BERKELEY, Calif. – Senior Gabbi Parker’s line in the box score reads one kill on two attempts, with one block assist for 1.5 points tonight. Much larger numbers were put up by her Husky volleyball teammates, but those 1.5 points helped third-ranked Washington rise up from triple-match-point down and stun No. 23 California, 17-15, in the fifth set. The improbable, incredible win by the resilient Dawgs keeps UW with a one-game lead in the Pac-12 with two home matches to play next week.
The Huskies (24-2, 16-2 Pac-12) were down 11-14 in the fifth set, facing three match points at Haas Pavilion, but a Cassie Strickland kill saved one, and then Cal’s celebration was called off after they hit the net on a potential kill. Parker then teamed with Lianna Sybeldon for the crucial block that tied it. One point later, Parker finished off a rally that got the Dawgs their own match point. California (17-9, 10-7 Pac-12) saved it, but a Sybeldon kill earned another chance, and junior Krista Vansant capped a huge night with her 28th kill to finish the match with UW closing on a 6-1 run.
The back-and-forth nature of the fifth set matched the rest of the night, as UW rolled in sets one and three but struggled early in sets two and four, losing each despite late comebacks. The final tally was 25-19, 23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 17-15 in UW’s favor, as the Huskies improved to 3-0 this year in five-set matches.
“Every match can be defined by a couple plays, those are two plays right there, Gabbi goes in blocks a ball, we dig a ball, and she kills it,” said Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. “Those define the match. She went back and hit a good hard jump serve too.”
Washington avoided consecutive losses for the first time all season, bouncing back after just its second loss all year at No. 5 Stanford on Wednesday. The Huskies will now host Oregon State this coming Wednesday and Washington State next Friday in the final two regular season matches, needing one win to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title and two wins to clinch outright.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” McLaughlin said. “Winning is very fragile. This is one of the toughest road trips in the conference. Any time you come here you’re up for an intense fight. Against Stanford we were right there but we shot ourselves in the foot late. We still weren’t consistent tonight but we showed our fight.”
Vansant’s 28 kills were a big season-high, her previous best this season being 23 in the home win over Stanford. She hit .319 and added 18 digs and five blocks for 30.5 points. Junior Kaleigh Nelson added 14 kills and senior Kylin Muñoz had a big night with eight kills on a .353 attack percentage plus four blocks.
Two days after struggling at Stanford, sophomore middles Sybeldon and Melanie Wade came up huge tonight, as Wade had seven kill, hitting .429, and posted a team-high nine blocks. Sybeldon hit .333 with 13 kills and six blocks, as Washington had a big edge at net, 16.0 blocks to 5.0 for Cal.
Washington’s 88 digs were a season-high, helped in a big way by a career-high 25 from Strickland, who also had five kills without an error (.385), and 29 from senior Jenna Orlandini, which matches the second-best total of her career. Another career-high came from sophomore Katy Beals, who had 38 assists plus two aces, and Jenni Nogueras had 32 assists as UW outhit Cal for the night, .297 to .255.
“It’s as much of a lesson learner as what we went through at Stanford,” McLaughlin said. “If we can play with the emotion and heart and determination we showed in the last game when we were down, that’s why good things happen. Gabbi went in and was in the right place at the right time. We got digs off the net, got good aggressive swings, Katy set a quick at a critical time and Lianna killed it. We can make those plays and we did it tonight when our backs were against the wall.”
The Huskies dropped behind 2-4 in the first set but three kills in a row from Nelson, the last one on a massive rally inched the Huskies ahead, 6-5. A slam from Sybeldon and a kill from Vansant off a Cal overpass made it 9-8 Huskies. Wade hammered a quick down for a 12-10 lead, followed by a rejection from Wade and Vansant, and then a Nelson kill after a Cal free ball for a 14-10 advantage. Nelson hit from the left side to get to the media timeout with UW leading 15-11. Cal got within a pair at 16-14, but Nelson responded with another right side blast, and then Muñoz and Sybeldon blocked Christina Higgins for 18-14 and Cal called time. After swapping points, Higgins tried tipping over the UW block but Wade hung in the air to stuff it down for 21-16 and the Bears used their last timeout. After the break, Strickland dug a ball and a running bump set from Beals was then killed out of the back row by Strickland. Vansant had a transition kill for UW for a 23-16 edge. The Huskies missed on a few set points, but closed it out 25-19 on a right side Vansant kill off the defense. Nelson was on fire in the first set with seven kills on a .545 attack percentage, and Strickland had nine digs as UW hit .293.
