Nebraska Wesleyan overcame a 2-0 set deficit to outlast 16th-ranked Pacific Lutheran by scores of 26-28, 24-26, 25-19, 25-14 and 15-12 in a five-set thriller in the first round of the NCAA West Regionals Thursday night (Nov. 13) in La Verne, Calif. The Prairie Wolves now advance to the West Region Semifinals to face 4th-ranked and top-seeded University of La Verne on Friday night at 7 pm (PST).
The win marks the first time that NWU has advanced to the second round of the NCAA III Tournament since the 2002, when NWU defeated Fontbonne College.
Nebraska Wesleyan, who is the only unranked team in the West Region Field, limited PLU to hitting percentages of .100, .049 and .081 in the final three sets to advance to Friday's semifinals.
The Lutes had to battle hard to win the first two sets fighting off two set points in the first set. NWU led 24-23 and 25-24, but PLU rallied with two kills then two Prairie Wolf errors gave them the set. In the second set, the Lutes trailed as much as 19-12 before rallying for a 22-20 advantage. NWU retook the lead and had set point at 24-23, but the Lutes scored three straight for the win.
With its season on the line, NWU began its comeback in the third set with its best offensive attack of the match, hitting. 361 to to grab a lead of 20-14 on its way to the win. The fourth set was much of the same, as the Prairie Wolves won the final eight points of the set for the 25-14 win to force a deciding fifth set.
In the fifth set, PLU took an early 7-3 lead before the Prairie Wolves responded with a 10-2 run to take a 13-9 advantage. The Lutes would get no closer than two points, and Abby Bade sent the Prairie Wolves into celebration mode with a kill for the 15-12 win.
Bade led all players with a match-high 21 kills. Two other Prairie Wolves reached double figures in kills as Laura Brammeier had 19 and Cara Ward added 11. Ashley Jedlicka dished out 56 assists, while Kelsey Elman led NWU with 32 digs.
The Nebraska Wesleyan-La Verne match-up is a rematch of a contest played almost a month ago when the Leopards won in three sets. NWU is 20-9 on the season, while La Verne is 23-2. The winner will advance to the championship match to be held on Saturday.
The winner of the of the West Region will travel to Bloomington, Illinois, site of the NCAA Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals held Nov. 20-22 at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University.