For more than bits and spurts of Thursday’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament match with No. 1 seed Wisconsin, the Weber State Wildcats showed they belonged against arguably the best team in the country.
The Wildcats’ aim was to make the Badgers sweat a little, and they can say they accomplished that goal.
But in the end, the Big Ten champions, who played in the national championship match in 2019, had too much firepower, especially from the service line and at the net, and rolled to a 3-0 win over upstart Weber State in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Wisconsin is pretty good. It was a really good opportunity for our team to compete, and I thought we did a nice job,” understated WSU coach Jeremiah Larsen, whose Wildcats earned the right to face the mighty Badgers by knocking off MAC champion Bowling Green on Wednesday 3-1.
In a match that lasted one hour, 23 minutes, the Wildcats (19-2) acquitted themselves well, and showed the program’s future is bright.
“Rylin (Adams) said, ‘Hey, if we can compete with that team, we can compete with just about anybody,’” Larsen said.
The scores were 25-17, 25-19 and 25-15 as UW advanced to play the winner of the late BYU-UCLA match. Wisconsin had seven aces, 11 blocks and recorded a .408 hitting percentage, the third time this season it has hit above .400 in a match.
Dramatically outsized, the Wildcats hit just .175.
“I thought we competed well from start to finish,” said senior setter Ashlyn Power, who is from nearby Lincoln, Nebraska. “I thought we gave a really good effort as far as execution goes. … A team like Wisconsin makes it tough to execute, because they make plays and they do stuff and some of that stuff is not always in our control. So, it was fun.”
Power said the three seniors on WSU’s roster — herself, Sam Schiess and Rylin Adams — plan to take advantage of the NCAA’s allowed extra year and return to the team this fall.
Adams led Weber State with 13 kills, while Dani Nay had eight and Schiess six.
“Overall, really happy for our players,” Larsen said. “We are really happy with the way our season went about and I am pretty proud of them being able to handle the adversity that was thrown at them through this COVID year. All they did was learn and grow and become better people and better volleyball players, and I am kinda bummed that it is over, but happy that it happened.”
Larsen said the Wildats played their best volleyball in the second set, when they had a couple of leads and tied the set at 16-16 on some kills by Schiess and Adams. But Wisconsin went on a 3-0 run and eventually won 25-19.
“Just the fact that we were right there with them for a long period of time — it wasn’t just little spurts, either (showed WSU belonged),” Larsen said. “We were siding out, playing at a nice level. I mean, it only adds to our belief in ourselves that we are heading in the right direction and can compete at a high level against quality programs.”
In the third set, Kate Standifird’s ace gave Weber State a 3-2 lead, but after that it was all Wisconsin.
“We are putting together a nonconference schedule next year that is going to be very, very competitive and we need to be at a high level so we can continue the course we are taking right now, which is an upward trajectory,” said Larsen, a former setter for BYU when the Cougars won a men’s national championship. “We want to continue this course, and we can do that by learning from experience.”