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The Wildcats had to wait until the very end of the NCAA Division II women’s volleyball selection show Monday, but they’re into the West Regional.

The Central Washington University volleyball team was the last entry announced, and suspense became relief with the announcement that the No. 6 Wildcats made the cut to face No. 3 PacWest Conference champion Chaminade (Honolulu, Hawaii) in the first round at noon Thursday (Dec. 2) at Coussoulis Arena in San Bernardino, Calif.

The winner will advance to face the No. 2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference champion Western Washington/No. 7 Simon Fraser winner in the second round at 5 p.m. Friday, and the West Region final is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“The feeling when we found out we made it was amazing and we are all ecstatic for the opportunity,” said Central sophomore Ashley Kaufman, a 5-foot-8 all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference first-team outside hitter of Hayden, Idaho, who averages 3.11 kills per set and carries 11 assists, 24 aces, 202 digs and 24 blocks.

“We know what’s on the line and the kind of teams we are going to be facing, so we are getting right back into the gym to sharpen some things up so we can bring our best and so we can play at that championship level. All of us could not be more excited and pumped to showcase what we are made of.”

Central (16-8 overall, 12-6 Great Northwest Athletic Conference), in search of its first Division II championship, is into its ninth West Regional in a row by virtue of last year’s tournament being canceled with COVID-19 concerns, and the Wildcats have reached the second round once in that span (2018).

Central won six of its last seven regular-season games and tied Alaska Anchorage (19-11, 12-6) for second in the GNAC behind Western Washington (21-4, 17-1).

“There is always a bit of anxiety and nerves waiting to hear your name called, but once it is, the joy you feel never gets old,” Wildcats coach Mario Andaya said. “If you are not an automatic qualifier and are fighting for an at-large birth, there are a ton of things out of your control. All you can do is hope you did enough and be ready if you are selected. We are playing the best we have all year in a lot of areas, so we are excited to see where that can take us in the playoffs.”

Central dominates serve-receive, out-acing opponents 2-1 and forcing two errors for each one it commits.

Hannah Stires (5-foot-5) is a freshman all-GNAC first-team libero and the GNAC Defensive Player of the Year with a conference-high average of 4.67 digs per set, a .940 receiving percentage, 83 assists and 21 aces.

Tia Andaya (5-foot-9) is a unanimous first-team setter/outside hitter and the Newcomer of the Year as she averages 2.25 kills, 5.07 assists and 2.24 digs per set with 49 blocks and 26 aces, and she set a new GNAC single-season triple-double record with seven to become the first GNAC player with more than two since 2012.

Leanna Shymanski, a 6-foot fifth-year middle blocker with a .320 hitting percentage and 150 kills, a team-high 12 solo blocks and 82 block assists, and Marianna Payne, a 6-foot freshman outside hitter with 234 total kills, 50 digs, four solo blocks and 64 block assists, are honorable mentions.

Chaminade (27-5) is the PacWest champion for the first time since 1996 and enters its fourth West Regional since 2002 in search of its first Division II crown after having reached the West’s second round once (2004).

The Silverswords beat the Wildcats 3-2 Sept. 5 at the Western Washington University Invitational, and the two have split their first four meetings since 2005.

Chaminade rides an eight-game win streak into this year’s regional, out-killing opponents 14-11 per set, out-assisting them 12-10 and out-digging them 18-16.

Junior outside hitter Brooklen Pe’a (6-foot) is the Player of the Year, redshirt junior Alexia Byrnes (5-foot-11) is the Setter of the Year and the Newcomer of the Year, Kahala Kabalis Hoke is the Coach of the Year and Anna Dalla Vecchia (5-foot-7) is a first-team libero.

“Playing Chaminade already gives us an idea of how physical they are and how we match up,” Mario Andaya said. “They are the PacWest champions, so we need to be playing at a championship level ourselves to have a chance to win and move on.”

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