Whitewater, Wis., Nov. 11, 2016 – The Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team defeated Bluffton University on Friday evening to secure the 100th NCAA Tournament victory in school history and advance to the NCAA Regional Final in Whitewater, Wis.
WashU's (24-10 Overall) attack finished with its second best hitting percentage of the season, hitting a combined .402. The Bears nearly doubled Bluffton's (24-9) kills total with 51 total compared to the Beavers 28. WashU also finished with more digs than Bluffton, 50-31.
WashU 3 - Bluffton 0 (26-24, 25-15, 25-15)
The Bears struck first on a kill from senior Caroline Dupont but Bluffton took a large lead until sophomore Natalie Stephanus went to the service line bringing the Bears within four points, 19-15. The Beavers scored five of the next 10 points to put them on the verge of taking the first set. However the Bears fought off four straight Bluffton game-point opportunities to win the first set on a 6-0 run. Senior Rexi Sheredy helped bring the Bears back to within a single point while serving. Bluffton called a timeout with a 24-23 lead. Following the timeout Dupont and sophomore Ifeoma Ufondu combined efforts on a block to tie things up. Ufondu finished the comeback with two straight kills to put WashU ahead 1-0 in the match.
"We realized it was now or never," explained senior Caroline Dupont when asked about how the Bears fought back from a 24-20 first set deficit to sweep Bluffton. "We stuck to our game plan and relaxed a bit to settle in as a team."
The second set was evenly matched more than midway through the action as the teams were tied at 15-all. Dupont gave the Bears the lead with an ace, just one play removed from tying things with a kill. Senior Amanda Palucki expanded the Bears lead to 17-15 with a lofted shot over the Bluffton block, causing the Beaver bench to call timeout. Dupont continued expanding the WashU lead with another ace. Sophomore Julianne Malek helped the Bears put things out of reach with two straight kills. Bluffton responded to another Dupont ace with its final timeout of the set as WashU led 21-15. The Bears did not allow another point to Bluffton as Palucki ended the set with a booming attack that bounced off the Beavers' libero.
WashU's lead was three points in the third set before the Bears went on a 7-0 run to take control. Ufondu had two kills to start the run before a Dupont ace was followed by kills from Palucki and Malek. Senior Rexi Sheredy concluded the match with her seventh kill on the night.
Dupont and Ufondu led the Bears with 13 kills apiece while Ufondu committed zero errors for a career best .684 hitting percentage. Freshman Chloe Stile averaged more than 14 assists per set as she totaled 43 altogether. Freshman Zoe Baxter was the lone Bear to reach double figures in digs, finishing the match with 16 total.
The Bears will face the winner of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Elmhurst College match. The NCAA Regional Final is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Russell Arena.
"We are going to have to keep our tempo and keep our pace heading into tomorrow," said head coach Vanessa Walby. "We have to win together as a group like we did today."
The Bears are only the third NCAA volleyball program to have reached 100 tournament victories. WashU joins Stanford University (109) and Juniata College (102). Be sure to stay up to date on all your Bears scores and awards by following @WashUBears on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.