NCAA Final Four at KeyArena
Thursday, Dec. 19
Semis: (1) Texas vs. (12) Wisconsin, 4:30 p.m. PT
Semis: (2) Penn State vs. (3) Washington, 6:30 p.m. PT
Saturday, Dec. 21
Final: Winner match 1 vs. Winner Match 2, 6:30 p.m. PF
LOS ANGELES – One of the greatest nights in Washington volleyball history was witnessed by a national TV audience and diehard Husky fans in the Galen Center tonight, as the Huskies came back from two sets down, and saved two match points, to defeat No. 6 USC in five sets in the NCAA quarterfinals, reaching the Final Four back home in Seattle. Washington (30-2) will join Penn State, Wisconsin, and Texas at KeyArena next week, reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2006, and the fourth time in program history.
For the first time all season, UW rallied back from two sets down to beat the Trojans for the third time this year, and the second time in the Galen Center, by a count of 26-28, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-15 with 2,205 fans on the edges of their seats.
It took a total team effort, and senior Gabbi Parker delivered the final two kills that sealed it, but it was a herculean effort from Pac-12 Player of the Year Krista Vansant, who was instantly in tears on the court after the emotionally-draining marathon, carrying Washington back from the brink of defeat with career-highs of 38 kills and 30 digs, the first 30-30 performance for a Husky in the NCAA tourney history. The 38 kills are a Husky NCAA tournament record, besting the 35 of Stevie Mussie against BYU in 2007.
“What a match,” Head Coach Jim McLaughlin said to start his press conference. “It wasn’t pretty all the time, but the intangibles were there. As a coach, I can’t say enough about these guys, the heart, the commitment, all those things that are really important to overcoming adversity.
McLaughlin, in his 13th season, has now taken UW to the Final Four for a fourth time, but it was never easy. “I think the Trojans had our number (in the first two sets),” McLaughlin said. “They’re a great program, (USC Coach Mick Haley) does a great job, he’s a Hall of Fame coach, so this is a huge, huge win for our program. It’s a nice return for all the hard work.”
Washington, the third-seed, will now face No. 2-seed Penn State in the NCAA semifinals next Thursday night at KeyArena. No. 1-seed Texas will play No. 12-seed Wisconsin in the first semi at 4:30 p.m., followed by the UW-Penn State battle 30 minutes after the end of the first match.
Vansant’s effort was all for her teammates, the junior said post-match.
“I do it for this program and what UW volleyball stands for,” Vansant said. “I’ll take a swing whenever they want me to take a swing at the ball. I want to do this for my team, for my coaches, and for all the hard work we’ve put in this year. We’ve created an opportunity where we can do something really special and I think that when we all click, it could be really special for us.”
The energy was electric inside of the Galen Center, as a large contingent of the fans in attendance were wearing purple and gold, along with the Husky marching band and cheer squads.
Washington needed all of Vansant’s 38 kills to offset an unbelievable match across the net from USC’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Ebony Nwanebu, who had 30 kills without one single error to hit .566 on the night. USC also boasts the Pac-12 Libero of the Year, Natalie Hagglund, but Hagglund’s 30 digs were matched by Vansant, and All-Region honoree Jenna Orlandini added 22 digs, as Washington wound up out-digging the Trojans, 104 to 95. The 104 Husky digs are the most for UW in nearly a decade, going all the way back to the school record 127 digs effort on Dec. 11, 2004, against UCLA in another Elite Eight Husky win.
The overall attack percentages show the tightness of the match, with UW winding up at .267 to .263 for USC, as the Huskies had season-highs with 84 kills and 217 swings. The Trojans had 9.0 blocks with UW posting 8.5, led by sophomore Lianna Sybeldon who had seven block assists to go with eight kills. Washington had five aces against just two for USC, as the top serving teams in the Pac-12 were unable to get many free points. Sophomore Melanie Wade, despite just having one ace on the night, was crucial to the win, as the Huskies won 17 points on her serve.
