Omaha Bound: Washington To Play In National Semifinal

Dec. 9, 2006

SEATTLE-- The noise at Bank of America Arena was deafening as 6,549 fans drowned out the public address announcer after watching the No. 6-seed Washington Huskies clinch their third-straight trip to the NCAA National Championship weekend by beating No. 3-seed Penn State Saturday night in the Regional Championship at Bank of America Arena. Game scores were 30-27, 30-24, 28-30 and 30-26.

Following the match, senior Courtney Thompson led her team around the edge of the floor and then into the stands to celebrate with the crowd which gave the team a nearly 10-minute ovation. The win marked the 31st-straight victory for the Huskies at home, a program record, and their 10th NCAA tournament win in a row. Washington has won 30-of-33 games in that 10-match span.

The Huskies will head to Omaha, Neb. next weekend where they will begin defense of their 2005 National Championship against Stanford in the NCAA semifinal at 6:30 pm PST. They become the eighth team to advance to the NCAA National Championship round in three or more consecutive years, with USC being the last (2002-04).

After Washington won game one, the pivotal game two saw the Nittany Lions jump out to a huge 9-2 lead, thanks in part to three kills and two aces from sophomore Nicole Fawcett. Penn State struggled to remain composed, however, in front of one of the loudest crowds ever at a volleyball match in Seattle. Washington went on a 13-5 run anchored by four kills from junior Stevie Mussie and four Penn State errors. Mussie's 20 kills led a quartet of Huskies in double-figures.

'Our university bid for [the regional] and we got it,' McLaughlin said. 'We are going to the Final Four because of that. It's a great advantage being at Washington.'

With the game then tied at 22 Washington went on a 7-0 run, eclipsing two Penn State timeouts, to take control. The Huskies scored nine of the last 11 points in the game. Red-shirt freshman Tamari Miyashiro fueled the Washington comeback with a stellar defensive performance which forced the game into long rallies where Washington felt it had the advantage. Her 18 digs led the Huskies and brought her just 29 digs away from tying the school record for a single season.

'[Miyashiro] is a freshman and the influence she has on our team is unbelievable,' McLaughlin said. 'She's the best volleyball player I've ever coached in every way, shape and form. She made some very good plays.'

Miyashiro and the entire Washington defense was key in holding Big-10 Player and Freshman of the Year Megan Hodge in check. Hodge, who hit .429 against Purdue, did have 17 kills, but she also had 15 errors to hit just .039.

'We though it was a key match-up to get on her,' McLaughlin said. 'We felt like if we could get to her tendencies we wouldn't stop her, but we would slow her down a bit. And we did that.'

After dropping game three Washington trailed 2-0 early in game four. Thompson said that her only thoughts after losing the game were, 'let's win game four.' A Jessica Swarbrick kill broke a 9-9 tie and sparked a run that put Washington up 14-10. Penn State never got closer than two points for the rest of the game.

PSU sophomore Nicole Fawcett refused to give up the match, logging four kills in the final seven points, but it was her service error that triggered a UW win and a wild celebration at the arena. Fawcett led Penn State with 24 kills.

The match marked the last appearance at Bank of America Arena for seniors Thompson and Janine Sandell. Thompson played in every game in her four years at Washington, 344 for her career. The team was 47-4 in her career at home. With 60 assists she brought her career total to 6,531 which is third on the NCAA all-time list. She needs 119 assists to tie the NCAA record.

'I don't know how to explain her,' McLaughlin said. 'Everyday is a great day being around her. She's worried about her team and the things she needs to do for them. The great ones are that way. The great ones make the people around them better.'

Thompson was named to the Seattle Regional All-Tournament team, along with teammates Swarbrick, Miyashiro and Stevie Mussie. Also joining them were Penn State's Hodge and Fawcett, as well as Ohio State's Danielle Meyer.

Washington joins two other Pac-10 teams in the National Championship weekend as both UCLA and Stanford advanced, along with Nebraska from the Big-12 conference.

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