WSU volleyball

Washington State players celebrate after beating UCLA during a match earlier this season. The Cougars earned an NCAA tournament berth Sunday.

For the fifth consecutive season, the Washington State women's volleyball team is off to the NCAA tournament.

The Cougars, who lost two of the final three matches and were off for a two-week stretch because of COVID-19 issues within the program, got an at-large bid into this year's event Sunday.

WSU, which finished in fourth place in the conference with an 11-4 record, is seeded 15th nationally, and will receive a first-round bye. The Cougars take on either Western Kentucky or Jackson State in a second-round match at 7:30 p.m. Pacific on April 15 at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Neb.

The entire tournament will be conducted there because of virus protocols. The field, which normally is 64, has been paired down to 48 this season. The top 16 teams were seeded and all received first-round byes. Four courts will be used for four different time spots (9 a.m., 12:30 a.m., 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Pacific) for the first two rounds in the convention center portion of the facility.

If Washington State wins its second-round match, the Cougars will play a regional semifinal April 18.

Washington State is led by sophomores Pia Timmer, Magda Jehlarova and Hannah Pukis. Timmer, an outside hitter, had 160 kills and averaged 3.2 kills per set. Pukis, a setter, is sixth in the Pac-12 with 525 assists. Jehlarova, a middle blocker, led the conference with a .415 hitting percentage and in solo blocks (17).

True freshman outside hitter Julianna Dalton also made an impact with 137 kills and 41 blocks.

The Hilltoppers (21-0) earned Conference USA's automatic bid and will be playing in its 13th NCAA tournament. Western Kentucky, under longtime coach Travis Hudson, owns the fifth-longest active streak of 20 or more wins in a season at 21. WKU only had four matches where it was extended to four sets and none that went to five.

The Hilltoppers are led by junior middle hitter Lauren Matthews, who had 266 kills, averaging almost 4 per set, with a team-best .451 hitting percentage. Senior setter Nadia Dieudonne has 804 assists. Sophomore outside hitter Paige Briggs had 248 kills and leads the way with 241 digs.

The Tigers (11-0) earned the Southwestern Athletic Conference's automatic bid. Jackson State had three matches go four sets and one, on Feb. 7 at Southern, extended to five. The Tigers are making their fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament under longtime coach Rosemarie Washington.

They are led by freshman outside hitter Alexis Williams, who had 132 kills for an average of 3.5 per set, hitting at a .245 clip. Sophomore setter Damassy Thompson had 180 assists and senior setter DeKyra Dennis added 148. Sophomore defensive specialist Alana Washington finished with 11 digs.

Washington State has met Western Kentucky and Jackson State one time each previously. The Cougars beat the Hilltoppers 22-25, 25-17, 25-14, 25-23 on Sept. 14, 2018, in Bowling Green, Ky. The Cougars beat the Tigers 25-12, 25-19, 25-18 on Sept. 13, 2013, in a tournament in Huntsville, Texas.

Walden may be reached at (208) 848-2258, dwalden@lmtribune.com, or on Twitter at @waldo9939.