RENO -- After being swept out in three straight games by Rice back on Sept. 25, the University of Nevada volleyball team had lost three of five matches and was looking at a 7-5 overall record and 1-1 Western Athletic Conference mark.
It was time for a good talk.
"That seemed to open everybody's eyes," setter Tristin Adams said. "We were in the locker room for a long time afterward and just talked about refocusing and working harder."
Nevada has only lost twice since then - both of which have come at the hands of No. 2 Hawai'i - and on Saturday night, the Wolf Pack (20-7) paid back an old debt by defeating Rice in four games in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament before an announced crowd of 1,209 in the Virginia Street Gym. The Wolf Pack 30-26, 31-29, 28-30, 30-26 to earn another shot at nationally ranked Hawai'i at 3 p.m. in the championship match.
In addition to reaching the finals, the Wolf Pack got past a Rice team (24-4) that had previously lost only to Louisiana State, then No. 1 Minnesota and to Hawai'i, all on the road.
"We're a lot different team now than we were back in September," coach Devin Scruggs said. "We had a serious talk after that loss (to Rice), and they responded."
Salaia Salave'a delivered a big double-double with 20 kills and 17 digs, while Fallon product Carly Sorensen contributed 20 kills and Teal Ericson 13 kills. Adams, a sophomore from Fallon, handed out 53 assists.
But offense wasn't the first aspect Scruggs spoke of afterward.
"I told them that defense basically won that match for us," she said. "We had some key digs in the middle of the fourth game that kept us in the lead."
A glance at the statistic sheet showed the Wolf Pack with 81 digs as a team, with five different players in double digits. Adams led the way with 18, Salave'a had 17, Lindsay Holda 16, while Christine Harms and Karen Adams added 13 each. By comparison, Rice had 69.
"We outdug them," Salave'a said, flashing a smile when she saw those numbers.
The Wolf Pack led by as many as six points, 24-18, in Game 4, but the Owls rallied back to within 27-26. After Scruggs called for a time-out, Adams put up a quick set in the middle for Salave'a, who put it away. Moments later, Sorensen drilled a cross-court shot that bowled over a Rice defender to make it 29-26, and then the match ended with Rice committing a net violation.
Nevada rallied to win a back-and-forth Game 2 that saw four lead changes and nine tie scores. Rice led 27-24 and served for the win at 29-27, but the Wolf Pack scrapped back. The Owls gave up two service errors (they had nine in the first two games) and freshman Karly Sipherd put down a block in the middle to cut the deficit to 29-28 and Salave'a hit to an opening in the corner to give the Wolf Pack a 30-29 lead. Rice called for a time-out at that point, but then gave up the deciding point on a hitting error.
Sorensen delivered seven kills in Game 1 and Salave'a had five -- with four kills and one block to help the Wolf Pack take an 11-6 lead. Rice did pull to within 26-25 on a Olaya Pazo kill, but Karen Adams answered with a kill for the Wolf Pack. And after Rice gave up yet another service error, Salave'a closed the game out with a block.
Pazo finished the match with 18 kills to lead Rice, while 6-foot-3 Tessa Kuykendall had 15 kills and 10 blocks. The taller Owls, who had two 6-3 starters in their lineup, finished with a 16-11 blocking advantage.
HAWAI'I 3, FRESNO STATE 1
The four-time defending tournament champion Rainbow Wahine had some anxious moments before rallying past Fresno State and into the championship round. Hawai'i (25-0) won 30-24, 25-30, 30-25, 30-21.
But Fresno State (15-13), the tournament's No. 5 seed, took Game 2 and held a 19-12 lead in Game 3. Hawai'i launched its comeback with a 10-1 run that included a tip by Victoria Prince that gave the Rainbow Wahine a 21-20 lead. Alicia Arnott went cross-court twice to extend the lead to 22-20 and 23-21, putting the nation's No. 2 ranked team on track to the win.
In Game 1, Hawai'i went ahead to stay on a over-the-shoulder, no-look dink by Kanoe Kamana'o that landed inside the sideline for a 15-14 lead. And in Game 3, Prince closed out the match for Hawai'i with a blast down the line to cap a night in which the 6-foot junior from Kennewick, Wash., had 20 kills and a hitting efficiency of .613 (20 of 31 with one error).
Arnott had a double-double with 19 kills and 15 digs for Hawai'i, as did Susie Boogard with 13 kills and 10 digs. Kamana'o had 56 assists and Ashley Watanabe 20 digs.
Fresno State's Christianna Reneau had a double-double with 20 kills and 10 digs, Tuli Peters contributed 17 kills, Tiffany Bishop 13 kills and Robyn Keune 48 assists.
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.