PULLMAN, Wash. – The Pac-12 opener is always a big date on the schedule for the Husky volleyball team. Add to that the challenge of opening on the home court of rival Washington State, in front of a rowdy crowd of 1,846 fans at Bohler Gym, and the fact that the Cougars and Huskies were the last two unbeaten in the Pac-12 this season. All that made second-ranked Washington’s 25-17, 25-17, 25-17 victory extra meaningful.
Washington (9-0, 1-0 Pac-12) never quite took the crowd out of the match, but turned the volume down a bit with the straight set victory. The Huskies ran their offense at a fast pace all night, passing well to set up outside hitters Krista Vansant, Kylin Muñoz, and Kaleigh Nelson, who all had great nights. Vansant led all players with 13 kills and hit .440, while Nelson had nine kills without an error for a .562 mark, and Muñoz notched eight kills, also without an error to hit .444. Sophomore Melanie Wade had six blocks as UW won the blocking battle, 7.0 to 1.0.
The Huskies had 46 kills to the 32 of Washington State (13-1, 0-1 Pac-12). Senior Jenna Orlandini had 13 digs and sophomore Cassie Strickland added 12. Keeping the offense dialed in were Jenni Nogueras (24 assists) and Katy Beals (16 assists). Washington has now won eight straight against their cross-state rivals.
“We played well and I think Washington State is a good team,” said Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. “It was a great environment. If you don’t stay on task, anyone can play at a high level. There are times we missed an assignment, didn’t see it right and weren’t in the right place, but we keep training that every day. Consistency is going to be a big deal, but I liked our energy, and we had good urgency. The first Pac-12 road win is always a good one.”
The Huskies took the first point on a Muñoz kill off an overpass, but WSU came back with the next three. An Orlandini ace caught the net and trickled over for 3-3. Vansant struck from the middle of the court for a 6-6 tie, and then Wade tipped one down followed by a Strickland slam off the block for 8-6. A Strickland kill in transition earned the Huskies an 11-8 edge. A rejection from Vansant and Sybeldon against Glab made it 13-9. A miss from the Cougars made it 15-11 and took it to the media timeout. Out of the break, the Huskies forced a copule errors thanks to tough Katy Beals serves. Vansant and Wade stuffed one in the middle for an 18-12 advantage. A tough swing from Nelson on the right made it 20-14. Gabbi Parker checked in and immediately broke through the block on the left for 21-14 and the Cougars called timeout. Sybeldon pounded a Nogueras set to the floor for set point at 24-17, and on the next rally, Muñoz hit off the block and out to end it, 25-17. The Huskies were on point offensively in the first set, hitting .483 with 15 kills and just 1 error on 29 attempts while WSU hit .281
Sybeldon and Vansant put down early kills for a 5-2 lead. Another heavy spike from Vansant was followed by a stuff from Vansant and Wade, and WSU took the early timeout at 7-2. Out of the break, Wade finished for a six-point lead before the Cougars snapped Orlandini’s six point service run. Washington State cut the lead in half with a 5-2 run to get to 11-8, but kills from Nelson and Muñoz kept the Huskies siding out. Wade had a solo block on a tip attempt and then a transition kill to push the lead back to 16-10. Wade and Nelson roofed Jaicee Harris and then Vansant targeted the back row and slammed one into the seats for a 19-12 lead and the Cougars took their last timeout. Orlandini had a sweet bump set back over her head to Nelson who sent a rocket down for 20-13, and then another rejection from Nelson and Wade extended the lead one more. A WSU block made it 22-16, but Nelson answered quickly with a right side blast. The Huskies then got to set point with a WSU error, and Strickland flew in on a combo set from Nogueras to put it away, 25-17. Washington stayed efficient in the second set, hitting .387, while cooling the Cougars down to -.036 helped by four UW blocks, Wade with one solo and three assists.
Sybeldon laid one into the middle of the defense for the first kill in the third set. Back-to-back Vansant kills made it 4-2. Nelson rolled one over the block and down for a 6-3 Husky lead. Vansant added two more kills to build it to 8-4, but WSU answered with a pair for 8-6 before serving into the net. Wade then floated a serve down on the back line for an ace and 10-6. Beals went right side to Nelson for a slam and on the next rally, Nogueras went right for Muñoz and she put it away for a 12-7 edge. Muñoz tallied another off the blockers hands and out and then a WSU error brought up the media timeout with the Dawgs on top, 15-9. More tough serving from Orlandini put WSU in trouble and led to two more Husky points out of the break, and then a crushing block from Wade and Vansant on the weak side made it 18-9. One of the longest rallies of the night on the next play was finally ended by Vansant who tooled off the block and let out a big roar as the Dawgs had opened a ten point lead at 19-9 before the Cougars ended the 6-0 run on the next point. The Huskies continued moving forward toward the finish line with a Wade kill and a couple WSU miscues. The Cougars saved a couple match points but Sybeldon got one to drop to end it at the same spot as the first two sets, 25-17. Washington tallied a .289 attack percentage in set three and Washington State hit .128. Vansant had five more kills and Strickland was strong in the back row with eight digs.
The Huskies now get another big road test at another rival, heading to Eugene to face the 21st-ranked Oregon Ducks, last year’s NCAA runner-up. That match will be this Friday at 8:00 p.m., live on the Pac-12 Network.