Dec. 3, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The flurries outside the Gangelhoff Center on Thursday paled compared with the flurries inside the home volleyball environs of Concordia University, where the two-time national champion Golden Bears are serving as host for the Division II women’s volleyball championships for the second straight year.

Flagler 3, Dowling 0

Quarterfinal play got under way Thursday with East Region champion Dowling College facing off against Flagler College, winner of the Southeast Region. The showdown marked Dowling’s fourth Elite Eight appearance in the last five years, while Flagler looked to continue its impressive run of 28 consecutive match wins in its first-ever NCAA appearance. Based on this performance, the Saints don't look to be slowing at all.

Led by a combined 28 kills and 23 digs from junior middle blocker Meg Weathersby and senior outside hitter Katie Beale, the Saints quickly caged the Lions in three sets, winning 25-15, 25-16, 25-15. Dowling’s season ended at 29-7.  

“I think we did a really good job of talking and communicating from the back row and telling the front hitters where to go,” the animated Weathersby said. “I think that’s why you saw us swinging all different ways today.”

West Texas A&M 3, California (Pa.) 1

The win earned the Saints (36-8) a berth in Friday’s first national semifinal against the No. 5 West Texas A&M Lady Buffaloes, who felled California (Pa.) 3-1. After dropping the first game 25-12, the Lady Buffs battled back to take the next three 25-21, 25-20, 25-23.         .

In what proved a highly physical battle with myriad extended points, A&M (38-3) extended its 21-match win streak and overcame the stellar play of California’s standout Brazilian duo, Renata da Silva and 6-foot-1 middle hitter Ludmila Amaral. Setter da Silva entered the tournament ranked 11th in the nation in assists per set (11.39) and didn’t disappoint, directing play like a court general and accruing 56 assists.  Amaral tallied 21 kills in the loss, while the right cannon of Joanna Nist had 15 kills of her own, tying the career record of 1,895 for California (36-3).  

For A&M, second-team All-American Melissa Harper had a team-best 18 kills, coupled with a hit percentage of .444. That bested her season average of .421, which was good for third in the nation.  Fellow All-American second-teamer Katie Rickwartz tallied 49 assists, while All-American first-teamer Laura Prinsen had 10 kills and 18 digs.

“I think, for everyone, this was a game of adjustments,” Harper said of the match’s often-manic pace. “We’d never seen them and just kept trying to find out what would work. I think we knew that we weren’t playing all that well. But we weren’t going to let balls drop, and we weren’t going to give up.  So it was kind of ‘jungle ball,’ kind of a dogfight. Everyone was going after everything. We wanted it to calm down, but we were just never going to give up.”

Cal St. San Bernardino 3, Tampa 1

The third quarterfinal match pitted the No. 6 Tampa Spartans, champions of the South Region, against the No. 2 Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes, winners of the West Region. The Spartans had won 17 straight matches, though they had never beaten San Bernardino in four attempts, most recently in this same Elite Eight round of 2003. This year was no different.

While the Spartans leaped to an early lead by taking the first game 25-21 and led 14-8 in the second, the Coyotes turned roadrunners from there and came back to beat Tampa 3-1, winning 25-20, 25-22, 25-20.  The victory earned the Coyotes (33-1) a repeat trip to the national semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Thursday’s last quarterfinal between the No. 1-ranked Concordia Golden Bears and the No. 9 University of Indianapolis Greyhounds (38-1).

Tampa (31-3) was competitive throughout, its hopes of advancing continually boosted by the play of two-time first-team All-American outside hitter Melissa Vanderhall, who led the Spartans with 18 kills but worked a hit percentage of just .265. Coming to St. Paul, Vanderhall owned the nation’s 21st-best hit clip at .366.

The Coyotes were paced by four players sporting double-digit kills, with first-team All-American Jane Chafeh claiming 16. Senior setter Sara Hoffman showed why she was No. 13 in the country in assists, as the first-team All-American selection tallied 54.

The victory presents a possible rematch of last year’s title contest should host Concordia overcome Indy.  Concordia entered the tournament with a 71-match winning streak dating to its first match of 2008. The last team to beat the Golden Bears? San Bernardino.