Sophomore Cassie Strickland came up huge with a double-double of 11 kills and 15 digs while hitting .308 and adding three blocks and an ace. Senior Jenni Nogueras passed 40 assists for the first time ever, as she had 41 to go with 13 digs, with sophomore Katy Beals also dishing 32 assists and adding nine digs. Junior Kaleigh Nelson put down 14 kills with seven digs, and senior Kylin Muñoz added six kills on a .263 attack mark with three blocks.
Vansant was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Los Angeles Region, with Strickland and Sybeldon also named to the Regional All-Tournament Team, along with Nwanebu and Hagglund of USC, Alexa Gray of BYU, and Catherine Carmichael of Kansas.
The Huskies led for most of the first set, and had four set points in total, but some late errors cost UW and USC pulled it out on its first set point chance. The second set was again decided by a razor-thin margin, but USC won three of the final four points to break a 22-22 tie and win on its second set point. After intermission, the Huskies did the only thing they could, and started from scratch, eliminating errors and winning more momentum plays to get a 25-22 win that made believers. Vansant was on another level in the fourth set, pummeling 14 kills in the fourth set alone to extend things to the fifth. The scintillating last set saw the lead go back and forth, with USC having match points at 14-13, and 15-14, but UW answered each, and super sub Parker finished each of the last two points with gutsy swings from the left.
To beat the Trojans for a third time in 2013 (after 3-1 wins in Los Angeles and Seattle earlier this season) the Huskies had to post their first 0-2 comeback of the year, and first since a home win on Nov. 4, 2012 against Utah. It’s the first-ever win for the Dawgs from two sets down in fifty-five NCAA tourney matches all-time.
On the first rally of the night, Sybeldon tipped over the block and down for a kill. UW got a free ball off a Nogueras serve and Vansant ripped one past the block for 3-1 Huskies. Strickland had a kill with a net violation on USC, then Nelson tipped one down for a 6-4 edge. Strickland and Sybeldon then rejected Elise Ruddins on the weak side for 7-4. Another tough Melanie Wade serve got a free ball and Sybeldon put it away before a Vansant setting error snapped the 3-0 Husky run. USC cut it down to 8-7 but Strickland got the sideout with a hammer through the block. USC tied it at 9-9 with an ace. Kylin Muñoz put down her first kill from the left to retake the lead. Vansant smashed a pair of kills straight to the floor as the teams swapped points, both teams hot offensively. USC took a lead at 13-12, but Vansant roofed Samantha Bricio straight down to tie it back up. Strickland smashed through the block again for 14-all. Strickland then rose up to reject the Trojans swing back down for a point as UW edged back up 15-14 at the media timeout. Wade aced the Trojans out of the break for 16-14, then a Trojan error up the line made it 17-14 and USC took time. Nelson had a dig on the next point, and then Wade set Strickland for an unorthodox sequence, but it worked for another point. The Trojans had a kill from Shaw to snap the 5-0 Husky run, but Nelson answered with a rocket from the right for 19-15. Washington then stalled, as Strickland was blocked, and Muñoz hit out and the Huskies called their first timeout at 19-18. Sybeldon was blocked on the next rally as USC tied it at 19-all, but Vansant came through with a back row slam to snap the run. A Trojans kill was followed by a Sybeldon tip to open space for 21-20. Wade’s first kill of the night took the lead back at 22-21. A Vansant roll shot was blocked down, but she came back with a big swing from the right for 23-22. Nelson then hit a ridiculous angle sharp crosscourt for a kill and UW had set point at 24-22, prompting USC’s last timeout. Bricio saved the first with a kill in serve-receive, then went back to serve. The NCAA’s top ace producer hit the net but it went over, throwing UW into disarray, and Nelson swung long to tie it and UW took timeout. Out of the break, Strickland lofted a tip over and down for the kill and a third set point, but Nelson missed just long again in transition on the next one for 25-25. Strickland gained UW yet another set point with a blast up the line. Katy Beals served into the net, however, to tie it again. The longest rally of the night followed, but Ebony Nwanebu ended it with a kill to give USC set point at 27-26, then Vansant missed out of the back row to end it, 28-26 in USC’s favor. After a hot start, the late errors dropped UW down to .229 for the first set, while USC hit .245 and had five blocks to three for UW. Strickland had six kills on nine swings, hitting .556.
