RENO -- Perseverance paid off big time for the University of Nevada volleyball team Saturday night and the reward was a berth in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship match.
Nevada rebounded from a slow start to defeat Fresno State 3-1 in a two-hour WAC semifinal struggle played before 1,129 in the Virginia Street Gym. The Wolf Pack won 18-30, 30-28, 30-24, 40-38 to earn their first trip to the WAC Tournament championship round and a match against Hawaii at 1 p.m. today.
"I was very pleased with the way we finished," coach Devin Scruggs said. "I wanted our team to come out and play mentally tough and I think they showed that tonight.
"And tomorrow, hopefully they can come out and play a little better offensively," she added.
The Wolf Pack (21-7) is still alive even after a night in which they were at a disadvantage in most of the statistical columns -- all except the scoreboard. After hitting for a meager .068 percentage in losing the first game, they came back to win the next three, capped off by a Game 4 that saw the score tied 20 times and 15 lead changes.
Nevada finished the match with 78 kills and a .210 hitting percentage, compared to 75 kills and a .270 hitting average for Fresno State (22-8). The Bulldogs also held a 14-6 advantage in blocks -- 6-0 in the first game.
"We couldn't hit the ball over the net in that first game," Scruggs said. "I wouldn't say it was so much their blocking, we were just struggling."
The Wolf Pack got back on track behind a balanced attack in which three hitters reached double figures in kills and three others had at least eight. Junior outside hitter Laura Wooley and freshman outside hitter Christine Harms finished with double-doubles -- Wooley with 21 kills and 16 digs, Harms with 13 kills and 18 digs.
There were many other contributions. Freshman Salaia Salavea had 15 kills, three blocks and three service aces (the last ace gave Nevada a 38-37 lead in the last game). Kellie Burton, a Galena High School graduate, had nine kills (.381) and three assists. Senior setter Jill Couwenhoven handed out 55 assists to go with eight kills (.727) and nine digs. Emily Baracco and Lindsay Holda had 12 digs each.
First-team all-conference middle blocker Michelle More was limited to eight kills (.026), but her last came off a quick middle set from Couwenhoven to give the Wolf Pack a 39-38 lead in the fourth game.
"I really felt it was a pretty good team effort," Scruggs said.
Wooley had nine kills in the final game and Harms seven. Wooley had kills down the stretch that gave the Wolf Pack leads of 35-34 and 36-35. Harms had a kill that gave the Wolf Pack a 30-29 lead.
Fresno State was led by Kristen Fenton with 24 kills (.392) and 12 digs. Carrie Hartt also had 14 kills and three solo blocks and Java Johnson 14 kills to go with seven digs.
The two rivals split two matches during the conference season, both winning on their home courts. The Bulldogs had won the last meeting, 3-1 on Nov. 14 in Fresno.
Next up, is 27-1 and No. 3 ranked Hawaii. Scruggs and the Wolf Pack aren't intimidated.
"This is the position we wanted to be in," Scruggs said. "This is our first finals in this conference and we're at home. We're playing the No. 3 team in the country, but we're looking at it as a challenge."