UW started slowly in set two, down 1-4 before Muñoz earned a kill with a touch call. A long rally with several Husky swings was eventually won by the Bears as they opened a 7-3 lead and forced UW to a timeout. After Nelson picked up a kill, California went on another big 4-0 run to force the Huskies into another timeout down 4-11. Down by eight, the Huskies got three points back, two after Strickland serves, to cut it down to 8-13, but Cal came back with the next two points to answer. Muñoz had a hard right side shot for a kill and then Vansant found a sharp angle for 11-16 and Cal called for time. Wade had a tip for a kill out of the break to cut it to four, but then Cal won a joust and Nelson hit wide and the deficit was back to six at 12-18. Cal made a couple service errors but UW couldn’t keep the Bears from siding out on one swing on their own serves, as the Bears pushed back to a seven-point lead at 22-15. From there the Huskies made a last gasp push, with a kill from Muñoz and a Cal error helping a 3-0 run to make it 22-18 and the Bears took time. Vansant cut another off the lead with a crosscourt shot, but the Bears snapped the run with a middle kill. Sybeldon tipped for a kill to get it back, but Cal reached set point at 24-20. Washington would save the first with a Vansant kill, and then Cal hit the antenna for 24-22. A long rally on the next ball was finished with a Nelson and Wade rejection to pull the Huskies within one, but Washington could not save the last set point, as Lindsey Parrott got the finish for Cal to end it, 25-23. The Huskies dropped to just .186 on offense in the second set, while Cal hit .288 despite 11 digs in the second set alone by Orlandini.
The Husky block got going early in the third set, registering two straight with Wade in the middle for a 5-2 advantage. Wade tipped for a kill and then she served up UW’s first ace all night to the back line for an 8-4 lead. Sybeldon smacked a quick in serve-receive for 9-5. Sybeldon and Muñoz rejected Higgins and then Beals tossed a second ace of the set up the sideline for an 11-5 edge and Cal called timeout. Beals missed serve out of the break to snap the 5-1 run and then Sybeldon was blocked. But Vansant pummeled one crosscourt in serve-receive and then another in transition for a 14-8 advantage. After an Orlandini dig, Vansant hit for a third in a row for 15-8. After a lengthy rally, Vansant killed a fourth straight, until she finally missed long on a try for a fifth. Muñoz added a finish from the right for a 17-9 lead. Rotating to the right side, Vansant banged another down for 18-11. Wade and Sybeldon each added quick kills in serve-receive to keep UW siding out. Yet another lightning fast spike from Sybeldon made it 21-14 Dawgs. Cal took its last timeout after Muñoz tipped one over and down for 22-15. Another big Vansant swing off the blockers got UW to set point at 24-17, and Nelson and Wade stuffed the next Cal swing to end it, 25-17. The Huskies ramped back up to .385 hitting in set three, holding Cal to just .091. Vansant put down seven kills on 11 swings with two errors for a .455 percentage.
Starting set four, Cal earned the first point but Sybeldon answered on the second. Wade and Nelson had a key early block to make it 3-4 Cal. Nelson added a pair of kills to keep the Huskies within one at 5-6. But the Bears made a move with a 3-0 run to extend to a 10-6 lead and the Huskies had to take time. Out of the break, UW was aced before Vansant broke the run from the left. A tough Nogueras serve led to an easy dig and Vansant kill for 9-12. Vukasovic put away two straight to answer for Cal. Washington was unable to hold serve, with Cal adding to its lead as Neumayr earned a point and Muñoz misfired and the Huskies needed timeout down 12-18. Sybeldon put one away out of the timeout and Vansant stuck down a Beals set for two quick points and Cal responded with the timeout at 14-18. Strickland missed serve out of the break, and Cal pushed back to a five-point lead at 22-17. Nelson finished a Nogueras set, and then Sybeldon and Strickland posted a roof for 19-22, but Nelson was whistled for a net violation on the next point. A Nelson kill was followed by a Beals ace as the Huskies made another late run, but Higgins got Cal to set point at 24-21. Sybeldon saved the first and then she and Muñoz had a huge stuff of Higgins to save the second, and Cal would take its last timeout up 24-23 with Strickland serving. Like the second set, UW’s rally came up one point short, as Higgins put the set away with a kill on the next point to end it, 25-23. Despite five kills apiece without an error from Vansant and Nelson, Cal was too hot, hitting .419 while UW hit .389 in the set.
Heading into the fifth set, the teams went back and forth, tying up at every point until a Husky service error and a Higgins kill made it 7-5 Bears and McLaughlin took timeout. Out of the break, Higgins missed wide, and them Muñoz had a tremendous solo block on the strong side against Higgins for 7-7. Wade and Vansant then got another stuff for the 8-7 lead as the teams switched sides, and Cal called time. Cal tied it and then went ahead as the Huskies had a couple bad passes and needed timeout down 9-11. Vansant then missed long as UW wanted a net violation on Cal, but didn’t get it. She came back with a kill for 10-12, but Cal answered with Higgins in serve-receive. Strickland had a clutch left side finish for 11-13 on a tough set. The Huskies got an overpass on the next play but could not convert and went down match points at 11-14. Strickland put another down to save the first, and then Cal made a net violation to keep the Huskies alive, after the Bears thought they’d won, and Cal then took timeout at 14-13. Parker then checked in to add more height to UW’s block in place of Strickland. The move paid dividends, as Parker got the majority of a stuff of Lillian Schonewise that saved the match and tied it at 14-all. With Beals serving tough in the clutch, the Huskies got a dig and Beals set Parker on the left for just her second swing all night, and she banged it off the block and down for match point Huskies. Cal answered with a finish from Neumayr, but Beals set Sybeldon in serve-receive on the next play and she put it away for match point number two. Orlandini dug a Neumayr attempt and Beals put it up to Vansant on the left and she summoned up all her remaining strength to put it off the block and it fell to send the Huskies into elation, closing it out, 17-15.