The University of Washington opened its first match in the NCAA volleyball tournament with consecutive aces by Emma Calle and ended it with a Claire Hoffman ace.
Nothing in between was easy for the Pac-12 champion Huskies, the No. 6 overall seed, who were pushed to the brink Thursday by Atlantic 10 champ Dayton (14-2).
The Flyers, after surviving a match point in the third game, finally succumbed in a second-round thriller in Omaha, Nebraska, as UW escaped with a 25-18, 25-23, 24-26, 21-25, 15-11 win that took nearly three hours.
Washington (18-3), which had a first-round bye, scored the final four points of the match after the score was tied at 11 in the fifth set. Finally, after Hoffman’s ace, the Huskies could exhale.
“I am proud of our group for putting aside some difficult sets in sets three and four, and being their best in the fifth set when they needed to be,” said UW coach Keegan Cook, who began his postgame news conference by praising Dayton.
It is the eighth time in nine seasons the Huskies have reached the Sweet 16, where Washington will play Louisville, the No. 11 overall seed, on Sunday in Omaha. The time has not been announced.
The Cardinals, who also had a first-round bye, advanced with a four-set win over San Diego.
Washington improved to 5-2 in matches this season that have gone five sets, showing resilience after Dayton seemed to have taken control.
It looked good for UW early. The Huskies led 17-16 in the first set before winning five straight points — four on serves by Shannon Crenshaw, who had an ace during the run.
The Huskies had to rally in the second set after falling behind 16-13. The set was delayed for several minutes with Dayton ahead 22-21 as the officials did a lengthy review on an apparent possible illegal substitution for the Flyers.
Nothing changed after the review, but the Huskies were the better team after the unscheduled break, winning four of five points and taking the set on a kill by freshman Madi Endsley.
The third set was tight from beginning to end. Washington had match point leading 24-23, but Dayton scored the next three points to win the set.
Dayton used a 6-0 run to take a 21-16 lead in the fourth set, and UW never recovered, setting up the decisive fifth set.
“We’ve been through enough of these moments, that my nerves are kind of worn out,” Cook said. “But I have complete confidence in this group in critical moments.”
Endsley had a career-high 20 kills and a .368 hitting percentage to lead the Husky offense.
“She was outstanding from start to finish,” Cook said.
Said Endsley: “I came into this tournament with a go-for-it attitude.”
The big stats in the match were Dayton’s 14 service errors to six for UW. The Huskies had nine aces to Dayton’s six. In a match so closely contested, those differences were huge.
“We picked a good day to have one of our best serving days,” Cook said.
Washington State, the 15 seed, lost to Western Kentucky in five sets, 25-22, 25-20, 21-25, 17-25, 15-10 on Thursday night. Magda Jehlarova ended with 14 kills and five blocks as the Cougars (11-5) made an inspiring rally down 0-2 to force the full five sets in Omaha.
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