Huskies coach Jim McLaughlin said.

Washington is making its fourth trip to the semifinals under McLaughlin, who was also named Pac-12 coach of the year.

Penn State (33-2) is coming off its own five-set victory over Stanford to extend its winning streak to 23 matches. Senior Ariel Scott paced the Nittany Lions’ offense with 22 kills and eight digs.

Penn State has made 11 overall appearances in the semifinals and has advanced to the championship eight times, winning the national title four straight years from 2007-2010.

“Matches aren’t won by one player, but certainly, a performance like Krista (Vansant) had in the last match, 38 kills, 30 digs, is an indication that not only is she one of the top players in the country, but she played big match at key time when her team needed it,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said.

Washington holds a 2-1 edge over Penn State in the series, including a 3-1 victory in 2006 in the NCAA quarterfinals in Seattle.

Texas (27-2) swept Nebraska to advance to the Final Four for the fifth time in the past six seasons. All-Americans Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster combined for 26 kills and only three errors on 73 swings.

The Longhorns have won 10 straight postseason matches, dating back to last season when they beat Oregon for the national championship.

“Every time I go, I make sure to try to cherish it, because you never know when you’ll get back. We’re on an amazing run as a program,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “It’s not something we take for granted, and hopefully we can go up there and take care of business Thursday night against Wisconsin that is playing very hot.”

The Longhorns were a perfect 16-0 in the Big 12 this season, paced by the 6-3 Eckerman, an outside hitter from Iowa who was named the conference Player of the Year for the second straight season.

Texas poses a considerable challenge to scrappy Wisconsin (27-9), which advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2000 with a 3-1 victory over Purdue. Junior outside hitter Deme Morales had a career-high 20 kills and 13 digs for her 18th double-double this season.

“I’ve said for a while we haven’t played our best volleyball, and I still believe that. Confidence means an awful lot in athletics, and I think we’ve got a team that believes they can take down anybody in the country,” said Badgers first-year coach Kelly Sheffield. “I think we’re finding ways of getting better. They’re blaming themselves, they’re going for it, they’re not holding back. Special things can happen when those things are coming together.”

Wisconsin advanced to the championship match in 2000, losing to Nebraska in five sets.

Texas holds a 4-1 series lead over Wisconsin, last winning 3-0 in the NCAA Austin Regional semifinal in 2006.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.