Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Lincoln, NE - The UAB volleyball team made a little history Friday night in one of the most historic venues for collegiate volleyball.

Playing at the NU Coliseum on the campus of the University of Nebraska, the Blazers earned the first NCAA tournament victory in program history with a 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-17) sweep of Missouri State in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Volleyball Championship.

"Our program has only been here twice, and to get a win was huge for our program," UAB head coach Kerry Messersmith said. "When we saw we were going to play at Nebraska, of course we were just excited. It's such a great venue to play in. It's an honor to be here, and we're excited about our first (NCAA tournament) win."

With the victory, UAB advances to play Saturday at 5 p.m. CT in the second round. The Blazers will play against the winner of Friday's nightcap between Liberty and No. 4 overall seed Nebraska, which is serving as host for the first and second rounds in Lincoln.

In Friday's win, Ivana Bozic led UAB with 16 kills and 14 digs for her team-leading 19th double-double of the season.

Bozic is one of five Blazer seniors and one of five active players who were a part of UAB's first NCAA tournament experience, a 3-0 loss at UCLA in 2006. The 2008 version of the Blazers came to Lincoln intent on tasting postseason victory.

"We're very excited about the win today," Bozic said. "We came out and played as a team. We reduced our unforced errors, and Nevena (Stefanov) was setting awesome. Our defense played well, and everything just clicked tonight."

Andrea Lalic joined Bozic in double-figures with 12 kills, and setter Nevena Stefanov ran the Blazer offense to perfection with 39 assists.

UAB (27-7) jumped on top of Missouri State (23-13) early and never looked back.

Lalic posted three kills in the first nine points as the Blazers opened up a 7-2 lead in the first set and forced an early Missouri State timeout. UAB then continued to build its advantage, stretching it to 12-5 on a Bozic kill and then to 15-6 following a pair of Bear errors. Missouri State cut the deficit to four on two occasions, but UAB pulled away at the end and finished the set off at 25-17 on a kill from Bozic.

In the second set, UAB broke open a tie score with three straight points to go on top 19-16. The Blazers built their lead to as many as five at 22-17, but Missouri State fought back and closed the gap to 23-21. However, UAB responded with a Casey Dent kill and a Lalic ace to close out the set at 25-21.

Coming out of the intermission, UAB managed to open up an advantage again in the third set. Leading 9-8, the Blazers ran off five straight points and extended their advantage to 14-8 on a kill from Lalic. Much like the opening set, Missouri State managed to climb within four points on several occasions but never closer. The Bears were still within four at 21-17 when UAB scored the final four points of the match to close out the set, 25-17.

The Blazers finished the match hitting .337, compared to a .186 hitting percentage for Missouri State.

Cara Hackmann led the Bears with nine kills and tied Bozic for match-high honors with 14 digs. Missouri State setter Julia Cawthra finished with 26 assists.

For UAB, the tournament victory builds on an already historic season. The Blazers reached 20 wins for the third straight season and also advanced to the Conference USA Championship finals for the third year in a row. The Blazers' 13-3 record in conference play was their best ever, and they set a school record earlier this season with 16 consecutive wins. Now they can add an NCAA tournament win to their legacy.

"I think it's really exciting," said middle blocker Casey Dent, who finished with nine kills. "Our five seniors