It was a volleyball set that seemingly would never end.
The rallies got increasingly better and more intense the longer the crucial third set went on between longtime rivals Washington and Stanford at Alaska Airlines Arena on Sunday.
Finally, on the Huskies’ eighth set point, they converted on a block by Lauren Sanders and Samantha Drechsel, just one of several big moments in UW’s thrilling 22-25, 25-12, 33-31, 18-25, 16-14 victory that completed a two-match weekend sweep.
“You want your team to face a test like that in this point of the season, and Stanford certainly brought it today,” said UW coach Keegan Cook, whose Pac-12 leading Huskies improved to 15-3 heading into the final week of the regular season. “It’s a credit to both programs the level of volleyball that was being played, the intensity at some really critical moments. … It took all of who we are and what we do to come away with that win.”
Even after losing that third set, short-handed Stanford (2-8) rebounded with a dominating victory in the fourth set and led 9-6 in the fifth set before Washington rallied to win the set and the match.
It was a typical match between the two traditional Pac-12 powers — Stanford has won five of the past eight Pac-12 titles and UW the other three in that span — even if Stanford’s record and 11th-place standing in the conference right now isn’t normal.
The Cardinal has won the past two national championships and a record nine overall, but it has a young team that has been hit hard by COVID-19, with 10 games canceled and training restrictions.
Stanford had just eight healthy players Sunday, but those eight were enough to give the Huskies quite a scare before falling to 0-7 on the road.
“That’s obviously the best 2-8 team in the country,” Cook said.
The Cardinal made UW work hard in a four-set victory Friday, and it became clear early Sunday that Stanford was once again not going to be an easy foil.
Stanford took early control in the first set and although UW stayed within range, the Cardinal never lost the lead after breaking a 1-1 tie. Washington dominated the second set to tie the match, setting up the fantastic third set.
The Huskies were on the verge of winning the set with a 24-22 lead, but Stanford scored the next two points. The Cardinal served for the victory with leads of 26-25 and 28-27, but the Huskies survived both.
And several minutes later, it was over, and the Huskies were celebrating.
“Just the quality of defense being played on both sides — both blocking and behind the net — you had to hit a great shot in order to come away with the kill in a really critical score,” Cook said. “It’s not like people were hitting the ball out of bounds when the score was tied 25-all. It took three or four good swings to get kills, and that is some of the best volleyball I have seen all season.”
The Huskies had to rally a final time in the fifth set, winning on their second match point.
Claire Hoffman had 22 kills to lead the UW offense. Cook praised Shannon Crenshaw and Emma Calle for their defense. It was just enough for the Huskies, who close out the regular season with a pair of games at California (1-19) and can clinch the conference title with a pair of victories.
The Huskies have four seniors on the roster, but the only one not expected to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility is Maria Bogomolova.