Dec. 7, 2012
OMAHA, Neb. - A sea of red-clad fans and a talented fourth-seeded Nebraska squad was a potent combo that the 13th-seeded Husky volleyball team could not overcome tonight. Washington (25-7) saw its memorable season come to a close at the CenturyLink Center, as the Huskers (26-6) advanced to the Regional final with a 25-15, 25-21, 25-23 victory in front of 8,954 fans.
The Huskies got off to a very slow start in the first set, and were able to get closer and closer as the match wore on, but they could never quite dig all the way out of the early hole. It's the first time all year that UW was swept in a match. Nebraska will face Oregon in the quarterfinals on Saturday. This is the first time under Head Coach Jim McLaughlin that UW has lost a round of 16 match, as they were 6-0 in their previous Regional appearances.
"The Huskers played really well, and we didn't," McLaughlin started frankly in his post-match press conference. "Our girls played hard, I thought the energy level was very good. The environment was outstanding, it was incredible, I don't think we responded well, or it took us a while to get our feet under us."
Washington fell behind early in every set. The big Nebraska crowd would respond to nearly every small UW rally with a big cheer that seemed to energize the Huskers. "Sometimes you think you have prepared very well, and then you look at something like this and you go back and think, `what could I have done better to prepare this team?' said McLaughlin. "So maybe the preparation wasn't what you thought it was. So I can't let that happen. But the Huskers have a chance to go on, they have a good team, they played well when they had to and congratulations to them."
Sophomore Krista Vansant had a solid night to lead UW, as the All-Pac-12 performer had 11 kills and hit .242 for the match with four blocks. Senior Amanda Gil had a match-high six blocks in her last match in the purple and gold, and she should end the season as the NCAA blocks leader. Senior Kylin Muñoz had seven kills and four more blocks, hitting .217, while freshman Melanie Wade hit .333 with four kills and four blocks, but no other Husky hit over .200, as UW as a team hit just .130 overall, with Nebraska at .233 for the match.
Gina Mancuso had 14 kills to lead Nebraska, but it was the 22 digs of outside hitter Hannah Werth, who also had nine kills, that really frustrated UW's offense. Nebraska had the big edge in kills (43-32) and the digs disadvantage told part of the story, as the Huskers had 55 to just 33 for UW. Washington led big in blocks, 11.0 to 4.0, with most of Nebraska's blocks coming very early in the first set, but Nebraska also won the serve and pass battle, with four aces and just four service errors, while UW had just two aces and nine errors.
"I've got to look at how we did things, what we could do different, because we'll get another chance at this," said McLaughlin. "We're going to keep knocking on the door, and it will open at some point." The Huskies will hope that chance comes next season, when Seattle will host the Final Four for the first time ever.
In the first set, Melanie Wade started things off tipping for a kill. Two quick kills from Vansant had UW up 3-1, but Nebraska came back with a string of points to take a one point lead. Amanda Gil was at the center of a UW triple block to tie it at 6-6, but Nebraska used a 3-0 run to open up a 9-6 lead before Kaleigh Nelson put away her first kill from the right side. The Huskers responded with a quick kill in serve-receive and then a Mancuso transition kill off the block for an 11-7 lead and Washington called its first timeout. Out of the break, a couple kills by Muñoz and one from Vansant kept the Huskies close, but Nebraska soon broke it open with a long seven-point run. The Huskers had an ace in the streak and then posted blocks on three straight points as UW's passing struggled. It was too late for UW to shake off that stretch, as the Huskers went on to take the first set, 25-14. Washington hit just .028 while Nebraska clicked along at .345. Nebraska had four blocks and three aces, while UW had no aces and just 1.5 blocks.
