No. 2 Washington-St. Louis Comes Away with National Invitational Title

9/6/2008

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. - The No. 2 Washington University volleyball team remained unbeaten, picking up a pair of wins over No. 11 Ohio Northern University and No. 24 California Lutheran University, on Saturday, Sept. 6., during the second day of the Washington University/Asics National Invitational Tournament at the WU Field House in St. Louis, Mo. The Bears topped Ohio Northern, 3-0, and California Lutheran, 3-1, to win the tournament championship with a 4-0 record.

Three members of WU's squad were named to the all-tournament team. Senior middle hitter Erin Albers, who finished the weekend with a team-high attack percentage of .417 with 35 kills and 12 total blocks, senior right side attacker Nikki Morrison, who tallied 35 kills on .345 hitting, and senior setter Audra Janak, finishing with 133 assists, 10.2 per set, 27 digs and 22 kills.

Ohio Northern challenged Washington University in each set of the morning session match, but the Bears found a way to come out on top each time. Trailing, 19-16, in the first set, WU rallied to take a 22-21 lead, and used consecutive kills from senior outside hitter Ali Crouch and freshman outside hitter Erin Kasson to pull away for a win. Crouch tied for the team lead with four kills in the first frame.
The second set played out almost identically to the first, as Washington University seized the momentum late in the frame to earn the win. The set was tied at 19-19 before the Red and Green won six of the final seven points.

Morrison was key in closing out the win, tallying two of her five second-set kills in the deciding scoring run. Crouch and Albers each added four kills in the second frame and freshman Tricia Brandt recorded a team-high eight digs.

The third set was no different than the first two in that it came down to the wire. But one major difference was the Bears had to dig themselves out of a pretty big hole to grab the win. Ohio Northern appeared to be in control of the third set, leading from the outset and opening up its largest lead at 18-11. But Washington University did rally and scored eight-straight points to turn the tables and move ahead, 19-18.

After briefly taking a lead, the Red and Green found themselves in a stalemate with Ohio Northern until the Bears finished out their come-from-behind win. Fittingly the Bears clinched the match on a block assist from Crouch and Kasson. It was the team's season-best 11th-team block of the match and Kasson's eighth assisted block, her sixth of the third set alone.

Morrison paced the offense in the three-set victory, tallying 13 kills on 27 attacks to hit .444. The Washington University defense was tenacious in the win, as three players recorded double-digit digs; Brandt led the way with 17, senior Alli Alberts had 15 and junior Laura Brazeal tallied 13. In addition to the 11-team blocks the Bears ended the match with 67 digs.

Freshman Kristen Thomas' six kills helped pave the way for a 10-point win in the opening set with California Lutheran. However, the Bears' seemingly easy victory was not a sign of things to come as the Regals managed to take the second set, 25-23, and push Washington U. to the wire in the third and fourth frames.

The Bears nearly pulled off a tremendous comeback in the second set, but ended up falling just two points shy of completely erasing a 10-point deficit. Trailing 19-9, WU took 10 of the next 13 points to pull within three but never came all the way back.

Alberts' six kills in the third frame enabled the Red and Green to pull out a three-point win and take a 2-1 lead in the match. With the momentum back in their favor, the Bears began the fourth set with a 9-5 lead and looked like they would pull away. But California Lutheran fought back and eventually went up by two points, 15-13, before Washington University turned the tables with a 7-2 scoring run that put the finishing touches on a hard-fought four-set win.

Alberts and Janak both recorded double-doubles in the win over the Regals. Alberts had a team-high 16 kills and a career-high 24 digs, and Janak tallied a season-best 44 assists to go along with 10 digs. Thomas and Albers also finished in double-digits in kills with 13 and 10 apiece, while Brazeal tied Alberts for the team-lead in digs with 24 of her own.

The road will not get any easier for Washington U. (8-0), which hosts the Fifth Annual Teri Clemens Invitational on Friday-Saturday, Sept. 12-13. The two-day event is annually one of the premier Division III regular season volleyball tournaments in the country, and will feature three teams currently ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) top-25 poll.

The Bears will kick things off with what is billed to be a showdown between the top-two teams in the country as No. 1 Juniata College will head to St. Louis on Friday, Sept. 12, for a 7:30 p.m., match. On Saturday, Sept. 13, Washington U. will face Bethel University at noon, and No. 9 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in a 2007 national championship rematch at 5 p.m.

Article courtesy of Washington-St. Louis athletics.

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