LOS ANGELES — The Washington volleyball team is one step away from playing in a hometown Final Four.
With a decisive 3-0 win in an NCAA regional semifinal over 14th-seeded Kansas at USC’s Galen Center on Friday night, the third-seeded Washington volleyball team needs a win Saturday (ESPNU, 8:30 p.m.) to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2006. Added incentive: This year’s Final Four is at Seattle’s KeyArena Dec. 19 and 21.
“We’re always kind of here (deep in NCAA tournament), we’re always knocking on the door,” said UW coach Jim McLaughlin. “So, hopefully, this time it opens.”
Washington will face sixth-seeded USC (28-5) on Saturday. The Trojans beat Brigham Young 32-30, 25-13, 21-25, 25-16 on Friday.
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UW is 2-0 vs. USC this season, winning 3-1 at the Galen Center on Oct. 27.
The Huskies (29-2) advanced to volleyball’s final eight for the seventh time in McLaughlin’s 13 seasons at UW by confounding Kansas (25-8) with challenging serves and a stout blocking scheme en route to a 25-18, 25-13, 26-24 win.
Junior Krista Vansant led a balanced UW offense with 10 kills (with two errors on 25 swings, .320). Lianna Sybeldon posted eight kills, most on quick sets, and five block assists as Washington outblocked the Jayhawks, the Big 12’s second-place finisher, 9-4. Sybeldon had just one error on 14 attacks and hit .500 for the match.
The Huskies hit .240 for the match, below their .279 average, but forced Kansas into a dozen more errors (25-13) and held the Jayhawks to their worst hitting of the season at .082.
Washington’s service game was also stellar. The Huskies had six aces, three by Jenni Nogueras, while the Jayhawks had none. It was Kansas’ first 3-0 loss this season.
“They served you out of system, and then they set up their block,” said Kansas coach Ray Bechard. “If you are just going to set a high ball to your outside hitters, they’re going to be organized, and they’re either going to get a block or a good touch, and then they transition and score. When you don’t have a lot of options, you become very predictable.”
The Huskies opened up 10-point or larger leads in the first two sets, but the Huskies’ flow hit an ebb in the first set when the Jayhawks, trailing 21-11, strung together five straight points. But an ace by Melanie Wade (five kills, one error, 11 attacks, .364) led to a swift UW closeout.
UW finished the second set on an 8-3 run, getting its two final points on Kansas service errors (eight total for the night).
Washington played from behind for most of the third set before an ace by Katy Beals put the Huskies up 21-20. Wade closed the match out with a quick kill and a thunderous smash of a Kansas overpass.
“I feel we were firing pretty much on all cylinders,” said Vansant, who has handled the bulk of UW’s attacks in late-season matches. “That’s something we’re going to have to do to keep advancing in the tournament. We can’t ride one or two people.”
Bechard said KU had trouble dealing with the “physicality” of Washington and the variety and mixed velocities of UW’s serves.
“They don’t really give you a break,” he said. “Many teams have two or three who are pretty good, but all of them got back there and whacked it pretty good.”
McLaughlin was pleased.
“There was just a good vibe on the team throughout the day, just a quiet confidence that I think is really important,” he said.