WSU eliminated from NCAA tournament

Volleyball nearly pulls off comeback from down 2-0; Greeny proud of her team’s effort

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BENJAMIN MICHAELIS | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

The volleyball team’s only senior, Penny Tusa, has likely played the last game in her historic Cougar career.

KAT MCKINNEY-ROLEY, Evergreen reporter

The WSU volleyball team fell to the undefeated Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 3-2 Thursday night in the NCAA championships.

The match took place in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. The contest went into a fifth set where WSU fell 15-10.

“Credit to Western Kentucky,” head coach Jen Greeny said. “They did everything we thought they were going to do and more.”

Sophomore outside hitter Magda Jehlarova and freshman outside hitter Julianna Dalton led the Cougars with 14 kills each. Sophomore outside hitter Pia Timmer also had 13 kills of her own on the night.

Jehlarova finished with a hitting average of .462, which was the highest hitting percentage of any player in the match.

The kryptonite for the Cougars seemed to be their untimely errors, as WSU had 24 compared to Western Kentucky’s 18. Also, the Hilltoppers’ hitting average of .300 was .065 better than the Cougars.

In the first set, the Hilltoppers went on a 4-0 scoring run, which allowed them to gain momentum for the rest of the set. The Cougars almost had a comeback after a couple kills from redshirt sophomore outside hitter Kalyah Williams and Timmer, but the set ended 25-22 in favor of the Hilltoppers.

In the second set, Western Kentucky and WSU had a back-and-forth battle. The teams were evenly matched through most of the set, but the Hilltoppers took a late lead and another momentum swing with it.  The second set went to the Hilltoppers once again 25-20.

“We just couldn’t really get things going in those first two sets,” Greeny said. “I think our passing was a little bit off … credit to them for tough serves.”

Just when it seemed as if the Cougars were down for the count, the team started putting the pressure on WKU.

WSU took an early 5-2 lead to start the third set. After three more errors on Western Kentucky’s side of the court, the Cougars took an 11-6 lead.

The Hilltoppers almost made a comeback, however, an ace from senior outside hitter Penny Tusa put the Cougars back in control of the set. Western Kentucky once again came within one point of the lead, but the Cougars had some late set magic to win the third set 25-21.

In the fourth set, WSU and the Hilltoppers started a back-and-forth battle with kills until an attack error on the Hilltoppers. After a series of kills in favor of the Cougars and a service ace by redshirt sophomore defensive specialist Aria McComber, WSU took control of the set and led 21-16.

The Cougs had a couple more kills from Jehlarova and Dalton to seal the fourth set 25-17 and force the match into extra sets.

WSU was close to having one of the greatest comebacks in program history, but that was not the fate of the Cougars in the fifth and final set.

A service ace from Dalton gave the Cougars a 7-6 lead. WSU then gave up a 7-3 run to let the Hilltoppers pull ahead 13-10.

Two late kills from WKU that WSU couldn’t answer gave Western Kentucky their 23rd win this season to keep their record undefeated.

The loss means the Cougars have been eliminated from the NCAA tournament and marked their last match of the season. WSU ended 11-5 and had seven matches canceled due to COVID-19 complications.

Although the schedule for the fall season has yet to be announced, stay tuned as the Cougars will look to improve and get back to the NCAA tournament.

“Overall just proud of our team this season in a really strange year with stops and starts,” Greeny said. “It’s a really good learning experience and we were happy to be here.”