Volleyball advances to Elite 8 in NCAA tourney
If there is one thing that Logger volleyball knows how to do, it is win. After finishing the regular season in second place in the Northwest Conference behind Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound (22-5, 13-3 NWC) received an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, beginning with the first round of Regionals on Friday, Nov. 9 in a matchup against Colorado College.
The Loggers had high hopes for a successful tournament performance and full confidence in their ability to take on whatever competition was thrown at them. This confidence paid off as Puget Sound survived a shaky first set, which eventually went the Loggers’ way 27-15, thanks to five kills from freshman Danielle Westerman (San Francisco, Calif.), to go on and win the match in four sets.
After barely surviving the first set, Puget Sound regained their focus and blew the Colorado College Tigers (23-10) off the court in the second, hitting .400 while holding the Tigers to a mere .083 hitting percentage to capture the second set 25-13. The third set was a different story however, as the Loggers were held to a .000 hitting percentage by a free-swinging and desperate Tigers team to lose the third set 14-25.
Again, the Loggers regained their focus and fought back in a tightly contested fourth set which ended in Puget Sound’s favor, 25-22. Junior Marissa Florant (Palo Alto, Calif.) recorded 14 kills, while junior Christina Chun (Pearl City, Hawaii) had 19 digs on the evening to put her name in the record books as coming in at fifth on the list of most digs in a single season in Puget Sound’s athletic history.
The Loggers were ecstatic with their first-round victory, despite a few moments of less-than-stellar play.
In an email, freshman Emily Convery (Portland, Ore.) said, “We were very excited for our Colorado College match. We had played them once before and won earlier in the season, but we approached this match just like any other. The stakes are high in this tournament and we weren’t going to let overconfidence ruin our chances of continuing. We had a below-average passing day so that put extra pressure on our setter Jenni Brehove.”
Coach Mark Massey said in an email, “It was our goal from the start of the season to not only advance TO the NCAA Regional tournament, but to advance IN the tournament. We’ve worked hard all season to prepare for success at this level, and so we don’t feel like our first round win was an accident. Colorado College was a strong first test, and as we move forward any team is good enough to win … So it really is a matter of who does a better job of executing their game plan.”
Puget Sound did not disappoint in their second-round match in the NCAA Division III West Regionals against Chapman University of Saturday, Nov. 10. From the beginning, the Loggers gave it their all, and came away with a straight-set sweep of Chapman.
The first set got off to an early Logger lead, and the Loggers overcame a comeback by the Panthers in the middle of the set to take the opening set 25-18 with a set-clinching kill from sophomore Nicolette Reynaud (Los Gatos, Calif.).
The second set proved even more dramatic. At 22-24, the Loggers fought back with a kill from junior Jackie Harvey (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and an assisted block from Harvey and junior Kristin Best (Woodburn, Ore.) to tie the set up at 24-24. Thanks to two consecutive kills from Florant, the Loggers eventually pulled out the second set 28-26.
The third set was fiercely contested until the very end, when a Chapman player put a serve into the net to give the Loggers the set 25-22. While notching 10 aces and nine team blocks in the game overall, individual Loggers also shined. Harvey recorded 14 kills, Chun completed 20 digs, and junior Jenni Brehove (Vista, Calif.) had an astounding 40 total assists in the game.
The next day, Sunday, Nov. 11, the Loggers faced off against the region’s top-seeded Cal Lutheran in the NCAA Division III West Regionals Finals. After getting off to a poor start and getting out-hit by the Regals to lose the opening set 14-25, the Loggers fought back.
Down by seven points in the second set, the Loggers came to life and slowly but surely regained their footing in the set to tie it up at 20-20, thanks in part to two crucial aces from Brehove. The Loggers eventually pulled out the second set 26-24 and never looked back.
In the third set, the Loggers proved almost impossible at net, as a frustrated Cal Lutheran team was held to a .047 hitting percentage by the amazing block effort at net on the part of Puget Sound. After clinching the third set 25-21, Puget Sound pulled out all the stops in a tight fourth set against a great volleyball team.
Appropriately, the Loggers won the fourth and final set on a block, 27-25, to upset Cal Lutheran and take the title of NCAA Division III West Regional Champions. Harvey, who was named the MVP of the tournament, recorded 16 kills, while Chun, who received All-tournament honors along with Convery, notched 21 digs.
The Loggers’ performance and poise in the post-season has been nothing but impressive, and the team has a lot of which they can be proud.
In an email Convery said, “We are all on cloud nine. They crushed us in the first set and I would be lying if I didn’t say that in my head I was a little worried. But in that second set, something about our energy and our mindset totally changed. I think that all of us realized that everything we wanted, everything we’ve worked for, and everything we deserved was out there just waiting for us to take it and that’s exactly what we did. We caught out stride and played the best volleyball we could.”
Going into the final eight of the NCAA tournament, the team will look to carry forward the confidence and mental edge that their victory at Regionals has given them to further represent the University of Puget Sound on the national stage.
In an email Massey said, “Plans are great; living out dreams is an amazing experience. We played Logger volleyball all the way through the Regional, bending but not breaking, and learning more about how to negate our opponent with each rally. Our players were amazing, following our game plans with great intelligence and energy. It was a wonderful group to coach and watch. We are pleased to represent Puget Sound in the the NCAA Elite 8 Championships.”
The Loggers will next take on the number one seed, Calvin, in the NCAA Quarterfinals in Michigan. We’re wishing you all the best of luck!