The Huskies found themselves in a quick hole again in the second set, as Nebraska won six of the first seven points to force UW into the early timeout. Muñoz had a kill out of the break and then served up an ace to start UW clawing back. The Huskies began to sideout more efficiently, with Nelson and freshman Cassie Strickland putting balls away, but a quick Nebraska 3-0 run built the lead to 13-7 and forced Washington's second timeout. Wade put away a Katy Beals set and then Gil and Muñoz rejected Morgan Broekhuis to cut it to 13-9. Gil and Muñoz met again for another rejection for 14-10. Nelson rocketed one to the floor on the right side and then a Nebraska error had UW back within three at 13-16, and Nebraska took its first timeout of the night. The Huskers adjustments worked, as they rattled off three more points to get back to a six-point lead, but then Washington rallied one more time, starting with a Husker error, and then a big stuff from Wade and Gabbi Parker, who checked in mid-set. A tough Beals serve led to another Nebraska error, and then Wade and Muñoz teamed up on the right side to reject Mancuso and cut it to 17-19, forcing Nebraska's last timeout. But Mancuso came back with consecutive kills to push the lead back to four before Muñoz got one down. Another 3-0 run from the Huskers put the Dawgs behind the eight ball again at 18-24, making for a costly 5-1 run for the Huskers just when UW was threatening. Vansant got a kill from the left to save the first set point, and then Gil and Vansant rejected Mancuso straight down. After a long exchange on the third set point, Gil had another solo block to make it 21-24 and unsettle the big red crowd, but Nebraska got a perfect pass and set and Broekhuis found the seam to cut the UW rally short and win the set, 25-21. UW actually outhit Nebraska, .176 to .154 in the set, but had just eight kills while Nebraska had 17, and UW missed three serves to one for the Huskers.
Muñoz killed the first point of the third set, as UW looked to start a methodical comeback. Yet Nebraska jumped up early again, 6-3, on some transition kills by Werth. The Dawgs responded much earlier this time around, as Gil and Vansant roofed Werth, then Nelson had a right side finish from Orlandini, and Vansant sent an ace to the back line to tie it. UW went up, 7-6, on another great Nelson swing set by Orlandini again. Vansant put one off the blockers' hands for an 8-7 lead, and then Strickland hammered one down, followed by a Wade kill off a Nebraska overpass and UW led, 10-8. The Huskers tied it back up at 10, but then Strickland slammed one on a combo set, and Vansant and Wade rejected Mancuso for a 12-10 Husky lead and Nebraska took time. Out of the break, another overpass led to a Wade kill set by Beals, and another big time triple block was put up by Wade, Muñoz, and Vansant for a 14-10 lead before Strickland served just out. Just when UW was clicking, some more unforced errors crept into their game, and Nebraska used a 7-1 run to go from 16-12 down to 19-17 up with five of those seven points coming on Washington errors. A shot into the antenna from Strickland had the Huskies trailing, 18-21. The Dawgs, who rallied from match point down to win four times this season, had another run left. Strickland ended a critical rally with a kill through the block set by Vansant, then Mancuso missed long to cut the lead to one. Beals missed serve, but then set Muñoz for a kill as the senior had a great play at net to keep it alive before killing it. Beals then found Vansant for a swing that was dug, then sent back to UW as a free ball, and Vansant swung again and put it away to tie things again at 22-all and force the last Huskers timeout. The Huskies had a tough near-miss on the next play, as Vansant blocked Mancuso down but just an inch out. Then a long rally on the next play ended with Vansant called in the net for a blocking error, setting up match point at 24-22. Vansant saved the first one, hammering a shot crosscourt from the left. But on the next rally, Broekhuis took the slide set from the right and put it down off the UW defense to end it, 25-23. Washington had 15 kills in the set to the 14 of Nebraska, but hit just .178 again, making seven errors, while the Huskers hit .229. UW also made four costly service errors to just one for Nebraska.
Libero Jenna Orlandini had some thoughts on the four Husky seniors: Gil, Muñoz, Kelly Holford, and Kelcey Dunaway in the press conrence: "They set up how we approached this season. Moreso than any other year I think we were together as a unit, more often than we weren't. We needed those seniors to bring us together and they did a really good job beginning that and maintaining that. So we thank them and appreciate everything they did for us."