Washington, Mo. 3, UW-La Crosse 1

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LA CROSSE, Wisc. -- Washington Universitys fourth-ranked volleyball team upended 10th-ranked University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 3-1, Saturday night in the NCAA Division III Quarterfinals in La Crosse, Wis. With the win, the Bears (31-6) advance to the Final Four for the third straight season and 13th year overall.

"The momentum turned in our favor late the third," said WU head coach Rich Luenemann. "La Crosse had a great game plan. They passed well when they had to and got the ball to middle where they are really effective."

UW-La Crosse opened the match with a 7-4 lead in the first game before the Bears reeled off a 10-2 run to force an Eagle timeout. Senior Colleen Winter, Manchester, Mo. (Nerinx Hall) led WU with four kills during that span. UW-La Crosse fought back for a 21-20 lead, but WU responded with a 4-1 run to regain the lead and held on for a 30-26 win. Winter and junior Megan Houck, Chesterfield, Mo. (Nerinx Hall) led the Bears with five kills apiece in the game, while freshman Emilie Walk, Neoga, Ill. (Neoga) added three kills and two blocks.

The Eagles gained some early momentum in the second game, jumping out to a 7-4 lead again. WU managed to tie the score numerous times, including at 18-18, but UW-La Crosse scored the next four points to force WU to call timeout. The Eagles maintained the momentum, though, en route to a 30-25 win. Houck added another seven kills in the second frame to lead WU.

In the third, the Eagles jumped out to a 9-6 lead and extended to a 14-7 lead to force WU to call its second timeout of the game. UW-La Crosse held a 26-20 lead and it appeared the Eagles were poised to take a 2-1 lead. However, behind some strong senior play, the Bears rallied to tie the score at 28-28. Facing match point at 29-28, the Bears earned a side out to keep the game alive. Washington would face three more match points before finally prevailing 35-33. Seniors Ishi Ballew, Fort Worth, Texas (Trinity Valley) and Jasmine Hunt, Normal, Ill. (Normal University High) dug out two UW-La Crosse scoring attempts on game point and Walk sealed it with her seventh kill of the game through the middle. Ballew collected four kills in the third stanza.

"I told them they had to play with confidence," said Luenemann of the second and third-game struggles. "We had to stay within our system and execute. When we did that, we felt confident that the match was in our favor."

"We just had to be confident in ourselves and each other," Walk said. "They played good defense, but we were able to gut it out. We knew what we had to do to win."

WU controlled the early portion of the fourth period and took a 10-7 lead as sophomore Whitney Smith, Wichita, Kan. (Wichita East) registered two early kills on the right side. The Bears pulled away thereafter for a 30-21 win to seal the match.

Houck posted a career-high 23 kills in the win, while Walk added 17. Junior setter Kara Liefer, Red Bud, Ill. (Red Bud) notched her seventh career triple double with 10 kills, 14 digs and 64 assists. Sophomore Amy Bommarito, Kirkwood, Mo. (Nerinx Hall) chipped in with a team-high 28 digs. WU amassed 116 digs as a team, the sixth-most in WU NCAA Tournament history.

UW-La Crosse ended the season with a 31-7 overall record. The Eagles only two nonconference losses came against WU. The Bears limited UW-La Crosse to a .193 hitting percentage.

WU will face the winner of tonights University of La Verne/Wittenberg University quarterfinal match next Friday night in Rochester, Minn. Juniata College, who defeated Emory University 3-0, and New York University, which defeated Williams College 3-1, will join Washington U. at the Final Four.

--Courtesy Washington University in St. Louis