Volleyball team advances out of South Central Region with four-game win against Truman State

Christopher A. Smith / Campus Editor

This is what the Lady Blues have been waiting for all season long.

The 27-match win streak, undefeated home record and regular season conference championship are all steps leading up to this point. Washburn dominated for so long this season, the team had to have been ready to finally put their talent to the test and battle for a national title.

Now, after three wins in three days, the Lady Blues are halfway there. Washburn, the 2007 South Central Regional champions, are now just three victories away from being named the best team in the country. Last Thursday, Washburn began its title run with a first round win against West Georgia.

“To be honest, it felt really good to finally get the chance to play someone different,” said head coach Chris Herron. “We’ve been playing inside the conference so long, it was kind of exciting to get someone fresh.”

Washburn, one of five MIAA teams in the eight-team South Central Regional tournament, has had to play the best teams from what is arguably the best conference with very few scheduling breaks throughout the last two months. The Lady Blues took advantage of a rare non-conference match up by sweeping the Wolves, but the 3-0 win was about as close as a sweep can get.

“They hadn’t seen us play a lot, and we didn’t know much about them before either,” said Herron. “So we had to prepare for someone new, but playing such a tough schedule like we did gets you ready for games like that in the tournament.”

Washburn led game one 29-26 before WGU went on a 4-0 run to make it 30-29 and force a game point of their own. Junior Monica Miesner tied it up twice at the finish before the Lady Blues won 33-31. Game two was also too close to be settled in 30 points, and Washburn needed a 2-0 run to break a 30-30 tie and secure the 32-30 win. The Lady Blues shut the door on any chance of a No. 2 vs. No. 7 seed first-round upset by dominating game three 30-13.

“We played okay in Thursday’s game, but we got better as the weekend went on,” said Herron.

No. 7 Washburn advanced to play No. 8 Central Missouri for the second time this season and once again swept the Jennies 30-26, 30-23, 30-23. Freshman Anna Simpson-Mills made sure the Lady Blues held on to a big lead in game one, thanks to her nine kills. In all three games, Washburn built up early leads against the region’s No. 6 seed and played strong through CMSU’s runs to win by at least four every time. Senior Mandi Cox had three blocks which moved her in to the top 10 on Washburn’s all-time block list.

After breaking a school record with 24 sweeps this season, the Lady Blues turned their attention to the Regional championship against host Truman State.

“We knew a lot about [CMSU and TSU], but you still hope for great match ups,” said Herron. “And that’s what we got.”

Although it looked like Washburn would host the South Central for most of the season, two Lady Blues losses in their last four games were enough for the Bulldogs to jump them for the top spot in the rankings and get the chance to play at home.

“I don’t really get into that stuff where we feel like we have to prove that we should be the host,” said Herron. “It is what it is. We let home court slip through our hands in the end, but we still played great.”

The Lady Blues apparently did not need the extra motivation anyway. After dropping its first game of the 2007 tournament, Washburn notched three straight victories at No. 4 TSU to win the school’s first-ever region championship game.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Herron. “They blocked the crap out of us, but we got kills when we needed them, and our defense was outstanding.”

Two-time All-American Tessa Jones had 18 kills, which moves her into first on Washburn’s all-time kill list with 606. Miesner, also an All-American, topped her personal best 30 digs and added 16 kills as well. The Lady Blues, now 9-2 against ranked opponents, advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

After playing progressively better in each of its last three matches, Washburn looks to keep its title hopes alive in the national quarterfinals against Tampa, the 2006 champions. The site of the match will be announced today.

“We played much better in our game against Truman,” said Herron. “We’ll have a break for Thanksgiving, then be ready to play again on the 29th.”