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Wayne State squeaked into the NCAA Division II volleyball tournament as a No. 7 seed in the Central Region. A few big wins later, the Wildcats are in the Elite Eight.

No. 11 Wayne State defeated No. 8 Central Missouri in four sets, No. 4 Southwest Minnesota State in four sets and top-ranked and defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul in three sets to advance to the national quarterfinals, which begin Thursday in Tampa, Florida.

But make no mistake. The Wildcats are in Florida to win.

“This team is far from satisfied,” coach Scott Kniefl said. “We didn’t come down to Tampa for vacation.”

Wayne State (27-7) will play Carson-Newman (Tennessee) at 4 p.m. The semifinals are Friday and the final Saturday.

The Wildcats lost to No. 7 Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament on Nov. 18. While the loss forced Wayne State to await word of an at-large bid, the team used the situation to its advantage.

“(The loss) gave us some time off and some time to prepare,” Kniefl said. “We had almost two full weeks (to prepare) for our regional.”

Wayne State lost to Concordia-St. Paul twice during the regular season before upsetting the Golden Bears on Saturday.

“It showed we can beat any team in the country when we’re playing well,” Kniefl said. “We were clicking on all cylinders.”

The Wildcats have used a balanced attack to get to this point. They are third nationally in digs per set (19.96), and first in attacks per set (41.93). Senior Katie Hughes of Seward lead the team in kills (3.53 per set) and digs (4.81).

Earlier this week, junior middle hitter Alyssa Frauendorfer (Humphrey) was named a third-team All-American, while Courtney VanGroningen (Sterling) received honorable-mention honors.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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