SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Senior setter Morgan Hooe dished 51 assists and sophomore Chrisalyn Johnson blasted her 17th kill on match point to send Alaska Anchorage on to its first national title match with a 25-16, 19-25, 25-17, 25-22 victory over Palm Beach Atlantic in the NCAA Div. II Volleyball Championships semifinals at the Sanford Pentagon on Friday night.
The 6th-seeded and 9th-ranked Seawolves (34-2) also got 14 kills and 12 digs from sophomore Leah Swiss and a career-high-tying 19 digs from defensive specialist Taylor Noga to earn their 13th consecutive victory and end Palm Beach Atlantic’s nation-best 32-match winning streak.
The 2nd-seeded and 10th-ranked Sailfish (32-4) were led by 13 kills and five blocks from Olivia Finckel and 22 digs from Susie Forbes, but the South Region champions were outhit .193 to .092 and outdug 88-80.
“I don’t know if I have words that can express our thoughts right now but we’re extremely excited to be playing in the national championship match tomorrow,” said UAA head coach Chris Green. “I thought we played our absolute best volleyball of the year in that third set, and hopefully we can keep that momentum going for tomorrow.”
UAA will face top-seeded and nationally top-ranked Concordia-St. Paul (34-2) – which took down 5th-seeded Lewis 3-0 in the second semifinal – in the national title match Saturday at 2 p.m. AST.
The Seawolves broke open a tight opening set by taking 14 of the final 20 rallies and started the second frame with a 6-0 lead. The Floridians answered in emphatic fashion, however, earning 12 of the next 17 points and continuing their momentum to tie the match.
Tied 6-6 in the third, UAA took advantage of four straight PBA errors to grab a lead it would not relinquish. Lauren Alberti pulled the Sailfish within 16-14 with a kill before Seawolf right-side hitter Diana Fa’amausili began to show of the skills that earned her West Region Freshman of the Year honors, ripping five of her 13 kills over the next 12 rallies.
The Seawolves trailed 6-2 in the fourth set before Green called a timeout, and his team responded. Swiss had two kills during a 5-0 UAA run, and Hooe found the back corner with a perfectly placed attack to give her team a 10-9 lead. The lead stretch to 16-9 before the Sailfish called their final timeout and made one last push.
PBA scored four straight points to draw within 23-22, but Ally Rohn’s attack error gave the Seawolves a shot at match point. With Hooe serving, Swiss made a clutch dig to set up the final attack, and Johnson slammed a kill off the PBA block to spark a UAA celebration.
Hooe – a first team AVCA All-American and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year – added 16 digs and three kills on a night when she also claimed the Seawolves’ career assists record, now with 3,901.
Freshman Vanessa Hayes had four of her career-high-tying eight kills in the opening set and added four total blocks, while Noga extended multiple rallies, equaling her digs career best that was set last year while playing libero.
Swiss recorded her fifth double-double in as many NCAA Tournament matches, while Johnson accounted for 14 digs and three total blocks.
Live video and stats coverage of the national title match can be found at NCAA.com.
For local Anchorage fans, the Alaska Airlines Center will host an NCAA Championship ‘watch party,’ on the jumbotron. Doors will open at 1 p.m. for the free event, with the concession stand serving food.
NOTES: This will mark the third time a Seawolf team has advanced to an NCAA national title contest, along with the 1988 men’s basketball team (lost 77-72 to UMass-Lowell) and the 2016 women’s basketball team (lost 78-73 to Lubbock Christian) … coincidentally, UAA’s NCAA quarterfinal and semifinal volleyball victories came on the same Sanford Pentagon floor where the women’s basketball team earned wins in the same two rounds nine months ago … Hooe surpassed Janelle (Morrisette) Veith for the Seawolves’ career assists mark, which stood at 3,853 for 15 years.
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