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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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It’s A Final Four Field Of Dreams On Paper, Few Match This Lineup

Long Beach State coach Brian Gimmillaro had to dig back in his mental archive to pull out a better field than this.

Stanford coach Don Shaw, who has been to a few of these NCAA Volleyball Championships, rates this year’s field as strong a field as there has been.

Indeed. A simply sensational Final Four field - and one Cinderella.

“We’re excited to be back to the Final Four, which is a tournament of the big three,” Florida coach Mary Wise said. “Certainly, we know that Long Beach, Penn State and Stanford have separated themselves from everybody else in the field.

“I think if you started the NCAA Tournament all over again, regardless of the seeds, those three teams would end up here again.”

The field - which began with 56 Division I hopefuls just two weeks ago - includes top-seeded Penn State (33-1), No. 2 Long Beach State (33-1), No. 3 Stanford (31-2) and fifth-seeded Florida (34-3). Florida’s Gators eliminated No. 4 Wisconsin to earn its fourth Final Four bid since 1992.

Florida meets Penn State tonight at 6 in the Arena, followed by the much-anticipated match between Stanford and Long Beach State. The two California powers have not meet since 1992.

More than 1,000 tickets still are available at the Arena box office or by telephoning 325-SEAT for tonight’s semifinals and Saturday’s noon championship match.

The four teams have a total of seven match losses among them, most of them coming against each other.

Stanford’s Cardinal won it all in 1996, ‘94 and ‘92, while Long Beach took home titles in ‘93 and ‘89. Penn State, a participant in ‘94 and ‘93, is looking for its first national title. So is Florida, which has yet to advance to the championship match.

“Going into Wisconsin, we were four- to five-point underdogs,” said Wise, looking to Florida’s match with Penn State. “I look at it in this match as being a two-touchdown underdog.

“If we could just hang with them, maybe we can put Penn State in a position they haven’t been in over a month, which is a close match,” Wise added.

The Nittany Lions have won their last 11 matches in three straight games. Their only loss this season was to Wisconsin at Madison.

“I haven’t had a a chance to look at Florida. But I know they beat a very good Wisconsin team at Wisconsin,” said Penn State coach Russ Rose, whose team was the last to arrive late Tuesday night. “I’m sure that would get the players’ attention.”

Rose, 19 years as head coach, was named the Tachikara/American Volleyball Coaches Association national coach of the year Wednesday. Penn State setter Bonnie Bremner and middle blocker Terri Zemaitis earned All-America first-team honors while teammate Lauren Cacciamani was named to the second team. UF middle blocker Nina Foster also was named to the first team.

Long Beach setter Misty May is on the first team and teammate Benishe Dillard on the second. Stanford’s Kristin Folkl and Kerri Walsh were selected to the first team. Setter Lisa Sharpley earned second-team honors.

Folkl and Sharpley are two of five Stanford seniors aiming to win a third title in the past four years. However, Stanford, third in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 poll behind Long Beach State and Penn State, considers itself a bit of an underdog.

“I just think it’s going to be a great match. said Shaw. “We’re the third seed here, so we’ve got the uphill climb. I’m hopeful that experience plays a huge part in this. Our team is pretty used to this stuff.”

Long Beach State, winner of 12 straight 3-0 matches, finished the regular season hitting a national-best .330. Penn State was second (.321) and Stanford followed (.315). All three teams are run by All-American setters, but May, a junior, adds an extra dimension with her 2-plus kills average per game.

“They haven’t played anyone this year that hits the ball as well as we do,” said Gimmillaro, who likens the field to a 1989 regional including Pacific, Hawaii and Long Beach, the winner. “Maybe they can block the ball, maybe they can dig the ball. I don’t know.”

Added May: “We’re pretty confident going in. We still have one more team goal and that’s to capture the championship.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. NCAA ONLINE Track the NCAA Tournament through the Final Four in Spokane by browsing Virtually Northwest. You’ll find tourney brackets and related stories at www.virtuallynw.com

2. STANFORD VS. LONG BEACH ST. Setter Stanford Long Beach St. Lisa Sharpley Misty May Sharpley simply is one of the best, but give the edge to May. She’s the talk of the tournament.