The teams traded points to start the second set, as the Huskies had to shake off the disappointment of set one. Two Nelson kills got her back on track and a Vansant ace off the net put UW up 5-3. Strickland and Vansant extended the early Husky run with kills to make it 7-3 before USC got the sideout. The Trojans stormed back to tie it up at 8-8 on a 5-1 run, and it was the Huskies who took the first timeout. USC moved up one before Strickland powered another through a big block for 9-9. The Trojans opened up a lead with a 3-0 run before missing serve to make it 12-10. Vansant put one off the block and out in transition after a strong Strickland serve for 12-11. A Strickland dig led to a Vansant kill that knotted the score back up at 14-all, then UW went back in front on a net error on USC. Washington had an overdig after a long rally that USC killed, and then Vansant overpassed the next point for another USC kill. Strickland was blocked as USC went up 18-16, and UW called timeout. USC added another before Wade came through with the critical kill to stop the bleeding and make it 17-19. Nelson cut another off the lead with a right side finish, but Sybeldon swung wide on the next point as UW had a chance to tie, and then USC aced the Huskies to rebuild the 21-18 lead. Nelson answered the call with another slam, then the Huskies had a triple block against Bricio for 20-21. Sybeldon punched down an overdig for 21-22, as UW kept fighting, and then Strickland banged an ace off the defense to tie it up at 22-22, the first tie since 16-all, and USC called timeout. USC responded with two straight out of the timeout to get to set point, 24-22. Trying to reverse the first set circumstances, Sybeldon had a kill in serve-receive to save the first set point, but again UW could not defend Nwanebu, and she put a kill off the block and out to end it, 25-23. Washington hit just .157 in the set, despite five kills on 12 swings from Vansant. Nwanebu killed 9 of 11 swings for an .818 mark in the second.
Vansant got the third set started off with a tough kill off the block, but the Trojans took a 6-4 lead through the first ten points. Strickland crushed another past the block for her ninth kill, and then a tough Beals serve led to a USC error for 6-6. Nwanebu and Vansant traded kills back and forth as USC would take a one-point lead, and UW would tie it back up. A right side Vansant finish made it 11-11. The Dawgs edged in front after a Bricio error, 13-12, then a tough Wade serve let Sybeldon and Nelson track Shaw and stuff her down for a 14-12 lead and USC called time. Senior Gabbi Parker then got the most of another stuff on the other side for a three-point cushion. Parker then added a transition kill, her first of the night, for 16-12. Muñoz snapped down a kill at an acute angle for a big point that made it 18-15 to quell a USC mini-run, then Vansant added another in transition to build it back to 19-15 and USC took timeout. Strickland missed serve out of the break, and then Nwanebu got her 20th kill to make it 19-17 and the Huskies called time. Sybeldon and Muñoz put down a huge stuff out of the timeout for 20-17 Dawgs. Orlandini then stepped back and sent a spin-less serve off the ‘D’ for an ace for 21-17. USC got the sideout, then a bad UW pass led to an error as the lead shrunk to two, but Wade put a swing through the block and down for 22-19. Strickland saved a ball that took her flying over the Husky bench, and Nelson rewarded her with a kill for 23-20. The Trojans got a kill but then missed serve long for a Husky set point at 24-21. Shaw had a kill to save the first for USC. But on the next point, Strickland passed it to Nogueras who back set Nelson and the junior buried it to take things to a fourth set. The Huskies moved up to .244 on offense in the frame, while USC was at .222. Vansant put up seven more kills and Sybeldon was in on all three UW blocks in the set.
