WWU is NCAA II National Runner-up, loses to Concordia-St. Paul in title match
Dec. 1, 2007
TOPEKA, Kansas - The longest post-season run in school history ended Saturday for the Western Washington University volleyball team as it fell 30-26, 23-30, 30-19, 31-29, to Concordia (St. Paul) University in the title match of the NCAA Division II National Tournament at Lee Arena.
The Vikings, ranked No.15 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association/NCAA II Top 25, finished with a 26-5 record as they had a 21-match victory string snapped. That was three short of the school record.
"Who could ask for more of a team?" said Western coach Diane Flick (8th year, 175-47). "Right now it's hard, but this team is special in every single way that you can think of. They played every game with heart. They did it every day in practice and knew that it would pay off in the end. I'm so proud of them. This is a very special group of people and I'm honored to be their coach."
Concordia, rated No.2 nationally, finished its campaign at 37-4. The Golden Bears were led by outside hitter Maria Steinhagen with a match-high 26 kills on 46 attempts with just three errors for a .500 hitting percentage. She also had five blocks.
"We were looking across the net at someone that was very similar to us," Flick said. "It could have gone either way with a point here or there. A couple times we got a little tight and we ran into a buzz saw with Steinhagen who hit outstanding, we just weren't able to contain her enough. But leading 29-28 in game four with a game-point serve, we had our chances."
It was the second national title match for the Golden Bears, who fell to North Alabama in 2003.
"It was kind of like a war of attrition with two teams that get up and hit the ball on the court and then they play incredible defense," said Concordia coach Brady Starkey. "That's our kind of volleyball, and it's their kind of volleyball. The points are long, the rallies are long."
Outside hitter Emily Castro (Sr., Bellingham/Meridian) had a team-high 19 kills and 15 digs for Western.
Middle blockers Angie Alvord (Jr., Laurel/Meridian) and Tiana Roma (Jr., Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway) combined for 28 kills for the Vikings, Alvord having 16 and four blocks and Roma 12. Libero Courtney Schneider (Sr., Snohomish) had a match-high 36 digs, outside hitter Jaime Anderson (Sr., SeaTac/Mount Rainier) nine kills and 15 digs, and setter Katie Robinson (Sr., Everson/Nooksack Valley) 52 assists and nine digs.
Schneider, who set a NCAA II tournament record with 44 digs in the Washburn victory, finished her career with 2,695 digs, which ranked third among NCAA leaders. The national digs per game leader for the second straight year with a 7.74 average, Schneider's career average of 7.00 is a national record, nearly one dig per game better than the previous mark.
Alvord, Anderson, Robinson and Schneider were all named to the all-tournament team. It was the last career match for seniors Anderson, Castro, Robinson and Schneider.
Whitney Meierotto had 10 kills and 25 digs for Concordia. Kate Bennett added 18 kills and Emily Palkert 15. Mary Slinger had 35 digs and Maggie McNamara had 17 digs and a match-high six blocks.
The Vikings, who were making their first Elite Eight appearance in history, got to the final with a sweep of Dowling NY in the quarterfinals and a four-game triumph over host and No.4-ranked Washburn in the semifinals before a crowd of 2,015. That was the only loss in 18 home matches this season for the Lady Blues, who were coming off a five-game quarterfinal triumph over defending champion and No.1-ranked Tampa FL.
It is the highest finish in school history for Western, which placed third at the NAIA National Tournament in 1990.
Game one was tied at 13-13 before Concordia gradually pulled away to take a 27-19 lead. Western fought back to within three, 28-25, before the Golden Bears put it away.
The Vikings got out to a 10-3 lead in game two and did not allow Concordia to get closer than four as they tied the match at one game each. Western was down by just two, 18-16, in game three, but the Golden Bears scored 12 of the last 15 points.
"They started to run their middle more against us, and we didn't make fast enough adjustments to stop that," Flick said. And then as the momentum built, we kind of got a little tight and tentative. And we know what it's like when we're tentative. It doesn't turn out too well."
There were 19 ties in game four. Western had a chance to extend the match to five games, holding a 29-28 lead, but Concordia scored the next three points to claim the championship.
"We made a little bit of an adjustment on how we were going to stop their middles and we did that," said Flick. "But what we needed to do was get a couple of points here or there and we just couldn't seem to get that one little break."
Western reached the Elite Eight by winning the Pacific Regional title with a sweep of No.3-ranked Cal State San Bernardino in the final. The Vikings also took the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship with a 17-1 record.
NCAA II ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Rebecca Rapin, MB, Grand Valley State Katelen Dixon, OH, Tampa Melissa Harper, MB, West Texas A&M Tessa Jones, RS, Washburn Emily Palkert, MB, Concordia-St. Paul Jamie Anderson, OH, Western Washington Mary Slinger, L, Concordia-St. Paul Angie Alvord, MB, Western Washington Maria Steinhagen, MB, Concordia-St. Paul Maggie McNamara, S, Concordia-St. Paul Courtney Schneider, L, Western Washington Katie Robinson, S, Western Washington
Concordia earns Division II title
By Ken Corbitt, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Two teams with similar styles produced a tight title match in the NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball Championship.
Concordia-St. Paul did enough to get over the top in a 3-1 victory over Western Washington on Saturday at Lee Arena. The Golden Bears captured their first national championship 30-26, 23-30, 30-19, 31-29.
"Western Washington is incredibly consistent and gave us fits all night," Concordia coach Brady Starkey said. "We fought and fought and fought. It was a war of attrition.
"When you have two teams that hit the ball and play incredible defense, it's fun to watch. When someone finally wins a point after working so hard, it's a great feeling. Then you go on to the next point."
Maria Steinhagen led Concordia (37-4) with 26 kills, Kate Bennett had 18 and Emily Palkert 15. Setter Maggie McNamara had 71 assists and libero Mary Slinger 35 digs.
"When you sit here you think of all the things you could have done different," said Vikings coach Diane Flick, whose team carried a 21-match winning streak into its first title game. "Then you step back and think what a great run we had.
"We ran into a buzzsaw. Concordia plays fantastic defense that makes you pull your hair out."
Steinhagen, a junior middle hitter, dominated game three with nine kills and three block assists. Six of her kills came during a 12-3 run to close out the game.
"They started running through their middle," Flick said, "and we were not able to get a touch to slow her down."
Western Washington led through most of game four, up 20-17 on a block by Tiana Roma and Katie Robinson. Palkert, the AVCA national freshman of the year, had two kills in a 4-0 spurt that gave the Bears a 21-20 lead, then it was a battle to the finish.
The Vikings had game point at 29-28 but a hitting error knotted the score. Whitney Meierotto's kill gave Concordia the lead, then Palkert's eighth kill of the game delivered the national championship.
"We just had to keep going on every point," Steinhagen said. "If they got a point, we just worked for the next point. We had to keep positive emotions."
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