Pumped up by a big crowd, Krista Vansant had a big night.
Vansant, a second-team All-American a year ago, posted a match-high 14 kills, 11 in the first two sets, as the Washington volleyball team fought off a better-than-advertised Arizona squad 3-1 Friday night in front of 4,589 spectators at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The sixth-ranked Huskies (12-1, 4-1 Pac-12) looked invincible early but ultimately had to rally and counterpunch the unranked Wildcats (12-5, 2-3) in the final two sets to win their conference home opener 25-10, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20.
A large contingent of students, attracted by plenty of giveaways (from T-shirts to sunglasses) tied to the “Blackout Weekend” theme surrounding Saturday’s Washington-Oregon football game, loaded the north side of the arena and created a raucous atmosphere.
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“It was so gnarly,” said Vansant, a junior outside hitter who twice this season has been named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week. “It was so sweet.”
After drilling the Wildcats in the first set and using Cassie Strickland’s rocket-powered jump serve to take command of the second set (her impressive serve triggered a 5-0 run at mid-set to wipe out a two-point deficit), the Huskies had to battle through the final two sets.
“Those first two games were just too easy, and human nature set in,” Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said. “We got relaxed and they jumped on us.”
Lead by junior Madi Kingdon, who entered the match ranked second in the Pac-12 in kills, Arizona had three hitters with double-digit kills, topped by Kingdon’s 13.
“They’re a good team,” McLaughlin said. “They’ve got good firepower.”
Washington, ranked seventh in the country in hitting percentage, hit below its .309 average (.276) against Arizona.
Vansant hit .387 (14 kills, two errors, 31 attacks) while Kaleigh Nelson added nine kills with just one error on 24 swings (.333).
The Huskies struggled passing during the third set and too often resorted to tips in the final two sets.
“We tipped too much,” McLaughlin said, “In point-scoring situations, where we dig a ball and they don’t hit clean, we’ve got to learn how to make them pay, and you don’t do that by tipping.
“It doesn’t always come right to you, so you’ve got to go get it and work to be a hitter and take some chances. We’ve got to do a better job of risk management.”
Washington plays host to 16th-ranked Arizona State, upset 3-2 at Washington State on Friday night, on Sunday at 3 p.m.