Like the UW football team, the Washington volleyball team showed it knows how to finish.
Led by Krista Vansant’s 19 kills, the fifth-ranked Huskies generated their best offensive outing in Pac-12 play as they won the volleyball version of the Apple Cup by defeating a tougher-than-expected Washington State squad 3-0 Friday night in front of 3,811 fans at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The win (25-21, 25-21, 25-14) gives the Huskies (26-2, 18-2 Pac-12) their first conference title since 2005. Stanford, 1-1 against UW this season, finishes a game behind at 17-3 after defeating California 3-1 Friday.
Now the Huskies await their NCAA tournament assignment, to be announced Sunday on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m.
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Ranked third in Division I RPI, Washington is a virtual lock to host first- and second-round matches Dec. 6 and 7 and has a chance to be installed as one of four top regional seeds. That would boost its odds of reaching the NCAA Final Four, to be played at KeyArena on Dec. 19 and 21.
UW coach Jim McLaughlin was happy with the conference title, his third in 13 seasons at UW, but already has his eyes on a loftier goal.
“The girls have put in so many days, so many hours, and the investment is so high,” McLaughlin said. “The return you get for all the hard work is maybe the most important lesson you can learn: how to be on a team, work hard and get a return.
“This is a big return. But there’s something bigger. We start a journey now that’s even bigger. But we’ve done what we’re supposed to do. We’ve stayed process-driven. We’ve got to make a couple of improvements and now we’ve got to go play as hard as we can and see if we can win some (postseason) matches.”
Challenged by a WSU squad that had defeated two Top 25 teams in its past four matches, Washington hit .384 for the night. That topped UW’s previous Pac-12 best of .378, produced against the Cougars (18-15, 5-15) in the Pac-12 opener in September.
Vansant was sensational, not committing an attack error until the third set. By then the Huskies were on a roll after having to battle through two tight early sets. Appropriately for senior night, seniors Jenni Nogueras (an ace) and Gabbi Parker (a block followed by a match-point kill) accounted for UW’s final three points.
Vansant hit .457 for the night and recorded 14 digs, just two less than Cassie Strickland’s game-high 16. Junior Kaleigh Nelson finished with 10 kills on 18 swings (.444).
While UW dominated the final stats, it was largely an even match through the first two sets. Both teams played at a high level during the first set, which included 13 ties and only three combined attack errors by both squads. UW hit .472, the Cougars .467.
“It’s good to be in those situations, have composure and stay aggressive,” McLaughlin said. “We did that and pulled off that first game. Then it slowly started to go our way after that.”