UW, Cal earn spots in regional final
Todd Dybas, Special to NCAA.com
SEATTLE – Unseeded Washington survived four smoldering sets and used the home crowd to upset second-seeded Nebraska, 3-1, in the second of two NCAA Division I regional volleyball semifinals Friday night.
The Huskies (24-8) will play seventh-seeded California (28-3) on Saturday at 8:30 (PST) for the chance to advance to the Final Four in Kansas City. The match will be televised on ESPNU.
Cal, which swept Minnesota, has handled Washington in both prior matches this season. The Bears swept Washington at home on Oct. 6, a 25-22, 25-22, 25-18 win. Less than a month later, Cal traveled to Seattle and won 3-1, 15-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-21.
"We know them fairly well," Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said. "We played a little bit better the second time and we are just playing better right now."
Nebraska would confirm that. Friday's match between the Huskers and Huskies was a rematch of the 2008 regional final in Seattle. Nebraska won that one in five sets. The teams swapped roles this year.
Washington has been pacing through the tournament as the unseeded underdog, a drastic change for one of the consistent power programs in the country. It claims seeding and opponent are irrelevant. Fans in Friday night's crowd would think otherwise.
The Huskies overwhelmed Nebraska to open the match, taking a 25-16 first set. A rally midway through the second set pushed Nebraska to an eventual 25-20 win. Washington took the third, then alternated points in the fourth prior to a controversial 29-27 win.
"Whoever we're going to play next, it's great," Washington senior Jenna Hagglund said. "Whoever we had to beat, it's great. It's a little sweet. I had some bitter memories from two years ago.
"Ultimately we're going to play whoever is across the net from us and we're ready to battle every time."
While ferocious fits as the proper description for the Washington/Nebraska match, relieved was the key word for California.
The Golden Bears trailed in all three sets against 10th-seeded Minnesota on Friday night. But they rallied in the first and came back from 23-18 down in the second set to win 25-23. Eventually, Cal hung on in the third set to complete its third consecutive tournament sweep, this one a 26-24, 25-23, 25-23 grinder.
"These guys had no fear on their face," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "It wasn't like uh-oh. Just went back out there and played."
It is the third consecutive regional final for Cal. Penn State ended the Bears' Final Four ambitions the past two years. Saturday night, Cal will finally be close to its goal of the last three seasons.
"This match (was) a pressure match," Feller said. "The expectations of our team is (to get to the ) Final Four, national championship. But to do that, you have to be playing (Saturday) night. And we played for that the last three seasons. So, getting to here now is a very big expectation.
"(We're) relieved that first match is done with and we're now in a position to fight for a chance to go to the Final Four."
Cal struggled with Minnesota's crosscourt banging and tweaked other positions. Tabi Love led Minnesota with 15 kills. Lauren Gibbemeyer added 14, as did Ashley Wittman.
Post-game, the Bears appeared as one of the more disappointed teams to have just advanced with a sweep. All that matters is they made it.
"I definitely expected us to come out and play better," Cal setter Carli Lloyd said. "But I believed we could win. I'm happy to be here and I'm confident in our group. I would say my word is excited."
Lloyd and Cal will try to continue the excitement on Saturday night.