Boise State

Boise State volleyball beats Western Kentucky in NCAA Tournament opener; Stanford next

The Boise State volleyball team celebrates during its first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Western Kentucky on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.
The Boise State volleyball team celebrates during its first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Western Kentucky on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. isiphotos.com

There was a lot of blue and orange in Maples Pavilion on Friday night, all there to witness history.

And when Boise State’s Janell Walley and Maddy O’Donnell combined to block a Western Kentucky kill attempt, history it was.

The Broncos swept the 20th-ranked Lady Toppers 28-26, 25-22, 27-25 in a first-round NCAA women’s volleyball match on the Stanford campus.

It was the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the Broncos (26-6), who chase another win Saturday, facing national No. 6 seed Stanford (22-7) in a second-round match at 8 p.m. MT.

Boise State, the Mountain West champion for the first time in program history, has won 15 straight matches.

Stanford played after Boise State and swept Denver 25-12, 25-22, 25-20. The Cardinal are second in NCAA history with six national championships, the most recent in 2004.

“We have, at least, 45 minutes to celebrate,” Boise State coach Shawn Garus said. “We didn’t come for just this match. We came to play Boise State volleyball.

“We are right where we want to be. Without looking past Western Kentucky, this is where we wanted to be. We’re going to celebrate a few minutes with all the family and friends who came out to watch us.”

Shawn Garus, in his eighth season at Boise State, has won back-to-back Mountain West coach of the year honors and will take the Broncos to their first NCAA Tournament.

The Boise State fans started early, cheering every successful hit in warm-ups by the Broncos, even if there was no opposition.

The opening game was a flat-out thriller, laced with 19 ties and five lead changes. Outside hitter Sabryn Roberts, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, put one down the line for a 14-13 Broncos lead. Roberts rose once more for a kill for a 15-14 Broncos edge. She was one of two Boise State players who finished with 11 kills, with junior middle blocker Kaitlyn Oliver being the other.

“Sabryn is an adrenaline player,” Garus said. “She had a really good match.”

Boise State had two previous set points before junior Jaymee-Lee Bulda set O’Donnell for a final kill, prompting fist pumps all around. Bulda was spectacular, notching 38 assists.

“Jaymee-Lee can read what the other team is doing,” Oliver said. “They had a lot of blockers releasing one side or the other. They keyed on the middles, then keyed on Sierra (Nobley). We had a balanced offense and that helped us.”

Nobley, the Mountain West player of the year, was the best player on the floor, racking up 17 kills, sharing match-high honors with Alyssa Cavanaugh of Western Kentucky (30-3).

Nobley, a junior outside hitter, is three kills short of her single-season mark of 513. She has 1,455 kills in her career, second all-time at Boise State.

Nobley, who had 12 digs, and O’Donnell, the only senior on the roster, led the Broncos’ block party. Boise State had 22 assisted blocks, one solo by Nobley.

“We got the blocks we needed as we saw more and more what they were good at offensively,” Garus said. “There was some matchup changes in the third set and our block really picked up.”

After Nobley ended the second set with a kill, the Lady Toppers didn’t fold, taking a 12-9 lead in the third. A block by Nobley and a block by Oliver tied the set 13-13.

Trailing 22-20, Boise State had a booming kill by Nobley, but the Lady Toppers surged to a 24-22 lead as Garus called his last timeout of the game.

Oliver, effective on the slide all night, put one down. Nobley then executed a dink from the back row. Tied 25-25, the Lady Toppers hit their 10th service error of the night, setting it up for heroics from Walley and O’Donnell.

Boise State junior libero Maddi Osburn (Vallivue High) had a match-high 14 digs for the Broncos.

Western Kentucky, the Conference USA champion, entered the 64-team tournament on a 21-match win streak.

“I don’t think either team had their ‘A’ game,” Garus said. “But we were a little better from the service line at the beginning.”

Bottom line, the Broncos made history with style points.

“It feels amazing,” Oliver said. “It was our goal to get here. Winning the Mountain West championship was our first goal. We didn’t want to just go to the NCAA Tournament. We wanted to win. We weren’t just content to be here.”

Two other Mountain West programs played Friday night: UNLV defeated Utah 3-1, and Colorado State lost to Kentucky 3-1.

How to watch Saturday

The Boise State-Stanford second-round match starts at 8 p.m. MT. It will be streamed live and free (pac-12.com/live/stanford-university).

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