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What began as an apparent mismatch evolved into a roof-raising thriller as the Washington volleyball team rallied from a dismal start to defeat Stanford, its longtime nemesis, 3-2 Sunday in front of 4,914 at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The sixth-ranked Huskies (15-1, 7-1 Pac-12) used grit and savvy to outlast seventh-ranked Stanford (13-4, 6-2) in a heart-clutching duel between two volleyball heavyweights that involved what seemed to be dozens of momentum swings, 14-25, 25-21, 25-11, 22-25, 15-12.

“We can battle,” UW coach Jim McLaughlin said, “and the personality is starting to surface. When people do their jobs, we’re a really good team.”

Facing a lineup that included two of the Pac-12’s top attackers (Stanford’s Carly Wopat began the weekend No. 1 in hitting percentage at .498, and 6-foot-3 middle blocker Inky Ajanaku was No. 3 at .411), the Huskies leaned on junior Krista Vansant and 5-8 sophomore Cassie Strickland to counterpunch the Cardinal’s conference-leading offense.

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Vansant coupled a season-high 23 kills with a career-high 20 digs, committing just four errors on 54 swings (.342 for the night). Strickland contributed 12 kills, 13 digs and thousands of BTUs of emotional heat to help fuel UW’s comeback from a
desultory start.

Tied 4-4 to open the first, the Huskies suddenly went off the rails with eight attack errors. UW hit minus-.026, a rare negative number for a team ranked sixth nationally in hitting percentage.

Having lost five of its past six matches to Stanford, traditionally viewed as UW’s most persistent obstacle in volleyball, it was a grim beginning.

“We didn’t give up,” Strickland said. “It just wasn’t clicking for us. When we switched sides (for the second set), you could see in everyone’s eyes it wasn’t going to be some three-and-out for Stanford. The intensity was there. The score is 0-0. It’s a whole new set. I could see everyone was ready to battle.”

The Huskies trailed 18-15 in the second set but responded with a 7-0 run on a serving sequence by Vansant that included an ace and three kills by Kaleigh Nelson (of her nine for the night). Stanford never pulled closer than two points.

The Cardinal had its own meltdown in the third set (four net violations) while the Huskies posted five aces, two by Katy Beals. Yet Stanford’s Brittany Howard pounded eight kills (on no errors) in the fourth set to even the match. Howard, a 6-3 sophomore, had 14 kills, one of four Cardinal hitters with double-digit kills.

UW led 8-2 early in the fifth set but was ahead just 13-12 when Vansant finished it off with two final kills, the last set up by a valiant Strickland dig.


• UW scored 10 aces to Stanford’s one, with libero Jenna Orlandini posting three (and two each for Beals, Vansant and Melanie Wade). Stanford had 11 service errors to UW’s seven.

• Three of the nation’s top five teams, including No. 1 USC, lost over the weekend. UW is tied with USC for first in the Pac-12.

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