COLLEGE PARK -- Can a very good little team beat a very good big team?
If UCLA women's volleyball coach Andy Banachowski is going to win his first NCAA title in six years in Saturday's national championship match, the relatively tiny, but top-ranked Bruins will have to slay the giants of fifth-ranked Pacific.
"They just kept hitting over them," Banachowski said of Pacific's 15-13, 11-15, 15-9, 15-12 win over second-ranked Nebraska in the second semifinal at Cole Field House last night.
"We're not even that big. We're going to have a tough time stopping them."
Banachowski, whose shorter but quicker Bruins defeated 17th-ranked Louisiana State, 15-13, 15-10, 15-6, had to watch Pacific's Krissy Fifer soar over the Cornhuskers (32-3) for kill after kill, to break open what had been a tight match.
"She played a very strong match," said Nebraska coach Terry Pettit. "That was the difference. Both teams struggled in the first couple of games and then they got the ball to her. She terminated."
Fifer, a 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter from Los Altos, Calif., had 21 kills in 37 attempts.
In the fourth game, she led the Tigers (30-6) on an 8-0 run to bring Pacific from a 7-3 deficit to an 11-7 lead that sealed the match.
"I just go with the flow," said Fifer. "When I get into the game, I don't know what I do."
Fifer and Cathey Scotlan, a 6-1 senior middle blocker from Oakland, will be the keys for Pacific tomorrow (7:30 p.m.).
By contrast, coach John Dunning said Pacific will likely stay away from Natalie Williams, a 6-1 sophomore hitter and All-America, who had five service aces against LSU.
"I know that I am going to play my best and my teammates are going to play their best," said Williams.
The top-ranked Bruins (35-1) exorcised more than a few demons in beating LSU (34-7).
UCLA had been top seed in the Final Four the last two years only to lose in the semifinals each time.
So, after LSU had battled back to take a 12-11 lead in the first game, after trailing 8-3, a slight wave of concern rolled over the Bruins.
"In the beginning, we were really happy to get out there and get playing," said Samantha Shaver, a 5-9 senior hitter.
"When we got into the match and got a lead, we were going OK. But when they got a lead, we got a little tense. Once we started controlling the tempo, we settled down."
From there, the match belonged to UCLA, as they countered the size advantage of LSU and its ferocious outside hitter Monique Adams.
Banachowski said the Bruins had won the match "ugly," failing to pass and dig effectively.
But UCLA attacked extremely well, with 56 kills in 113 attempts.
"I look at our hitting statistics and they are pretty impressive," said Banachowski. "Maybe the match was better than I thought. It only looked good when it was over."