Middle Blocker Stanford Long Beach St. Barbara Ifejika Benishe Dillard Dillard earned All-America honors, but Ifejika earns Stanford’s unsung hero honors. The nod goes to Stanford.

Middle Blocker Stanford Long Beach St. Paula McNamee Nique Crump Crump’s nation-leading .431 attack is good enough for us.

Outside hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Kristin Folkl Jenn Synder Four-time All-American. A cross-court kill that always drove the Cougs to their knees. Pac-10 player of the year Folkl’s the one.

Outside hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Jaimi Gregory Anja Grabovac Stanford platoons this position, so we’ll give the edge to the player with the most playing time. Long Beach’s Grabovac.

Rt.-side hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Kerri Walsh Veronica Walls Can anyone stop Walsh? Long Beach will have to put up some serious Walls.

PENN STATE VS. FLORIDA Setter Penn State Florida Bonnie Bremner Nikke Shade Shade’s no slouch, but Bremner’s better.

Middle Blocker Penn State Florida Terri Zemaitis Nina Foster Two great players. Two first-team AllAmericans. But not too tough for us to say Zemaitis.

Middle Blocker Penn State Florida Lauren Cacciamani Heather Wright Cacciamani’s one of the finest with 3.14 kpg. Wright can do no wrong if she’s going hang with her.

Outside hitter Penn State Florida Carrie Schonveld Aurymar Rodriguez Just because we love all players named A-Rod here in the Northwest.

Outside hitter Penn State Florida Christy Cochran Jenni Keene Someone named Cochran will win another court battle.

Right-side hitter Penn State Florida Lindsay Anderson Jenny Manz Just ask Washington State about Manz. Sixteen digs in the regional semi.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. NCAA ONLINE Track the NCAA Tournament through the Final Four in Spokane by browsing Virtually Northwest. You’ll find tourney brackets and related stories at www.virtuallynw.com

2. STANFORD VS. LONG BEACH ST. Setter Stanford Long Beach St. Lisa Sharpley Misty May Sharpley simply is one of the best, but give the edge to May. She’s the talk of the tournament.

Middle Blocker Stanford Long Beach St. Barbara Ifejika Benishe Dillard Dillard earned All-America honors, but Ifejika earns Stanford’s unsung hero honors. The nod goes to Stanford.

Middle Blocker Stanford Long Beach St. Paula McNamee Nique Crump Crump’s nation-leading .431 attack is good enough for us.

Outside hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Kristin Folkl Jenn Synder Four-time All-American. A cross-court kill that always drove the Cougs to their knees. Pac-10 player of the year Folkl’s the one.

Outside hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Jaimi Gregory Anja Grabovac Stanford platoons this position, so we’ll give the edge to the player with the most playing time. Long Beach’s Grabovac.

Rt.-side hitter Stanford Long Beach St. Kerri Walsh Veronica Walls Can anyone stop Walsh? Long Beach will have to put up some serious Walls.

PENN STATE VS. FLORIDA Setter Penn State Florida Bonnie Bremner Nikke Shade Shade’s no slouch, but Bremner’s better.

Middle Blocker Penn State Florida Terri Zemaitis Nina Foster Two great players. Two first-team AllAmericans. But not too tough for us to say Zemaitis.

Middle Blocker Penn State Florida Lauren Cacciamani Heather Wright Cacciamani’s one of the finest with 3.14 kpg. Wright can do no wrong if she’s going hang with her.

Outside hitter Penn State Florida Carrie Schonveld Aurymar Rodriguez Just because we love all players named A-Rod here in the Northwest.

Outside hitter Penn State Florida Christy Cochran Jenni Keene Someone named Cochran will win another court battle.

Right-side hitter Penn State Florida Lindsay Anderson Jenny Manz Just ask Washington State about Manz. Sixteen digs in the regional semi.

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