You've got to win three. Fifth-ranked Washington had no problem winning two sets against No. 2 Stanford. But the crucial third "W" eluded...
You’ve got to win three.
Fifth-ranked Washington had no problem winning two sets against No. 2 Stanford. But the crucial third “W” eluded them.
In a heart-stopping Pac-12 volleyball showdown in front of 4,401 Alaska Airlines Arena fans, the Cardinal overcame one of its worst performances of the season to pull out a 3-2 win (10-25, 28-26, 10-25, 26-24, 15-7) and deny the Huskies a share of the conference lead.
“Terribly, terribly heartbreaking,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin. “And disappointing.”
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When they were good, the Huskies were very, very good.
It was frenetic from the first whistle. Neither team was willing to let a ball drop. The rally at 2-2 when the ball went over the net nearly 30 times was one of the longest in Alaska Airlines Arena history. That point — like most others in the opening set — was won by the Huskies, who passed far better than the Cardinal, and won the first set blocking battle, 6-0.
The result was the biggest one-set defeat suffered by Stanford all season, 25-10.
“We had discipline, serve-to-serve,” said McLaughlin. “Tremendous discipline. We’re doing it for longer periods of time, but we’re not doing it for long enough, clearly.”
The second set was tight all the way. Stanford struggled with Kylin Muñoz’s serves, but Washington was vulnerable to the Cardinal’s right-side attack. The Huskies couldn’t finish two set points, and Stanford prevailed, 28-26.
Washington came out of the break on fire. Stanford was forced to use its two timeouts before it could even score three points. Trailing 14-4, Stanford’s 6-3 freshman middle Inky Ajanaku rose for what seemed like a sure kill on a soaring slide, only to be stuffed by Washington’s 5-foot-8 Cassie Strickland. The Huskies repeated their first-set trick, again holding Stanford to just 10 points.
But the fourth set was just like the second. Stanford’s passing steadily improved, and the Huskies could not hold match point at 24-23.
“You only have so many opportunities in life,” said McLaughlin. “If we make one more play, we’re out of here in four, maybe even three.”
The Huskies (16-2, 7-2) lost their second straight match, despite out-hitting (.194 to.110), and out-blocking (16-7) the Cardinal. Both teams started three freshmen, including Washington’s Melanie Wade, who attended high school close to Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif .
“Mel went into the game and stepped it up,” said fellow middle blocker Amanda Gil. “I’m incredibly proud of the way she blocked.”
“I thought she did a hell of a job,” said McLaughlin. “I really did.”
Sophomore Kaleigh Nelson put up a monster performance, with 15 kills and just two errors (.481). Sophomore Krista Vansant had 58 swings, connecting on 24 kills (.310).
But in the end, it was Stanford’s freshmen who stepped up. Despite struggling early, Ajanaku and Brittany Howard were dominant, helping the Cardinal win the fifth set going away.
“As much as it hurts,” said McLaughlin, “we’ve gotta think about it, grab onto it, understand it, and then get to work.
“I believe they will.”