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Originally published Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW volleyball beats Utah 3-0, advances to face Nebraska in Elite Eight

The Washington volleyball team won a big match Friday night, one day after losing a good friend. With their home court overlaid with NCAA-official...

Special to The Seattle Times

The Washington volleyball team won a big match Friday night, one day after losing a good friend.

With their home court overlaid with NCAA-official blue and gray tiles, the fifth-seeded Huskies steamrolled 12th-seeded Utah in a 3-0 sweep, 25-16, 25-20, 25-16, in an NCAA regional semifinal in front of a noisy crowd of 4,904 at Edmundson Pavilion.

Washington (27-4) now advances to face the fourth-seeded Nebraska (30-2) tonight at 8:30 for the right to advance to the Final Four next week in Omaha. The Cornhuskers blitzed unseeded Michigan 3-0 in Friday's early match.

The victory capped an emotional night that came one day after the death of Shayla Holwegner, a 17-year-old Yakima resident whom the team grew close to. Holwegner died Thursday in Yakima of a rare form of bone cancer.

"She was part of our team," McLaughlin said. "We took her on a trip in the spring. She's an impressive girl. She touched our lives far more than we could do for her."

Tonight's match, which will be televised on ESPNU, marks the first time Washington and Nebraska have met since the Huskies upset the Cornhuskers in the 2005 national championship match in San Antonio.

"They're good," McLaughlin said of Nebraska. "It doesn't matter who we play, where we play, when we play, we just have to do our things well. We love that this is what it's all about. You get this far in the season and you work, and you start to get a return."

To defeat the tall, athletic Huskers, the 2006 national champions, Washington will need at least as good a performance as they produced against Utah (26-6).

Airial Salvo, who emerged as a second-team All-American at Utah in 2006 before transferring to Washington, pounded out 15 kills, committing just one error on 29 swings for a hitting percentage of .483, the best of her UW career.

Sophomores Kindra Carlson and Becky Perry each posted 12 kills, Carlson's coming on just 18 attacks with only one error, good for .611. Freshman middle blocker Bianca Rowland had five kills on seven attacks (.714).

As a team, the Huskies hit .413, had no service-receive errors and outpaced Utah in kills, 48-34.

The death of Holwegner was on the minds of the Huskies.

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"She was such a stud in what she overcame," McLaughlin said, adding that the team would attend her funeral. "The time we got to spend with her was just unreal. It was a wonderful thing for us."

The topic brought tears to senior middle blocker Jessica Swarbrick's eyes. "Shayla was an amazing girl and we were just happy to know her."

Junior libero Tamari Miyashiro, who dazzled the crowd with at least a half-dozen body-twisting digs in her game-high total of 14, spoke of Holwegner's courage.

"If all of us could be half as brave as she was, we'll be fine," she said. "She is the most mature 16- or 17-year-old person I ever met, and I think it was an honor for us to meet her. I'm glad we made the connection with her.

"There will never be anyone as brave as her, as mature as she was," she said. "She kind of was my role model. Every time I talked to her, she never shed a tear. We'd talk to her, and we'd start bawling and say, 'You're 16! And you're going through the toughest thing a person could possibly go through, and you never shed a tear. I think that we have to remember people like that.

"Sometimes I think about her while I'm playing, and I go all out, for me and for Shayla. She didn't get to have the opportunities that we have, and she would have given anything to do this. She was a competitor. We only knew her for a year-and-a-half, but she will forever be part of our program, our team, me."

Other game

• In Friday's early match, Nebraska had little trouble eliminating Michigan (28-9) in a swift, efficient and decisive sweep, 25-13, 25-16, 25-18.

The three-time NCAA champions committed just seven errors while spreading the offense around to four players with seven or more kills led by senior Jordan Larson with nine. Larson, a two-time All-American, was a freshman on the 2005 NU team that lost to Washington in San Antonio.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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