PULLMAN – Washington State’s volleyball team got enough of a test from Grand Canyon University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in Bohler Gym to convince the Cougars (25-7) they are up to the challenge of a tournament run.
Pia Timmer, who supported the Cougars with 15 kills and loomed large in WSU’s second-set comeback, said, “We are really good at fighting back,” after the Cougars defeated the Lopes 25-12, 31-29, 25-17.
“We have been in this situation before,” she said of the marathon second set, “and we got out of it before.”
“We knew this was going to be a tough match. Grand Canyon definitely showed that in the second set,” WSU head coach Jen Greeny said.
When WSU cruised in the opening set, the Cougars were by far the more powerful team up front. They were led by Iman Isanovic, who accounted for eight of her 16 kills for the match.
WSU opened a 15-8 lead before Grand Canyon took a timeout. The Cougars’ edge might have been greater if not for early erratic serving that produced three service errors.
“We were firing on all cylinders,” Greeny said. “Sometimes that gives you a false sense of how good you are. Grand Canyon did a nice job of making some adjustments.”
After the early romp, things quickly got much tougher for WSU. The Cougars and Lopes (23-8) treated a nearly full and loud Bohler Gym to a gem of a second game. WSU had to rally to erase a Grand Canyon early lead, and the teams traded punches until WSU finally prevailed 31-29 as Magda Jehlarova leaped to hammer a back set and slammed it home for the winning point.
Jehlarova had seven kills for the match and a .545 hitting percentage.
In the second set, the Lopes decided not to try to outslug WSU’s big hitters. They dialed back the velocity and looked to loft shots over the WSU block and drop them softly into gaps in the second-row defense. It worked for an early 11-7 lead that prompted Greeny to take a timeout. But the Cougars had little more success solving the Lopes following that break.
“Maybe that first timeout didn’t work, because I had to call a second one,” Greeny said.
The Lopes stiffened their own block, and while they were not threatening much from the front, they turned back a far greater percentage of WSU’s shots than they did in the first game.
The first set was not indicative of Grand Canyon’s game.
“We knew they played good defense and blocked really well,” Greeny said.
In the second set, she pointed out, “they outblocked us 10-5.”
This was the high-water mark for the Lopes, though. While they hung with WSU through a 12-12 score in the third set, the Cougars went on a 7-1 run to lead 19-13, and were never threatened the rest of the way.
WSU faces Dayton in the second round at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Our mentality is on to the next game. On to Dayton,” Isanovic said.
In the opening match, Dayton (32-2) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 27, earning a 26-28, 26-24, 20-25, 25-14, 15-11 victory against Pepperdine (19-9).
The first four sets featured strong defense and long rallies by both sides and leads that seldom varied by more than two points. The Flyers, however, raced to a 12-4 advantage in the final set and withstood a Waves rally. Alyssa Miller hammered home match point over Waves middle blocker Meg Brown, who dove to get to the ball but could not keep it in play.
“That was a battle between those two teams. Dayton found that next gear,” Greeny said. “They are used to winning, and they still have that streak going.”