UCLA Coach Andy Banachowski has been saying all year his team, minus two big hitters this season, is not as powerful as in the past. But what the Bruins lack in power, they have made up in depth.
In three straight games last night at Cole Field House, in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championships, players stepped forth, pulling UCLA out of gaping ravines that seemed sure to trap the Bruins in their third consecutive final four loss. Instead, Natalie Williams in the first game, Jenny Evans in the second and Marissa Hatchett in the third provided the power punches and bullying blocks, giving the Bruins a three-games to none victory over Louisiana State, 15-13, 15-10, 15-6.
University of the Pacific beat Nebraska, three games to one, 15-13, 11-15, 15-9, 15-2, in the second semifinal. UCLA will face Pacific at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the championship.
UCLA was led by the kill shots of Hatchett (14), Evans (17) and Williams (12). But those wouldn't have been possible if not for setter Holly McPeak. Especially in the third game McPeak, laid out horizontal, a hair above the floor, saved falling balls.
"If I looked at that match when I was waking up this morning, I'd go right back to bed, it was not real pretty to watch," said Banachowski. "But what you saw Holly do is as much a result of her athletic ability, her quickness. . . . But like I've said all along, we're not an overwhelming hitting team, we have to move around and give everybody swings. The balance helps us."
The team hit percentage is the standard in volleyball and it was telling against LSU. In the first game the Bruins outhit LSU, .313 to .233; in the second game, they bettered it to .352 to .274, and in the last game, they hit a whopping .519 to LSU's .132.
Twice in the first two games, UCLA allowed LSU to come back before getting the game-winning points. For the third game, LSU went to its sure-hitter, Monique Adams. "Sure, Monique has been our banner hitter all year and you go to your side-out hitter when you need a play," said LSU Coach Scott Luster. "We tried to move it around a little more but when you have difficulty, especially in the third game, we went to the middle. But they read good defense; you've got to give them credit for digging."
Tied at 10 in the first game, UCLA had a 4-1 spurt, and eventually closed out the game, 15-13.
Evans injected some high energy into the Bruins when they were held scoreless after 10 points in the second game. To score the 12th point, Evans sailed from behind the line, sending home a ball Hatchett had saved then McPeak had set from the floor. Evans had three more kills. Then Hatchett saved another and Adams hit into the net for game point.
In the third game, Evans and Williams combined for the first seven points, then it was Hatchett's turn. After eight points, LSU scored three consecutive points. But Hatchett killed on LSU's block for the ninth point and sparked the Bruins.
In the other semifinal, Nebraska was within two points of winning the first game, 13-11, before Pacific scored the next four points to take it, 15-13.
Nebraska went up 7-3 in the second game before Pacific woke up, going ahead 10-7 when Devin Skruggs saved her own rejected block and killed the ball. Then, sparked by Stephanie Thater's kill and two blocks, the Cornhuskers posted a 7-1 spurt to win, 15-11.
In the third game, Nebraska twice went on four-point sprees, the second to go ahead 9-8. Then Pacific scored the next four points, game point coming on an ace by Vicki Simonis. The fourth game was streaky -- three consecutive points by Pacific, seven by Nebraska, eight by Pacific. At 13-12, Pacific's Krissy Fifer killed the last two balls for the game, the match and the spot in the final.