Volleyball advances to Elite Eight

| Sports Reporter

In a weekend full of individual successes and milestones, there was one true winner in the Washington University women’s volleyball team: the team itself.

And that’s just how the team wanted it.

Senior tri-captain Erin Albers reached her 1,000th career kill while freshman Kelly Pang set a school record for digs in a single season. Both milestones were overshadowed by another spectacular weekend of play from the Bears as a whole, who took three wins here at the Wash. U. Field House in the NCAA tournament Central Regional. The Bears advance to University Heights, Ohio, with a chance to play for a national championship.

The Bears defeated Webster University on Thursday night (25-17, 25-14, 25-27, 25-15) and took out St. Mary’s University on Friday (25-21, 24-26, 25-18, 25-22). With one win between them and a trip to the NCAA finals, the team saved its best performance for last as it took out No. 8 Carthage College in straight sets (26-24, 25-23, 25-12) on Saturday night.

“It’s fantastic. This weekend was very high energy,” sophomore Lauren Budde said.

Budde was the star of Thursday night’s game, as she racked up a career-high 22 kills to go along with 12 digs, four aces, and 1.5 blocks in helping the team dispatch of Webster in the first round. With the exception of the third set, in which the Bears were defeated 27-25, the team had jumped well ahead by the mid-point in each set and controlled the game.

Friday night was when Pang had her time to shine, as she registered 18 digs to put her over the school’s single-season high mark set by Nicole Hodgman in 2003. Her strong play helped the Bears through what proved to be a fairly close match against St. Mary’s.

Saturday night was when Albers reached her big mark when she put down her second kill of the game. After fighting out two very close sets against Carthage, the Bears came out firing on all cylinders in the third set, making quick work of the No. 8 team in the nation and punching their tickets to Ohio.

Some were very impressed with the individual records set by the team this weekend.

“When you get a thousand kills, that shows consistency,” head coach Rich Luenemann said. “For her to accumulate 1,000 kills for a middle blocker/attacker is an astronomical feat.”

“And how about Kelly Pang?” he added. “She set a record for digs in a season when it’s harder to accumulate digs,” referring to the fact that when the record was set in 2003 the team played more games in the season and played 30-point sets instead of 25.

But some players downplayed their individual accomplishments.

“To be honest, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of anything,” Albers said. “This game is what we wanted and we came out here and got it, and that’s what I’m really excited about. Everybody picked it up tonight.”

“It feels really good,” Pang said, “but I think the win feels a lot sweeter because we’re one step closer to our goal.”

Pang, who led the team with 60 digs on the weekend, and Budde, who tallied a team-high 47 kills, were named to the Central Regional All-Tournament Team. Freshman Marilee Fisher was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player after setting 128 assists while also posting 17 kills and eight blocks.

The team plays Colorado College in the NCAA quarterfinals on Thursday at the DeCarlo Varsity Center at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.

“We all want to win for each other,” Budde said. “We’ve stressed that in practices. Play as one. Give 100 percent every time for your teammates. Everybody did phenomenal, and everyone did a great job taking their game to the next level.”

With additional reporting by Johann Qua Hiansen