Nov. 20, 2009

*Courtesy of West Texas A&M Athletics

WARRENSBURG, Missouri - The #5-ranked West Texas A&M Lady Buffs defeated the #2-seed Washburn Lady Blues in the semifinal round of the NCAA South Central Regional tournament with set scores of 25-17, 27-25, and 25-20. The team faces the winner of #5-seed Pitt State and #1-seed Central Missouri in the finals.

The win lifts WT to a 36-3 overall record, while Washburn ends their season with a 33-5 record.

"We won the game and in the playoffs, I just have to remember that the goal is to advance," said Lady Buffs head coach Jason Skoch. "I'm the only coach that's seen every team in MIAA and the Lone Star Conference so I know this region really well. Washburn is one of the best teams we've seen this season as far as balance."

A quick kill by Washburn started the scoring in the first set, but two Lady Blues attack errors and two kills by Melissa Harper (Sr., MB, Peoria, Ariz.) put the Lady Buffs up 4-1. The set tied at 5-5 and 9-9, but WT gained the lead each time, going up 16-11. Washburn battled back to within two points at 16-14, but it wasn't enough as WT went on a 9-3 run to finish the set 25-17. WT tallied 12 kills, 24 digs, and three big service aces in the first set.

The second set saw the Lady Buff trailing early with a score of 7-10. WT continued to struggle through the set, gaining ground only to fall back again. Harper and Lauren Purdy (So., MB, Arlington, Texas) came on late in the set, as Harper put down four kills and Purdy tallied two to bring the Lady Buffs back within three points at 19-22. A Lady Blues kill, followed by two Washburn attack errors and a kill by Laura Prinsen (Sr., RS, Spring, Texas) brought the score to 22-23.

"We huddled up and said to take a deep breath and play our game instead of trying too hard," said Melissa Harper. "There were a few points at the end of the set that were key turnaround points for us. We are an emotional team so we played off of those big points."

Natalie Johnson (Sr., OH, Cortez, Colo.) put down a kill off of an overpass, followed by a Lady Buff block gave WT their first lead of the set at 24-23. Both teams battled, taking the sets to extra points, but kills by Prinsen and Harper pulled the score to 26-25, and a block Harper and Katie Rickwartz (Sr., S, Canyon, Texas) finished the set at 27-25.

The team was down by as many as seven points in the set before their incredible comeback. WT tallied 16 kills to Washburn's 14, along with 18 digs and a service ace in the second set.

"I saw us coming back and winning," Harper said. "A lot of teams coast through sets like that and just get ready to play the next set. I had full faith that we could come back, and win it and the team did too."

Lauren Thedford (Jr., OH/DS, Carrollton, Texas) put down a kill to start the scoring, but Washburn took the early lead at 3-6. Kelsey Mangum (Fr., DS, San Antonio, Texas) went on a serving run as WT scored the next six points to take the lead at 9-6. The team maintained the lead, going on a 6-2 run to break out with a 7-point lead at 15-8. Washburn came back to within two points at 18-16, but another 5-point run put the Lady Buffs up 23-16. Thedford started and ended the set, scoring the last kill for match point and a final of 25-20.

Harper finished the night with 15 kills in 28 attempts for a hitting percentage of .500. She also recorded a match-leading four block assists and a solo block. Thedford followed with eight kills and Prinsen tallied seven kills for the night.

On defense, the team recorded seven blocks, led by Harper. Rickwartz, Thedford, Prinsen, and Purdy each tallied two block assists in the total. Prinsen led the team in digs with 22, followed by Lauren Beville (Fr., L, Hereford, Texas) with 14 and Kelsey Mangum with 12. Thedford also recorded nine digs.

"We won in three against a great team," Skoch said. "Our defense played really well, even when our offense struggled. The team that handles the pressure wins the game."

Rickwartz had 33 assists and led the team to a .176 hitting percentage. The Lady Buffs held Washburn to a .084 hitting clip.

The Lady Buffs move on to the final match, set to take place on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 3:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose Building in Warrensburg, Missouri. They face the winner of fifth seed Pitt State and first seed Central Missouri.