Pioneers advance to Final Four, face unbeaten UT-Brownsville - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Pioneers advance to Final Four, face unbeaten UT-Brownsville

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Provided by Wayland Baptist Athletics

SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Wayland Baptist victimized another ranked team on Friday night when the Pioneers took out The Master's (Calif.), 25-16, 19-25, 25-18, 25-18, in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Volleyball National Championships.

"It was great," Wayland coach Jim Giacomazzi said of his team's latest "upset" of a higher-ranked team.

Now, it's time to try to take down the biggest dog of them all!

No. 19 Wayland (36-6) takes the floor against top-ranked University of Texas at Brownsville (34-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the winner earning the right to play for the national championship on Saturday night.

"We've been seed-busters this whole tournament, so we might as well go get No. 1 now," Giacomazzi said of the upcoming showdown with the unbeaten Ocelots, who advanced with a 25-20, 25-14, 21-25, 25-11 quarterfinals victory over sixth-ranked Midland (Neb.).

UT-Brownsville's third-set loss to Midland was its first dropped set of the national championships and only their sixth all season.

"They're freaky good," Giacomazzi said.

It will be the third meeting all-time between WBU and UTB. The most recent meeting came last season at an early-season match played at Lubbock Christian University's Rip Griffin Center. The defending national champion Ocelots were ranked No. 1 then, too, and a young, inexperienced Wayland team managed to steal the first set, 25-19.

"Then they woke up," Giacomazzi said of UTB, which won the next three, 25-18, 25-19, 25-18.

UTB went on to finish last season 30-2, just missing a chance to repeat its national championship when the Ocelots lost in the national semifinals. On Saturday morning, Wayland will try to knock out UTB in the semis for the second straight year.

"It's the Texas state championship," joked Giacomazzi.

The match between the Pioneers and Ocelots at LCU began at 11 a.m., the same start time for Saturday's morning's opening semifinal. That fact was not lost on Giacomazzi, who hopes the Pioneers, like last season, can catch the Ocelots a bit sleepy.

"I hope we get three off them before they wake up," he said.

It will take the Pioneers' best effort...and then some...to take down UT-Brownsville, whose players hail from seven different countries and whose average age is 25.

"They're all very, very talented, very experienced and very athletic," Giacomazzi said. "They don't have one weakness to exploit. Where so far we've been able to find somebody to pick on, we won't have that with them."

The coach said the Pioneers will give it their best shot, though.

"We've got nothing to lose...they're supposed to beat us."

So were a lot of other teams in Sioux City, and none have been able to do it.

The latest to try was The Master's, a team that handed Wayland its first loss of the season on Sept. 6 -- exactly three months earlier -- at a tournament in California. That match went the distance, with the Mustangs prevailing in the fifth set, 15-13.

Friday night's rematch wasn't that close.

Wayland strolled to a 25-16 first-set victory after springing to a 10-2 lead and never letting The Master's in it.

The Mustangs realized their first lead of the match at 9-8 in set two, and Wayland was unable to regain the upper hand. The Pioneers got with 19-18 before the Californians went on a 6-1 set-ending run to tie the match.

Giacomazzi was a bit concerned his team, which played Friday morning when The Master's had an elimination bracket first-round bye, might be running out of gas.

"We were tired," he said. "I told them we may have played one more match than (The Master's), but they expended as much energy as we have (because) we swept the teams we needed to sweep."

The coach also reminded his team that, "This team's in our way. We want to go play UT-Brownsville."

Thanks to those words, and a quick-energy shot of candy bars and cookies, plus Giacomazzi's promise of post-match ice cream, the Pioneers found another gear midway through the third set.

With the score knotted at 13, a block by Shahala Hawkins followed by a kill by Claire Jacobsma and an ace by Ashley Welch helped produce a 5-0 run that put the Pioneers up for good. Back-to-back kills by Grecia Rivera ended it, 25-18.

The re-energized Pioneers then ran away with the fourth set, scoring eight straight points behind a flurry of Hawkins' kills to assume a 9-2 lead. The Mustangs never got closer than five points the rest of the way, and Chelsey Driskill and Rivera put on he finishing touches with back-to-back kills.

"They worked really hard," Giacomazzi said of his team.

Wayland ended with a season-high 18 blocks, with Hawkins recording three solo and six assists and Jacobsma three solo and five assists. Driskill chipped in a pair of loners and four helpers.

"That's phenomenal," Giacomazzi said of the Pioneers' blocking numbers. "That was awesome."

Hawkins had another great hitting night as well, getting 15 kills and hitting .342. Jacobsma and Rivera added a dozen kills each, with Jacobsma committing just one error in 20 swings or a .550 hitting percentage. Driskill finished with eight kills on an error-free night and hit .333.

In the digs department, Mercades Torres went down for a team-high 17 while Rivera got 13 and Welch 12. Ashlyn Westerman produced 44 assists, and she and Rivera had two aces each.

With each win, the Pioneers are extending school history, and each time they walk off the floor it's with a more impressive win than the last.

"We're zapped right now. I'm pooped and I haven't played a single set," Giacomazzi said. "This (national tournament) is the hardest thing we've done. But this is a life lesson. I tell the girls there are going to be times in your life when you're tired, frustrated...and you just have to pull your boot straps up a little higher."

It's going to take some pretty tall boots to get past UT-Brownsville on Saturday, but the Pioneers may just be a team of destiny.

"We'll get some good nutrition and a good night's rest," Giacomazzi said, "and then wake up...and ambush those Ocelots."

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