No. 13 Washington earns 3-1 victory, handing No. 2 Cardinal its first Pac-12 loss of the season.
In what is annually the most anticipated home volleyball match of the regular season, Washington made it another night to remember by snapping a 16-game Stanford winning streak and defeating its longtime nemesis, the second-ranked Cardinal, 3-1 Wednesday night in front of 3,358 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The matchup of two perennial Pac-12 volleyball powers — Stanford and UW have finished either first or second in the conference three times in the past four seasons — was a showcase of resilience, athleticism and serving savvy as the 13th-ranked Huskies toppled the defending national champions 25-23, 19-25, 25-23, 25-17.
Kara Bajema, a sophomore from Lynden Christian missing from the starting lineup since early in the season but who broke through with a career-high 21-kill outburst at Utah last Saturday, led the Huskies (20-6, 10-5 Pac-12) with 14 kills. Senior Crissy Jones added 11 and sophomore middle Avie Niece had nine and a hitting percentage of .533.
Just as crucially, Washington kept Stanford (21-3, 14-1) guessing all night with tough serves. The Huskies finished with 10 aces, five by senior Tia Scambray, normally an outside hitter (she is one of seven players to record 1,000 career kills at UW) who has voluntarily switched to play libero.
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While injuries and inconsistency have made it likely UW will not claim a third consecutive Pac-12 title, third-year coach Keegan Cook thinks his squad is jelling at the right time of year, three weeks away from the start of the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve been on a strange journey, one that we didn’t expect, and that’s been really hard for everybody,” Cook said. “But the last two weeks we feel we’ve been building in the right direction, and tonight shows you’ve got to believe that we can go far in this tournament in December.”
Cook got contributions from throughout his lineup (Carly DeHoog had eight kills, Courtney Schwan finished with seven, and setter Bailey Tanner, still mending with a broken hand, had three straight aces at one point). Yet Bajema and Scambray were especially impactful.
“Kara is making the most of an opportunity,” he said. “She had an opportunity early in Pac-12 and she didn’t seize it the way she has these last two matches. Her play at the outside has been big, and Tia at libero has been huge for us.”
Bajema, an All-Freshman Pac-12 selection last year while playing middle blocker, is happy to be back in the lineup.
“Earlier I struggled a little bit offensively,” she recalled. “So I went back to practice, worked really hard and tried to earn my spot again. Just going hard every day in practice to prove that I can be out there. I’m just happy to be out there and given a shot, and I couldn’t do it without my teammates around me.”
Scambray’s net-skimming serves were problematic all night for Stanford, particularly 6-foot-6 sophomore Kathryn Plummer who, despite finishing with 26 kills (hitting .438), struggled with serve-receive.
“It’s all about making it flow,” Scambray said of her serves, “and I think it was really dropping tonight.”
Scambray had two aces early as UW built an 8-3 lead in the first set en route to a 14-5 lead. Stanford, which outhit UW .308 to .256 (with a 59-51 edge in kills), led 22-20 until more tough serving by Destiny Julye and a closing kill by Bajema rallied the Huskies for the win.
It was the first of two sets when the Huskies pulled away to win after being tied at 23.
“There were some intangibles there that we’re proud of,” Cook said. Winning a couple of 23-23 sets is something we take pride in, showing a little bit of grit there.”
UW won the critical third set on back-to-back kills by Bajema.
UW retires Vansant jersey
In a pregame ceremony, the No. 16 jersey of former All-American Krista Vansant was retired. Vansant, the 2013 AVCA national player of the year and two-time Pac-12 player of the year (2013, 2014), is UW’s career leader in kills (1,893).
Her number joins Courtney Thompson (No. 3, volleyball), Brandon Roy (No. 3) and Bob Houbregs (No. 25, both men’s basketball) as the four UW athletes to have their numbers retired. The Huskies wore No. 16 warmup jerseys before the match. After two years on the U.S. national team, Vansant is now a UW volleyball program assistant.
•Stanford entered the match ranked fourth nationally in hitting percentage (.354); Washington, at .250, ranks 48th.
• Stanford had not lost since dropping two matches to Penn State, the nation’s top-ranked team, in early September.