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Cedar Rapids, Iowa - The Ferris State University women's volleyball gave perennial Division II national power and fourth-ranked BYU-Hawaii everything it could handle in a national quarterfinal match that went to the wire on Thursday (Dec. 12) at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight inside the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs beat the 27-1 Seasiders 25-21 in the opening set of action and fought back from a 2-1 deficit to force the deciding frame in a closely-contested afternoon of action. In the fifth set, BYU-Hawaii jumped out to a decisive 14-6 margin, but the Bulldogs battled back to tie up the frame 14-14 before the comeback fell short as the Seasiders claimed a 16-14 triumph to reach the national semifinals.
Ferris State's season came to a close with a 25-9 overall record after nearly pulling off a major win in their first appearance deep on the national stage since the late 1980's. FSU, which was making its 18th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, claimed a regional crown to reach the Elite Eight for only the third time in school history and first since 1989 this season.
"This was a tremendous accomplishment and I'm proud of the way our kids played today," said FSU head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm. "BYU-Hawaii is a great program and it was an outstanding match that was close and came down to the end. It was such a fun season and certainly we gave it everything we had today."
Despite potentially being the underdog against a BYU-Hawaii squad that had swept 14 of its opponents this season, the Bulldogs came out of the games quickly as they hit an impressive .433 in the opening set of action en route to a 25-21 triumph. After a close start in the first set, Ferris State went on a 12-5 run to build an 18-11 cushion. The Seasiders eventually pulled to within 23-20, but FSU came up with kills from sophomores Caroline Heitzman and Alexis Huntey to put the game away.
In an extremly close second frame, the score was knotted at 13 points apiece nearly midway thru the set. FSU took a 22-20 lead late and had an opportunity to win the set with a 24-23 lead, but the Seasiders came up with a point to stave off defeat. The two squads battled back and forth for several points with the Seasiders eventually scoring the win on a kill from All-American Stella Chen.
BYU-Hawaii controlled the third set most of the way as the Seasiders jumped out to a 13-8 advantage. FSU closed to within 16-13 before the West Regional champions scored five of the next eights to build a 21-16 margin. FSU could get no closer the rest of the way as BYU-Hawaii took the frame 25-19.
However, as they did in the regional final against archrival Grand Valley State, the Bulldogs didn't quit. Ferris State fell behind early in the fourth set before eventually surging ahead by a 10-9 score on a service ace from Heitzman. FSU pushed the lead to 18-13 before the Seasiders narrowed the gap to 23-22 on a point. BYU-Hawaii tied up the match twice with the final one coming at 25 points each before Ferris State sealed a 27-25 win with a kill from Huntey and key ace service at set point from sophomore Danielle Dowd.
In the deciding fifth set of action, the two teams split the first eight points before the Seasiders jumped out to a big lead by going on a 10-2 run. They lead 14-6 and appeared to have the set in hand, but the Bulldogs once again fought back. FSU scored eight consecutive points on three kills from Huntey along with two by senior middle hitter Angi Kent combined with three BYU-Hawaii errors to force the deadlock. However, with the score tied, the Seasiders scored a point on a Bulldog attack error and then closed the match on a final kill from Chen to accout for the final score.
With the win, BYU-Hawaii reached the national semifinals for the second-straight year and will square off against West Texas A&M in the final four on Friday night.
Ferris State received yet another balanced effort as five Bulldog players tallied 10 kills or more and five also placed in double-figures in digs. The Bulldog attack was led by sophomore Courtney Rehm, who had 18 kills to go with 20 digs.
Kent added 15 kills in her final Bulldog match while fellow senior libero Brandie Merren came up with a match-high 25 digs in her final outing. Those two, who were the Bulldogs' lone seniors, saw their careers come to a close in the national quarterfinals.
Along with Rehm and Kent, Huntey compiled 13 kills to go with 17 digs with Heitzman finishing with 12 kills, eight digs and four total blocks. Sophomore Megan Vander Meer added 10 kills and 12 digs while freshman setter Stephanie Sikorski tallied 62 assists in directing the offense and posted 12 digs.
FSU had no answer most of the afternoon for Chen, who recorded a match-best 37 kills with only seven errors on 92 total attacks. She also had 22 digs, which tied for team-high honors along with libero Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo. Erh Fang Hsu added 15 kills and Noel Pauga posted 10 in the win for the Seasiders.
Chen's sister, second-team All-American Michelle Chen, had 65 assists along with 11 digs to aid the BYU-Hawaii cause. They also received 13 digs from Kathleen Collette alog with 10 from Melanie Mautai.
Overall, BYU-Hawaii compiled a .289 attack percentage for the day and posted 82 kills with 21 errors on 211 total attacks. They also compiled 95 digs with six aces and three blocks, but were offset by 12 service errors.
FSU finished with 68 kills on 194 attempts and had 16 errors while posting a .268 attack figure. The Bulldogs netted 97 digs, nine aces, eight blocks and had five errors from the service line.
Heitzman netted three aces for the Bulldogs with FSU also getting two each from Vander Meer and Huntey. Meanwhile, along with Heitzman's four blocks at the net, Huntey compiled three and four others had one each.
Ferris State and BYU-Hawaii were meeting for only the second-time ever and the first time since a 3-0 sweep by the Seasiders back in 1996.
This year marked Ferris State's first regional championship since previously winning two back in 1987 and 1989. The Bulldogs reached at least the regional semifinals for the third year in a row and have now made the NCAA Tournament nine times under Brandel-Wilhelm, who led the FSU to the Elite Eight for the first time in her tenure after notching her 500th career victory in an exciting 3-2 comeback win over archrival Grand Valley State in the Midwest Regional title match last Saturday in Allendale.
The Bulldogs were one of only eight regional champions to reach the Elite Eight after winning three matches to claim the regional crown. A total of 64 teams were originally granted berths into the NCAA Tournament. FSU also placed tied for second this season in the GLIAC with a 15-3 overall record, reached the conference tournament for the 16th consecutive year and posted 20 wins or more for the 12th time in 18 seasons under Brandel-Wilhelm's direction.
Ferris State Volleyball Takes Highly-Regarded BYU-Hawaii To The Wire In National Quarterfinal
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