RENO -- Every game is important at postseason time, a point University of Nevada volleyball coach Devin Scruggs made sure to emphasize before the Wolf Pack took the floor for their opener at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday.
"I told them we're a team on a mission and that this was the first step," Scruggs said. "We set some goals as a team before the season and getting there (to the NCAA Tournament) is certainly one of our goals, but we want to get there with the automatic berth."
The Wolf Pack took their first step toward trying to win the WAC Tournament -- and earning that automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament -- by sweeping to a three-game victory at home against San Jose State in the Virginia Street Gym. The Wolf Pack won 30-25, 30-24, 30-26.
The Wolf Pack (19-7) will continue their quest tonight when they face Rice at 7 p.m. in the semifinals at the Virginia Street Gym. Four-time defending tournament champion Hawai'i plays Fresno State at 5 p.m. in the other semifinal.
Senior middle blocker Salaia Salave'a turned in a strong all-around performance as she rang up a double-double with 13 kills and 14 digs, along eight blocks to lead Nevada's balanced attack. Karen Adams delivered 12 kills and Carly Sorensen 11, while freshmen Teal Ericson and Karly Sipherd chipped in with nine and eight respectively.
Call this a team effort.
"Now, it' not just about stopping one, it's about stopping all six of us, and I think we proved today that any one of us can put it away," said Salave'a, who was named first-team all-conference earlier in the week.
Tristin Adams, a sophomore setter from Fallon, echoed that.
"It's a setters dream when everybody can put it away. That makes my job real easy," said Adams, who handed out 42 assists and also had 10 digs, four blocks and three kills.
This win didn't come easily, however, because the scrappy San Jose State Spartans (14-13) held leads in the first and third games. The score was tied five times in Game 1 and three more times in Game 2.
The score was tied 16-16 in Game 1 when Salave'a and Karen Adams combined on a block to put the Wolf Pack ahead. Salave'a made it 18-16 with a block at the end of a long rally that saw digs from Christine Harms (a diving one-armed effort) and Tristin Adams. San Jose still only trailed 24-22 when North Tahoe product Ericson drilled a shot down the line. Next, Salave'a put down a block and then it was Salave'a finding an open spot in the defense with a left-hand shot down the line to put the Wolf Pack in the driver's seat.
Sorensen, another Fallon product, had three kills and a service ace down the stretch to help Nevada close out Game 2.
Harms, who has made the transition from outside hitter to full-time libero during the course of this season, was a standout with her 12 digs.
"She wants every ball, and we want to see her get those," Scruggs said. "She's quiet, yet she's an important part of our offense and defense. She just does amazing things with her defense and passing to keep rallies going."
Carrie Nash, a 5-foot-6 senior outside hitter, had a double-double for San Jose State with 10 kills and 10 digs. Dana Rudd also had 10 kills.
Nevada enjoyed a 28-6 advantage in blocks and also outhit the Spartans .246-.144 during the match.
"I was very pleased," Scruggs said. "I don't think we played our best match of the season by any means, but we played well enough to get to the next round, and that was the most important thing."
The Wolf Pack had already beaten the Spartans twice in straight sets during the regular season, but this postseason win was easily the most important.
"I stressed to them how important this match was going to be ... that this was probably our most important match of the tournament," Scruggs said. "A loss to San Jose State would have ended our goal of getting an automatic berth, and it probably would have kept us out of an at-large bid of any kind."
Hawaii 3, SMU 0
One night after No. 1 ranked Washington fell from the unbeaten ranks with a five-game loss at Stanford, No. 2 Hawai'i came out and made a statement from the outset of its WAC Tournament opener.
The Rainbow Wahine (24-0) came out firing in Game 1 and never looked back en route to their 30-15, 30-27, 30-20 triumph against the SMU Mustangs.
Hawaii hit for a .469 percentage in the first game and no hitter on the floor was hotter than Victoria Prince, who put down five of her first six hits for kills to help stake Hawai'i to a 24-10 lead. The 6-foot junior finished with 13 kills and .867 hitting efficiency (13-of-15 and no errors). Prince also had a team-high seven blocks.
Alicia Arnott finished with a team-high 14 kills and Susie Boogard had 11 for Hawaii. Setter Kanoe Kamana'o, who was named WAC Player of the Year, had 43 assists to go with 10 digs and six blocks.
Hawai'i hit .327 as a team for the match (53-of-107 with 18 errors).
SMU (13-13), hit .045 as a team, was led by Rachel Giubilato with 10 kills.
RICE 3, TULSA 0
Rice (25-3) continued the most successful season in the program's history by sweeping past Tulsa (16-10) in the final opening round match of the evening. The Owls, who won their last six regular season matches to earn the tournament's No. 2 seed, won the match 30-23, 30-22, 30-25.
Senior outside hitter Lindsey Carter had 16 kills and Kristina Hoban had 38 assists to lead Rice. Olaya Pazo contributed seven kills, seven assists and seven digs for the Owls. Joyce Silva had a match-high 19 kills to lead Tulsa.
FRESNO STATE 3, BOISE STATE 0
Just six days after its regular season-ending victory at home against Boise State to clinch the tournament' No. 5 seed, Fresno State came back and won again to reach the semifinals. The Bulldogs won 30-27, 30-23, 30-23.
Freshman outside hitter Christianna Reneau had 17 kills and Tiffany Bishop 10 to lead Fresno State (15-12) at the net. Robyn Keune had 31 assists. Cameron Flunder had 14 kills to lead Boise State (17-12).
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.