Two early long rallies were capped off by Vansant finishes, one to the back corner and another off the block and out on UW’s side for 3-2 Huskies in set four. Nelson caught the back line for a kill and then USC swung one just wide for a 6-4 UW lead. Nelson extended the run with a blast through the block as Wade continued to float great serves. Alexis Olgard got a tip to fall in the middle to snap the UW run, but Nelson answered back for 8-5. A terrific diving second touch from Orlandini let Beals set Vansant who slammed one to the back line again for 10-6 and a USC timeout. Nwanebu looked to be blocked but USC got the pancake and then killed it, but Sybeldon came back with a quick strike in serve-receive, and a Muñoz dig was followed by another Vansant blow for 12-7. Handling an outside set, Vansant rolled one over and down from the right for 14-10. A bad call went against UW as Orlandini had a pancake dig that was called down, and then USC won a long rally to make it 14-12 and the Huskies called time. After a back and forth, Vansant connected on a pipe set for 15-12. Vansant struck out of the back row two more times to keep the Dawgs on track, up 18-14. Another Vansant crush from the left pin got the Huskies to 20-16, then she added another in transition after the block slowed down Olgard and USC took its last timeout at 21-16 Dawgs. Vansant buried another after a tough rally to extend the run out of the timeout. Nogueras then fired an ace up the sideline for 23-16 before USC had a kill to end the four-point Husky run. Vansant hit right back from the right to get the Dawgs to set point, 24-17. The final point came as Strickland hammered through the block to end it, 25-18, and take things to a fifth. Vansant had an unbelievable 14 kills in the fourth set alone, as UW hit .396 and won despite USC making just one attacking error and hitting .292.
Vansant rolled in her career-high 32nd kill on the first point of the fifth set. Nwanebu put two more away, and then USC got another in transition for a 4-2 lead and the Huskies took the early timeout. It was none other than Vansant in serve-receive for a kill out of the timeout for 3-4, then Nelson got a kill off a touch for 4-all. Vansant barely missed wide as USC went back up two, but she righted the ship with a crosscourt swing for 5-6. After a diving Vansant dig, Wade from the back row rolled a kill into the campfire to tie it at 7-7. USC got a sideout from Ruddins to switch sides with USC up, 8-7. UW had three swings at the next point but they were dug all three times, and Shaw killed it off the block for 9-7 and UW used its last timeout. The Trojans continued to dig, but finally Vansant put one away out of the back row for 8-9. Strickland then tooled the block after another long rally to even it again at 9-9. Sybeldon and Muñoz then posted an emphatic stuff of Shaw straight down to put the Dawgs up, 10-9, and force a Trojans timeout. USC tied it up with a kill in serve-receive. Orlandini passed perfectly to Beals who found Sybeldon for a kill and the lead. Strickland missed serve, but Vansant put another away for 12-11. Vansant had a great swing on the next point but missed just wide up the line. Bricio got the lead back for USC with a kill off the block. Vansant answered from the left for 13-all. Nwanebu killed another in serve-receive to get USC a match point, 14-13, but Vansant erased it with a right side kill. Bricio put one down to earn another chance for USC. The Trojans had a swing at it, but Ruddins missed wide for 15-all. Parker, back in the match, hit high and got the touch for a kill and it was the Huskies with a match point try, but USC called time. Wade, serving the crucial points once again, stepped to the line and put another tough serve into play. USC got a swing on the left, but Sybeldon got the touch on the block and then snapped around to dig the ball up, then Vansant stepped in to set it to Parker on the left again, and she hammered off the block and out to the side as UW erupted onto the court with the 17-15 stunner. Washington hit .345 in the final frame, compared to .258 for USC, with seven more Vansant kills and a perfect two kills on two swings from Parker.
2013 NCAA WVB DI Los Angeles Regional All-Tournament Team
Krista Vansant, Washington (Most Outstanding Player)
Cassie Strickland, Washington
Lianna Sybeldon, Washington
Ebony Nwanebu, USC
Natalie Hagglund, USC
Alexa Gray, BYU
Catherine Carmichael, Kansas
- Vansant climbed two more spots on the UW career kills list, passing Paige Benjamin (1999-02) and Dragana Djordjevic (1991-95) to move up to fifth with 1,321.
- Washington reached the 30-win plateau tonight for the fourth time in school history, but just the second in the NCAA era, the only other time being the 2005 National Championship season when UW was 32-1.