Nov. 18, 2010

Courtesy of Seattle Pacific Athletics

With their volleyball season on the brink, the Seattle Pacific outside hitters started slamming some timely balls inside the lines.

So now, for the first time in school history, the Falcons got inside the win column at the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament.

Freshman middle blocker Nikki Lowell tied her career high with 17 kills on Thursday afternoon, and outsides Sarah Risser, Lindsey Wodrich and Paige Hoffman combined for 14 kills from midway through the fourth game to the end of the fifth game as 14th-ranked SPU rallied to beat Cal State Los Angeles in a first-round match.

Scores in Coussoulis Gym at Cal State San Bernardino were 25-23, 20-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-6.

Half of it was an attitude that we just decided we were going to play all-out together,” said senior Risser (Santa Barbara, Calif.), whose six kills through that crucial portion of the contest included the match-clincher that went straight up into the air off a Cal State L.A. player and flew toward the sidelines beyond anyones reach. We did a good job of that. Pretty much the whole match, we couldnt win a point on defense - we would sideout, and then not be able to hold onto the ball.

We just got more aggressive on everything, and that was that was the attitude.”

The victory was Seattle Pacific's first in six trips to the NCAA tournament.

SPU (25-2), seeded second in the regionals, will face Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival and third-seeded Western Washington in the semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. The Vikings (20-3) eliminated GNAC stablemate Alaska Anchorage in the first match of the afternoon, 26-24, 25-12, 20-25, 25-20.

Seattle Pacific and Western split their two regular-season matches on the way to tying for the conference championship. Each won at home: the Vikings 25-22, 25-23, 25-18 in Bellingham on Oct. 9; the Falcons 20-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-18 in Seattle on Nov. 4.

Were so excited. We love to play them,” said Risser, who earlier this week earned her second straight spot on the All-GNAC first team. We know what to expect, and so do they. We know its going to be a battle.”

Risser finished with 16 kills; junior Wodrich (Richland, Wash./Richland HS) had 12, and junior opposite Hoffman (Encinitas, Calif.) added 10. Risser and Wodrich each made it a double-double, as Risser came up with 10 digs, and Wodrich had 16.

Lowell (Claremont, Calif.), named on Monday as the GNAC Freshman of the Year, also had a team-high six blocks and hit .406, getting her 17 kills with just four errors on 32 total attacks. Lowell came into the match with a season hitting average of .389, the 12th-best mark in all of D-2.

A lot of credit goes to all three outside hitters for hanging in there,” Seattle Pacific coach Chris Johnson said. Paige was on fire in that second game (five kills after having none in the opener), then Sarah and Lindsey just came alive in Games 4 and 5. (The Eagles) werent able to stay with Nikki, either. Nikki was unstoppable all night again.”

Sophomore setter Shelby Swanson (Kennewick, Wash./Kamiakin HS) racked up a career-high 54 assists for the Falcons. Swanson came in averaging 11.48 assists per game, sixth-best in the country for D-2 players. Her days work easily pushed her past 1,000 for the season, giving her 1,041. That is SPUs first individual 1,000-assist season since 2007.

Junior libero Anna Herold had a team-leading 23 digs.

Shelby did a good job of distributing the ball again,” Johnson said. And Anna passed very well all night, just made some great clutch digs and did a great job of directing the defense.”

SPU was staring at elimination, down two games to one and 13-6 in Game 4. But the Falcons ran off nine of the next 12 points to close within one at 16-15, then kept it going, taking seven of the next 10 for a 22-19 advantage.

Cal State L.A. (16-11) eventually climbed back into a 23-23 tie before junior outside hitter Wodrich and Lowell put down kills for the final two points to force the fifth game.

The Falcons ran off five straight points to snap a 2-2 tie in Game 5, taking a 7-2 lead and never letting the Golden Eagles (16-11) get closer than four the rest of the way. Senior outside hitter Sarah Risser (Santa Barbara, Calif.) got the final point on a hard kill that was blocked by a CSULA player, but the ball went straight up in the air and came down beyond anyones reach to clinch it for Seattle Pacific.

I never thought that fourth game was going to go their way,” Risser said of SPUs comeback. Then in the fifth game, our attitude was the same as the other four: Its 0-0 and a clean slate.

The five-gamer was just the second of the year for the Falcons, who also went the distance to beat San Francisco State in the season-opening match on Sept. 3. Cal State L.A. lost for the fifth time in eight matches that went to five.

After a back-and-forth Game 1 that SPU finally clinched on kills by Lowell and Risser, Cal State L.A. seized momentum early in Game 2, racing to a 10-4 lead. It eventually grew as large as 17-8 before the Falcons battled back. Seattle Pacific twice got as close as three, the last time at 23-20.

The Falcons had a 15-11 lead in the third game, then surrendered five straight points to the Golden Eagles. The lead changed hands twice more, L.A. finally going in front for good at 22-21.

While they struggled with serving (16 service errors and just seven aces), the Falcons limited their hitting errors to just 22 on 179 attacks and wound up with 62 kills (they had 65 in their season-opening five-gamer) for a final percentage of .223. SPU saved its best hitting for that fifth game with eight kills and no errors on 22 swings for a .364 percentage. That came on the heels of a solid .261 (16-4-46) in Game 4.

Cal State L.A. hit just .184 (55-26-158). That marked the 24th time in 27 matches that SPU has kept its opponent below .200 hitting.

We were able to get the match-up we wanted, and in the end, we outplayed them,” Johnson said. They have good offensive weapons, but we were able to outduel them.”