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Washington State volleyball trying to beef up NCAA Tournament resume as regular season winds down

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 17, 2021

Washington State outside hitter Penny Tusa serves during a Sept. 26 match against Washington.  (SHELLY HANKS/WSU ATHLETICS)
Washington State outside hitter Penny Tusa serves during a Sept. 26 match against Washington. (SHELLY HANKS/WSU ATHLETICS)

Washington State volleyball has a pair of important objectives entering its final homestand.

One, send lone senior Penny Tusa out in style in her last Bohler Gym matches against No. 16 Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Sunday.

Two, enhance the Cougars’ resume in hopes of securing the program’s sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Tusa is a so-called super senior, a fifth-year player taking advantage of the NCAA ruling to grant athletes an extra year due to COVID-19 interruptions last season. She’s a super senior in other ways with her versatility to contribute in multiple roles and as the program’s all-time leader in aces.

Tusa moved past LaToya Harris into the top spot in Saturday’s loss at Stanford. Tusa finished with three aces, giving her 145 in her career, two ahead of Harris. The 5-foot-8 Tusa closed in on Harris with nine aces in WSU’s two previous matches, wins over Arizona State and Cal.

“We as coaches were thinking, ‘OK, she can get this by the end of the season,’ ” Cougars coach Jen Greeny said. “She just took it upon herself to get it done. Her teammates were so great, especially (libero) Karly Basham. Any time Penny would get an ace, Karly would turn around, ‘Four more, three more.’

“We can’t say enough about Penny and what she’s meant to this program. We were super excited she got this extra year because last year was cut short, and I don’t think she wanted to end her career that way.”

The 22nd-ranked Cougars don’t want their season to end after next week’s road trip to No. 17 Utah and No. 12 Washington completes the regular season. WSU (17-9, 11-5 Pac-12) is tied for third with Oregon and Utah, two games behind Washington and No. 13 UCLA.

WSU has wins over Washington, Oregon and then-No. 24 Colorado. The Cougars dropped two heartbreaking five-set matches to UCLA. The Pac-12 hasn’t quite been its powerful self this season, and no teams are ranked in the top 10.

WSU is sixth among Pac-12 programs at No. 38 in RPI, one of the main tools used by the selection committee. Greeny believes the Cougars are positioned to earn a spot in the 64-team NCAA Tournament but would feel more comfortable with strong showings in the next four matches.

“It’s interesting this year, the RPI is not working in our favor,” she said. “Us as a conference, the RPI isn’t great. We have a lot to play for. We’re just trying to solidify another chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament. We have a couple injuries right now. Really, we’re trying to do the best we can and put a great lineup together against a really good Oregon team.”

Junior Pia Timmer, a standout outside hitter from Germany, went down with an injury during the win over California and didn’t play against Stanford. Timmer ranks fifth in the conference at 3.91 kills per set.

“Pia arguably is our best player, from the service line, passing and defense, as an outside hitter and the numbers she’s put up this year,” Greeny said. “If we don’t have her, everybody else needs to step up and gel together as a team. Volleyball is the ultimate team sport, in my opinion, and one person can’t get it done themselves.”

Eagles enter conference tourney

Eastern Washington is back in the Big Sky Tournament for the second straight season under fourth-year coach Leslie Flores-Cloud. The seventh-seeded Eagles face No. 2 Northern Colorado (21-6, 13-3 Big Sky) on Thursday in Ogden, Utah.

EWU (11-13, 7-9) earned the program’s most wins overall and in conference since 2016. The Eagles were the eighth seed last season in their first tournament appearance since 2016.

Senior Ashlyn Blotzer, second in the conference with a .322 hitting percentage, earned second-team All-Big Sky for the second straight year. Setter Lindsey Russell, the former Mead High and Community Colleges of Spokane standout, is sixth in the Big Sky at 7.15 assists per set.

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