STANFORD, CA--Boise State stopped a set point and went on to clinch the match in a 28-26, 25-22, 27-25 win over #20 Western Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
The Lady Broncos (26-6 this season), playing in their first-ever NCAA Tournament match, executed coach Shawn Garus' strategy to perfection despite being the underdog. Western Kentucky was the highest-ranked team to not host the first two rounds and came into the match with a 21-match winning streak and a season record of 30-2. The Hilltoppers had not lost in 2 1/2 months since a defeat to Michigan State. Western Kentucky was playing in its 10th tournament and sixth in the last seven years.
Down 22-24 in the third set, sophomore Kaitlyn Oliver blasted a shot over the net to save the set. A dunk by junior Sierra Nobley tied the match and junior setter Jaymee-lee Bulda's kill put the Broncos up 25-24. After the teams split the next two points, Maddy O'Donnell and Janell Walley set up a double block that was unanswered by WKU and the Broncos celebrated before a strong contingent of Bronco fans.
Boise State, which extended its own winning streak to 15 matches, will face the winner of the Stanford-Denver match tomorrow night at 8 Mountain Time.
Despite the sweep, the two teams were fairly evenly matched, as never were they separated by more than five points in the entire match, and they played most of the three sets with less than two or three points separating them. After an even start in the opening set, O'Donnell scored two service aces to give Boise State their first lead at 11-19. Kills from Nobley put the Broncos up 18-16 and 21-19, and a block by sophomore Sabryn Roberts gave Boise State a 23-21 lead.
But WKU stormed back with three points and only an Oliver kill saved the set. Boise State came back to tie at 24 and a Nobley kill had the Broncos in position to win the set. Western Kentucky saved two set points before Roberts put away a winner to once again put Boise State ahead 27-26. O'Donnell did the honors for the Lady Broncos as they took the first set.
Nobley led Boise State with six kills in the set while Roberts had five and Oliver four. Alyssa Cavanaugh carried her team with eight kills. The Bronco block game was working to the tune of six to four for the Hilltoppers. Service errors proved to be the difference in the opening set, with WKU committing four to zero for the Broncos.
Boise State spotted Western Kentucky a 1-3 lead but then led for most of the second set, opening up 14-9, 16-11 and 17-12 leads. With the Broncos ahead 20-17, Roberts beat a double block to put her team up 21-17, then scored another kill for a 22-18 lead. O'Donnell's smash put Boise State two points away with a 23-19 lead, and after the Toppers closed the lead to 24-22, Nobley's blast over the net gave Boise State a 2-0 lead in the match. Roberts had five kills in the set to lead the Bronco attack while Nobley had four.
Seven-time Conference USA Coach of the Year Travis Hudson (in his 22nd year at WKU) had the Hilltoppers fired up coming out of the locker room, determined to extend their season. WKU opened up a three point lead at 13-10, but Nobley, the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, scored a kill and then blocked Jessica Lewis' dunk attempt to close the margin to two. Nobley then tied the match with a block. Oliver's two straight terminating shots tied the match at 16, and the two teams played even volleyball for the next several points, setting up the Bronco heroics down the stretch.
Garus, with help from talented assistants Candy Murphy and Allison Buck, had their opponents scouted well and communicated to the Lady Broncos what they needed to do. Western Kentucky came into the match second in the nation in hitting percentage at 31.1%. The Toppers had a slight edge at 28.7% to 28.0% for the Broncos, but the fact that Boise State kept that statistic close went a long way in notching their first tournament win. WKU was never able to fully recover from the 4-0 deficit in service errors in the opening set, and finished with 10 errors to 7 for the Broncos.
Nobley led Boise State with 17 kills and 12 digs, including seven in the final set. Bulda, taking over this year from Sarah Baugh, one of the most accomplished setters in school history, was magnificent in dishing out 38 assists, while Vallivue High School product Maddi Osburn helped the Bronco defensive cause with 14 diggs.
Cavanaugh had 17 kills to lead Western Kentucky, while Lucas had 41 assists and Sydney Engle contributed 14 digs.