Thousand Oaks, Calif., Nov. 14, 2015 – Senior Nkiru Udenze became the fourth player this season for No. 1-ranked Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team to notch her 1,000th career kill as the Bears earned a 29-27, 26-24, 25-14 win over No. 7 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges Saturday in the semifinal of the NCAA Thousand Oaks, Calif. Regional.
WashU improved to 34-2 on the season, while C-M-S ended its season with a 27-6 record. The Bears will face the winner Saturday's other semifinal between host and No. 9 California Lutheran University and No. 14 University of Texas at Dallas. The Regional Championship match is scheduled for 2 p.m. (PT) Sunday.
"Those first two sets were really tough," head coach Vanessa Walby said. "We knew that C-M-S was going to come out strong. I thought we came out extremely well. I was impressed with how our girls stayed disciplined and stayed focused because it's hard to finish against teams like that - they're tough."
WashU came out strong to start the match, building a quick 8-2 lead behind two kills and a solo block by junior Amanda Palucki. The Athenas rallied to within 11-10, but junior Rexi Sheredy tooled the block for a kill and Palucki followed with a kill before an ace by senior Allison Zastrow made it 14-10 in favor of the Bears. A kill by Palucki pushed the Bears' lead to 17-11, before C-M-S rallied to within 20-17. A kill from the back row by Udenze and a block by Sheredy and senior Jackie Nelligan forced a C-M-S timeout with WashU leading 22-17. A block by Zastrow and Nelligan and another kill from the back row by Udenze gave the Bears set-point at 24-17. The Athenas battled back, winning the next seven points to tie the score at 24-24. The teams traded points to a 27-27 tie before a cross-court kill by Palucki and an attacking error by the Athenas gave WashU the 29-27 set-one win.
In the second set, WashU jumped out to a 6-0 lead and stretched it to 8-1 on an attacking error by the Athenas. With the Bears holding a 10-5 lead, C-M-S had back-to-back errors and Udenze got an ace off the top of the net to extend the lead to 13-5. Back-to-back kills by Udenze and Sheredy made it 21-14 in favor of WashU, before C-M-S scored five straight points to get to within 21-19. The Bears maintained the lead until an attacking by WashU landed wide and the Athenas got a kill to tie the score at 23-23. After a timeout by WashU, Udenze put away a kill and junior Caroline Dupont got a kill off an overpass to finish the set with a 26-24 win for the Bears.
The Bears took advantage of three early attacking errors by C-M-S in the third set to gain a 6-2 lead. After back-to-back points by the Athenas, Udenze hammered her milestone kill to start a 6-0 run for the Bears that extended their lead to 12-4. C-M-S got to within seven at 14-7, before Dupont tooled the block for a kill to spark a 5-0 run that pushed WashU's lead to 19-7. The Athenas got to within eight, but kills by Udenze, Dupont and Palucki ended the match with a 25-14 win for the Bears.
WashU hit .288 (51-11-139) in the match, while C-M-S finished with a .197 (43-18-127) hitting percentage. Palucki led the Bears with 13 kills while hitting .522 (13-1-23). Udenze added 12 kills and a team-high 12 digs, while Sheredy tallied 11 kills. Zastrow finished with 41 assists, 10 digs and two aces, and freshman Natalie Stephanus chipped in with 11 digs.
Bear Notebook: WashU is 98-19 all-time in the NCAA Tournament … The Bears improved to 2-0 all-time against C-M-S after earning a five-set win over the Athenas Sept. 18 … Udenze joined Nelligan, Sheredy and Dupont in joining the 1,000-kill club this season … Nelligan had three block assists, bringing her season total to 125, which ranks fourth on WashU's all-time single-season list.