Less than 24 hours after being swept in three games by Arizona State in its first match of the season, the No. 8 Washington volleyball team found itself in an early hole against the same Sun Devils in Saturday’s rematch.
ASU led 24-22 in the first game, giving the Sun Devils at least two chances at game point.
Washington thwarted both game points, then won the next two points as well, winning its first game of the season.
That game proved crucial as Washington, led by a career-high-tying 21 kills from senior Samantha Drechsel, salvaged a split on opening weekend with a hard-fought 26-24, 23-25, 25-21, 25-23 victory.
“I’m not sure every team can turn around from a match like yesterday and make the necessary changes in order to be successful in back-to-back (games),” said UW coach Keegan Cook.
The Huskies had a short practice Saturday morning, then a couple of film sessions before the game.
“Then we came out and did a much better job in all facets of the game,” Cook said.
Still, the Huskies didn’t start fast and were in danger of losing the first game.
“That was a big deal (winning the first game), because it felt familiar,” Cook said. “I think we had five service errors and it started feeling like deja vu, but we clawed back into it.”
Arizona State led 21-12 in the second game before UW staged a great rally that fell just short. Still, because the Huskies had come from behind to win the first game, they weren’t in a 2-0 hole.
The momentum the Huskies had created late in the second game carried into the third game, although Arizona State saved five game points before finally succumbing 25-21.
Arizona State trailed throughout the fourth game, but stayed within range. The Huskies couldn’t relax until Marin Grote’s kill was the match winner, after ASU had saved one match point.
Arizona State was picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12, but the Sun Devils seem to have been an improving team under coach Sanja Tomasevic, who was a star on Washington’s 2005 NCAA title team.
ASU had its first winning season since 2015 in 2019 (there was no college volleyball in 2020) and returned the bulk of that team. Still, the Huskies had won nine of the past 10 meetings, and the past six at home vs. ASU.
So, UW losing one this weekend was a surprise. Two losses would have been shocking, even with the Huskies losing four key players — including Kara Bajema, who holds the program’s season record for kills — from the 2019 team to graduation.
With help from Drechsel, a senior from Woodinville, who had an outstanding .391 hitting percentage and two service aces, the Huskies avoided starting with back-to-back losses.
“I talked to Samantha this morning, and I really challenged her to go for it,” Cook said. “She was good as a server, and good hitting from the front row and the back row. It was an important moment for her to step up for her team.”
UW senior Lauren Sanders had 12 kills, a .600 hitting percentage and a match-high six blocks.
Junior setter Ella May Powell helped settle down the slow-starting Huskies and Cook was also pleased with the improvement of his team’s service receivers, which proved key in the final regular-season matchup between the two teams.
“We certainly would not have been OK saying goodbye to Arizona State without giving them a better showing,” Cook said.