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SEATTLE • Party crashers.
Ranked 12th in the final regular-season coaches poll but denied one of the NCAA volleyball tournament's 16 seeds, BYU punched its own ticket to national respect Saturday night by defeating Nebraska 3-1 in the Seattle Regional final in front of 4,885 at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus.
With the 25-21, 25-20, 25-21 win, BYU (29-4) advances to a national semifinal Thursday against No. 2 seed Texas (27-2) in Oklahoma City. Top-seeded Stanford (33-1) will play defending NCAA champ Penn State (34-3) in the other semi. It is the first trip to the Final Four for BYU since 1993.
"There's a Disney move out," joked BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "Maybe it's 'Snow White' or 'Cinderella' or something like that.
"I wish I had a good answer for those questions. But this is what I said before the match. I knew Penn State was in, Texas was in and Stanford was up big (all schools with more than one NCAA volleyball championship).
"I told the girls: 'Penn State, Stanford, Texas. Who does everybody think is going to win this match?' "Nebraska – Nebraska is the fourth name that everyone out there is going to think will win."
The response? "The girls just jumped out of their seats and got fired up," Olmstead said. "And they played that way. They weren't just going to lay down and die. Those kids just went after it."
How does it feel to go from unknown to Final Four qualifier?
"Unreal," said sophomore middle blocker Amy Boswell who had eight kills, a solo block and five block assists.
After posting 16 blocks in its semifinal win over Florida State, BYU outblocked Nebraska 12-8 and held Nebraska to .173 hitting.
Alexa Gray led BYU with 11 kills and Tambre Nobles added 10. Jennifer Hamson, BYU's 6-foot-7 senior outside hitter, had nine as was named the regional's most outstanding player. Hamson had 30 kills in BYU's semifinal win over Florida State on Friday.
BYU hit .236 and held a slight edge in kills, 45-44. Amber Rolfzen led Nebraska with 11 kills.
"We definitely lost the serve-and-pass battle," Nebraska coach John Cook said. "They were pressuring us the whole time and never let up. When you don't pass the ball or dig the ball to target, the sets are compromised and your hitters are in a tough position. They're the best blocking team in the nation, and we played into that."
The Cougars, ranked No. 12 in the final regular-season coaches' poll, took control of the first set by rallying from a 10-7 deficit with a 5-1 run, then trading points with Nebraska until closing the set with a 7-3 burst with, naturally a block, a combo by Amy Boswell and Alohi Robins-Hardy.
BYU went on a 9-3 run to end the second set, this one punctuated by a block by Hamson and Boswell. The Cougars closed out NU on a vicious cross-court kill by Gray.
"I don't have the words for what these kids have done," Olmstead said.
How vital was BYU's block? "Nebraska was trying to catch our hands, reaching over, and they caught us a bunch," Olmstead said. "I told our girls, just stick with it. These girls are physical, and that, I think, changed some of their shots. They started to roll shots, started to hit some out. It's great to be this really, really good blocking team, but we've got to be good in other areas as well."
Keys to BYU's victory
• BYU returns to the NCAA Final Four in volleyball for the first time since 1993 and faces No. 2 seed Texas on Thursday.
• Jennifer Hamson, 6-foot-7 senior outside hitter, named Seattle Regional most outstanding player.
• Setter Alohi Robins-hardy and libero Ciara Parker provide great defense for BYU with 15 digs each.
• Alexa Gray (11 kills), Tambre Nobles (10) and Jen Hamson (nine) lead BYU offense.