ST. PAUL, Minn. — Wayne State rallied from a 2-1 deficit to outlast Nebraska-Kearney Friday evening in the NCAA Div. II Central Regional semifinals Friday.
Scores of the match were 18-25, 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 15-9. The third-ranked Wildcats are now 30-2 on the season while the No. 13-rated Lopers end the year at 29-6. The victory also marked the 450th win for Wildcat head coach Scott Kneifl as Wayne State advanced to its' second-ever NCAA regional final.
Wayne State held the lead early in the opening set as Taya Beller smashed four straight kills to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead. Beller added a service ace to score five of Wayne State's first nine points.
That lead didn’t hold, however, as the Lopers battled back and gained a 14-13 lead, then broke a 15-15 tie with four straight points on their way to the first-set win. Beller had six kills and one service ace to lead the 'Cats in the opening set.
The Wildcats came back in a tightly-contested second set and forced nine UNK errors that included six WSC blocks. With the score tied at 15-15, the Wildcats forced a UNK error, then added a Rachel Walker service ace and a block by Kelsie Cada and Maggie Brahmer to take an 18-15 lead. Wayne State led 20-16 on a block by Taylor Bunjer and Brahmer, and UNK got within one on several occasions before a Cada kill to take a 20-16 lead.
The Lopers closed within one several times, but the 'Cats got a kill by Cada to even the match at a set apiece.
Wayne State got hot early, taking leads of 5-1 and 10-6, but the Lopers came back to tie the set at 11-11 and took over the momentum, scoring five of the last six points to take a 2-1 match advantage. Freshman Channatee Robles had six kills on seven attacks to lead the Wildcats in the third set.
Facing elimination, the Wildcats broke a 12-12 tie with a 9-3 scoring run to take a commanding 21-13 lead. The Lopers made it interesting, scoring seven in a row to get within one at 21-20, but the Wildcats scored the next three points, capped by a Jordan McCormick service ace, and forced a fifth set. Brahmer had five kills and two blocks for the 'Cats in the crucial fourth set, with Beller adding four kills and two blocks.
A four-point run in the final set helped put the match out of reach. UNK brought a three-point deficit down to one at 9-8, but two errors gave Wayne State some breathing room at 11-8. After a UNK score, the Wildcats closed it out with a pair of Cada kills, a Beller kill and Robles service ace for the 15-9 win.
UNK held a .218-.212 hitting advantage on the Wildcats. WSC recorded a season-high 16 blocks in the win and had six service aces, one less than the Lopers.
Beller finished with a career-high 22 kills to lead the Wildcats. Cada followed with 14 kills while Robles and Brahmer each had 11. Brahmer led WSC with nine blocks followed by Bunjer with seven and Beller six.
Senior libero Jordan McCormick had 23 digs with Cada adding 19 and Havyn Heinz 11. Setter Rachel Walker handed out 52 assists.
Wayne State advances to Saturday’s final against host Concordia-St. Paul, who dismissed Central Missouri in four sets in Friday’s other semifinal. The finals begin at 7 p.m.