RIVERSIDE, Calif. – For the third consecutive season the Western Washington University volleyball team will play in the NCAA Division II Championships West Regional Final after defeating Northwest Nazarene 3-1 Friday evening at Van Dyne Gymnasium.
The No. 2-seed Vikings won their 20th consecutive match, this time in comeback fashion after dropping the opening set, in the 22-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-23 victory over the No. 3-seed Nighthawks to advance to the Sweet 16. The nationally-ranked No. 5 Vikings improved to 27-3 overall and will play No. 4-seed Cal State San Bernardino (23-7) Saturday night at 7 pm in the West Regional Final. CSUSB upset national No. 1 and previously unbeaten California Baptist 3-1 (25-21, 17-25, 25-21, 25-22) to advance to the West Regional Final for the 16th time in the last 18 seasons.
“I thought our performance tonight was very gritty and showed a lot of character after being down 1-0,” said 18th year head coach Diane Flick-Williams, the GNAC Coach of the Year. “We practice being put in adverse situations and focusing on the next point and the next 10 seconds. They did that tonight against a very good NNU team that played exceptionally well.”
After recording a career-high 28 kills in the quarterfinal victory over Alaska Anchorage, junior outside hitter Abby Phelps (Manson, WA/Chelan) again led the way for the Vikings, tallying another double-double with 21 kills and 22 digs. The GNAC Player of the Year and First Team All-West Region selection has now recorded nine consecutive double-doubles and has 24 matches with double-digits in kills and digs this season.
Senior outside hitter Arielle Turner (Leavenworth, WA/Cascade) and senior opposite Joellee Buckner (Colville, WA) also contributed double-doubles in the victory. Turner recorded 10 kills, 14 digs and a team-high 3 service aces. Buckner had 11 kills, 19 digs and 3 block assists.
“Our two seniors really came on strong when we need them, both on offense and defense,” said Flick-Williams.
WWU’s middle blocker combination of sophomore Joslyn Bopray (Spokane, WA/Lewis & Clark) and junior Michaela Hall (Centralia, WA) combined for 10 blocks, 7.0 of the 10.0 team blocks coming over the final two sets. Bopray, ranked 2nd in the NCAA II in blocks per set, led all players with 6 blocks and also had 8 kills. Hall turned in 4 blocks and 9 kills in the match, while 5 kills and all of her blocks in sets 3 and 4.
“Our defense improved with each set, especially our block, and that set us in the right direction,” added Flick-Williams. “We made some adjustments and Joslyn and Michaela were a real spark for us down the stretch.”
Junior All-West Region setter Brette Boesel (Brewster, WA) ran the offense with a match-high 53 assists and also recorded a double-double with 12 digs. Junior libero Aubrey Buckner (Colville, WA) led the Vikings with 25 digs.
NNU (25-5) senior middle blocker Madi Farrell led the Nighthawks with 18 kills (.378) and 6 blocks, while senior outside hitter Kendra Bodine and junior outside hitter Cami Heninger each had 15 kills.
The Vikings dropped the opening set 25-22 to trail in a match for the first time during the winning streak that dated back to a 3-1 loss at NNU on Sept. 16. WWU led by as many as 6 points early in the set at 9-3, but the Nighthawks put together a 7-3 run to pull to within two points at 12-10 and eventually pulled even at 17-17 with an extended 11-6 advantage. WWU retook the lead at 21-18 going on a 4-1 run, but NNU rallied for a 6-0 run to lead to the three-point victory. Phelps recorded 7 of her 21 kills in the opening set, with Turner contributing 7 digs.
VB🏐: @WWUVolleyball will play in its third consecutive West Regional Championship match after the 3-1 victory over NNU.
Box Score with Recap to follow:
📊 https://t.co/lTKdrlxqio pic.twitter.com/TGfcACWQdt
— WWU Athletics (@WWUAthletics) December 2, 2017
WWU evened the match at 1-1 with a 25-19 second-set victory, riding the 5 kills from Phelps and 3 each from Hall and Buckner. Western tailed 9-7, but went on a 6-1 run to take a 13-10 lead and never trailed the rest of the way. NNU pulled to within one point twice at 16-15 and 17-16, but the Vikings answered each time, and strung together an 8-3 run to put the set away.
The Vikings and Nighthawks locked into six ties in the fourth set, before the Vikings came out of their own timeout at 13-13 going on a 4-1 run to grab a three-point lead at 17-14, and stretched the advantage to four points at 20-16. NNU stormed back going on a 4-1 run to pull to within one point at 21-20, but the Vikings came right back winning four of the last six points to go up 2-1 in the match. Phelps had 5 kills to lead the offense, while Bopray, Buckner and Hall each recorded three blocks.
WWU clinched the match with a back-and-fourth 25-23 fourth-set victory that featured 13 ties and 6 lead changes. The Vikings trailed early 7-5 and 8-6, but won 7 consecutive points to take a five-point lead at 13-8. NNU use their second timeout to stall the momentum, answering with a 7-2 run to pull even at 15-15. After six more ties, NNU pulled ahead 22-21 with the Vikings using their final timeout. Phelps’ 21st kill of the match tied things up at 22-22, sparking a 4-1 run to end the match in WWU’s favor.
“It was a battle out there with a lot of momentum that shifted both ways,” said Flick-Williams. “We stayed focused and in the moment, and didn’t let any panic settle in when we were down. We work on that every day in practice and the team put that to work tonight.”
Tomorrow’s match vs. Cal State San Bernardino will be a rematch of the 2015 NCAA II West Regional Final won by the Vikings in five sets in Anchorage, Alaska. WWU and CSUSB have met five previous times in the NCAA Tournament, with the Vikings winning three of the five matches, including ending the Coyotes' season in each of the last two regionals.
Game Notes: The 20-match winning streak tied for the 3rd-longest in program history, equaling a 20-match streak in 2001, and trailing only trailing only streaks of 21 (2007) and 24 (2003)…Abby Phelps remained 7th in the WWU record book with 1,141 career kills and moved into 26th place in GNAC history…Joellee Buckner is 4th in WWU history with 1,461 career digs…Aubrey Buckner is averaging 5.28 digs per set, 14th-best in WWU single-season history (554 digs are 8th-most)…Arielle Turner is 15th in WWU history and 22nd in GNAC history with 117 service aces…the 27 wins are tied for 5th-most in a season in program history…the victory gave the WWU program 900 wins in the 46-year history of the program (average of 19.6 wins per season).
Congrats to the @WWUVolleyball program - past & present players and coaches - on the 900th victory in program history.
For those into math, that's an amazing average of 19 wins per season in the 46-year history of the program. #GoViks pic.twitter.com/lWGXoIH3Jx
— WWU Athletics (@WWUAthletics) December 2, 2017
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