Nov. 14, 2010

On a cold and cloudy Sunday in the Twin Cities, the sun shined on Coach Thanh Pham and his St. Thomas (Minn.) volleyball players, who won the biggest match of their college lives.

The second-seed Tommies rallied in each set to post a 3-0 victory over top-seed St. Olaf. St. Thomas prevailed 25-20, 27-25, 25-14 before a spirited crowd of nearly 500 in UST's Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex in St. Paul, Minn.

The No. 12-ranked Tommies (31-6) will advance to St. Louis and next weekend's eight-team national finals. They had lost three consecutive matches to St. Olaf in the last 53 weeks, including a 3-0 decision in Northfield eight days ago in the MIAC playoff finals in a match in which they never led in any set.

It's the first St. Thomas volleyball trip to the national finals in school history. UST previously was 0-6 all-time in regional championship matches, including three losses since 2005 to better-ranked teams.

St. Thomas hit an impressive .325 and showed an exceptional ability to close out each set. Three senior hitters came up big: Katie Bonine had 15 kills and 11 digs and hit .333; Tori Jones had nine kills and no errors and hit .600; and Alesha Nelson had seven kills and no errors and hit .412.

UST closed the first set with 9-2 run after trailing 18-16; closed the second set with 14-6 run after trailing 19-13; and ended the match with a 12-1 run after the score was tied 13-13.

St. Thomas has won 26 of its last 29 matches since a Sept. 15 home loss to the Oles, including nine in a row at home.

All-American Kim Smisek had 13 kills and 12 digs to lead the Oles (31-5), who had a 14-match winning streak halted.

UST had three players, all seniors, on the All-Tournament Team -- setter Emily Foster was named the Most Outstanding Player and joined by hitters Katie Bonine and Jill Osborne. St. Olaf's Kim Smisek and Melissa Burch, Whitworth's Kaimi Rocha and UW-Eau Claire's Rachel VerVoort