Vikings Fall Just Short In National Championship Match
Western Washington advanced to its second-ever national championship match and finished the season with a 30-4 overall record. Photo by Bri Nellis.
Western Washington advanced to its second-ever national championship match and finished the season with a 30-4 overall record. Photo by Bri Nellis.

Saturday, December 1, 2018
by Western Washington Athletic Communications

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Western Washington dropped a five-set thriller against the University of Tampa in the 2018 NCAA Division II Volleyball Championship match on Saturday at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University.

The Vikings had their 30-match winning streak snapped, finishing the season with a historic 30-4 record while earning the second national runner-up trophy in program history. Tampa improved to 33-4 to win its third national championship while playing in its seventh national title match.

Western Washington was up up 2-1 in the match and held a 14-7 lead in the fourth set, but Tampa stormed back to tie the match 2-2 with a 25-23 win in the fourth set and won the deciding fifth set 15-11. Game scores were 25-21, 18-25, 25-21, 23-25, 11-15 in the first NCAA II national championship match to go five sets since 2012.

 The Vikings were led by a 23-kill, 23-dig double-double by First Team All-American outside hitter Abby Phelps and 16 kills apiece from junior middle Kayleigh Harper and redshirt freshman outside hitter Gabby Gunterman. Harper added a team-high seven blocks.

Phelps ended her career as WWU’s all-time leader in kills (1,628) and points (1,850.0), with the five-member senior class leading the Vikings to four consecutive NCAA appearances, a pair of trips to the national tournament and a combined record of 107-22.

Senior setter Brette Boesel tallied 59 assists and 5 blocks, ending her career with 4,371 career assists while playing every match (129) and set (457) of her career. Phelps, Harper and Boesel were all named to the All-Tournament Team.

The Spartans were led by 17 kills and 8 blocks by Second Team All-American Sorrel Houghton, who recorded 17 kills and 8 blocks. First Team All-American outside hitter Katie McKiel and senior middle blocker Alexandra Misca each had 13 kills, with Misca recording a match-high 11 blocks. Junior setter Sammy Mueller recorded 46 assists and 11 digs while earning tournament MVP honors.

The Vikings took the opening set 25-21, using a 9-0 run to build an early lead. But Tampa fought back with a 8-2 run of its own to go from trailing 16-11 to leading 19-18. With the set tied 19-19, the sixth tie of the stanza, WWU used a 7-2 run to close out the set and go up 1-0. Gunterman led the Vikings with 6 kills (.500) and Harper added 5 kills (.556). WWU hit .304 in the set, while holding the Spartans to a .178 mark.

Tampa evened the match 1-1 with a 25-18 second-set victory. UT led from the start, building an early 7-3 lead and led the rest of the way. WWU closed the gap to three points at 11-8, but the Spartans went on a 4-1 run to build the lead back up to six points at 15-9. The Vikings hit .059 in the set, with Phelps leading the team with seven kills (.438). Tampa hit .250 with Misca and McKiel each tabbing 5 kills.

The Vikings went up 2-1 with a 25-21 third-set victory, led by eight kills from Phelps on a .421 hitting percentage. WWU led from the start, scoring the first three points of the set, and never held a lead of less than two points the rest of the way. The Vikings grew the lead to six points at 23-17, before the Spartans went on a 5-1 run to close to within two points at 23-21. After a WWU timeout, the Vikings closed out the set on kills by Phelps and Harper.

The Vikings stormed out to a 6-2 lead in the fourth set and build a seven-point advantage at 14-7, but the Spartans went on a critical 9-2 run to climb back into the set and level the score 16-16. WWU led 19-18 when a Tampa attack was ruled touched a the net by the Vikings, tying the set at 19-19. The Vikings challenged the call, but the refereed upheld the call to keep the set tied. Western went up 20-19 on a kill by Michaela Hall, but went on a 4-0 run, and held off the Vikings at the end for the 25-23 victory to push the match to the deciding fifth set.

Tampa got off to a quick start in the final set building a 5-2 lead, but the Vikings used a quick 3-1 run to pull to within one point at 6-5. The Spartans won the race to eight switching sides with an 8-6 lead, and extended the lead to three points at 12-9. A kill by Harper and blocks from Hall and Phelps brought the Vikings to within one point at 12-11 forcing a UT timeout, but the Spartans scored the next three points to secure the national championship. Houghton had 5 of her team-high 17 kills in the final set. Gunterman led the Vikings with three kills in the fifth to bring her match total to a career-high-tying 16 kills.