Sugar Bears fall in straight sets in NCAA Tourney debut
Photo Courtesy: UCA Athletics (Bradley Widding)
SEATTLE, Wash. (UCA) -- The Central Arkansas Sugar Bears fell to the 13th -seeded Washington Huskies in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Championship Friday night. The match was the first ever NCAA Tournament match for the Sugar Bears.
After the Sugar Bears jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, Washington came to life, tying the match at 4-4 and leading for the rest of the set. Central Arkansas was unable to hit at a positive clip, turning in a percentage of -.067 for the set, while the Huskies hit .368. Washington recorded 12 block assists in the first set.
The Sugar Bears again grabbed an early lead in the second set, this time at 2-0, before Washington again tied it at 4-4. With the teams tied at 6-6, Washington used an 8-2 run to give themselves some space with a 14-8 lead. Central Arkansas battled back though going on a 4-0 run of their own to force a Washington time out with the Huskies up 17-15. The gap would remain at two until, at 18-16; Washington went on a 7-1 run to close out the second set, taking the 25-17 victory. The Sugar Bears hit .088 for the second set and picked up their first blocks of the match, a combo from Alicia Dittrich and Jessica Nagy, and a solo block from Scout Brooks. Washington turned in a hitting percentage of .286 for the set, adding six block assists to push their total to 18 for the match.
The third set started with Washington grabbing a small early lead, and Central Arkansas coming back to tie the set at 4-4. The two teams were within two points of each other for much of the early part of the set, until Washington used a 5-0 run to push their advantage to 13-8, following a Central Arkansas run, the score difference remained at two or three points until late, when the Huskies closed out the match with a 6-1 run.
"We knew about the history of their program," said Central Arkansas coach David McFatrich of the Huskies, who have made 11 straight NCAA Tournament Appearances. "This is the best team we've ever played, and we got better with each set. This is only our third year of eligibility, so we're tickled to be here, but don't get me wrong: we're really disappointed that we lost. We came out here to win, which we knew would be very tough. We just hope that we gave an effort that makes Central Arkansas proud."
For the match, Central Arkansas hit .032, led by Taylor Hammonds, who hit .273 with five kills. Scout Brooks and Jessica Nagy tied for the team lead in kills, with nine. Brooks came up just a dig short of a double-double, recording nine, as well as making the only solo block for either team. Shelbee Berringer tied Brooks for the team lead in digs, and Marissa Collins had a match-high 32 assists.
Washington had a hitting percentage of .347 for the night, led by Melanie Wade, who hit .625 on her way to five kills, four block assists, and a dig. Kylin Munoz and Cassie Strickland lead the Huskies with seven kills apiece, while Amanda Gil paced the Washington defense with nine block assists. Katy Beals and Jenni Nogueras combined to tie Collins with 32 assists, as Beals lead Washington with 19 assists and Nogueras chipped in 12.
The loss drops Central Arkansas to 30-5 on the season, which still qualifies as the best record the Sugar Bears have ever compiled. In a season of firsts, the first-ever NCAA Tourney match on Friday is something that the Sugar Bears don't want to be a one-time thing. "We love this feeling," exclaimed McFatrich after the match. "This means more to us and to our school than we ever could have imagined. I've been hearing from volleyball alumni and Central Arkansas fans all over the world the last few days. This brings us together in a way that we never expected. All we can say is: we're hungry, and we want to come back."