Nov. 18, 2010
Bearcats Fall to Washburn in NCAA Tournament
By David Boyce
WARRENSBURG, Mo.-Nobody would have blamed Northwest Missouri State's volleyball team for showing first-set jitters against Washburn.
After all, the Bearcats were playing in their first-ever NCAA Division II South Central Regional against a team that has participated in seven in a row and was a national semifinalist back in 2007.
Northwest, though, came out firing. Junior Alex Hanna boomed a kill to start the match and helped the Bearcats jump to a 4-1 lead in the opening set.
Throughout the match Northwest stayed with Washburn nearly point for point.
"It was a dream come true," said Northwest senior Paige Spangenberg. "We worked so hard for this. It has been a crazy ride. To finish on such a high note was a great experience. You couldn't ask for more."
Ultimately, Washburn showed why it has only lost two of 33 matches this season. The Lady Blues win the important points late in the set. That was really the only difference in No. 2 Washburn escaping with a 26-24, 25-23, 25-20 victory over seventh-seeded Northwest Thursday afternoon at Central Missouri's Multipurpose Building.
"We played Washburn before so that helped us a lot," Hanna said. "We knew what the players do and what their tendencies are. Our coaches did a great job scouting them. I think that really helped us get off to a good start."
For much of the first set, Northwest played tremendously. Even when they surrendered their 4-1 lead and trailed 8-7, the Bearcats fought right back to regain it at 9-8.
An ace by Hanna, followed by a kill from Amber Ryan put Northwest in front 15-13.
Tied at 17-17, the Bearcats had a beautiful sequence of power and finesse. It started with a kill by Sara Falcone. Hanna followed with a kill and then Falcone gave Northwest a three-point lead on a dink.
Washburn scored the next four points for a 21-20 lead.
Northwest refused to go away. The Bearcats stayed within a point until Washburn won the final two points of the set.
"Someone has to win the game and they just got the last couple of points," Spangenberg said. "They do have the experience, but I don't think that was working against us."
The second set was pretty similar to the first set. Northwest took an early 2-0 lead. Washburn quickly fought back to go in front 5-4. Northwest recaptured the lead at 11-9.
"I thought Northwest played well," said Washburn coach Chris Herron. "They battled. The scores were so tight. I thought they did an outstanding job."
The momentum switched back to Washburn, which built a 17-14 lead and seemed in control. Northwest quickly responded and scored three straight points to tie.
But with the set tied 23-23, the Lady Blues came up with the final two points to take the set.
It wasn't a case of nerves for the Bearcats. Washburn just made the plays at the most crucial points in the set.
After losing two extremely close sets, the Bearcats came out in the third set a little off. Their first two kill attempts sailed long.
The Lady Blues rode those early miscues by Northwest into a 5-0 lead to start the third set.
Northwest refused to go quietly, or accepting that it was just happy to reach the regional tournament. The Bearcats stormed back and even took a 10-9 lead.
Unfortunately, Northwest couldn't hold the momentum. The Lady Blues scored the next five points for a 14-10 lead.
The Bearcats made Washburn work for the third set. They scored five of the next six points to tie the match at 15-15 and caused Washburn to call timeout. The Lady Blues scored the next three points.
Ryan stopped the run with a kill. The Bearcats closed to 19-18. Washburn extended its lead to 23-19.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Northwest coach Jessica Rinehart said. "It's a testament to the way they played all season. This season has been one of the best of my career because of the group of players I got to coach."
Falcone finished with 12 kills and 12 digs in recording her 10th double-double of the season. Hanna led all attackers with 13 kills. Laira Akin had a match-high 34 assists and Spangenberg led all defenders with 28 digs. Aubri Renshaw had 12 kills and 14 digs to lead Washburn. She also had four of the Lady Blues' 10 blocks.
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