SALT LAKE CITY – Junior Kaleigh Nelson provided a big lift for the Husky offense, as the UW volleyball team shook off its first loss of the season to knock off Utah in three hard-fought sets at the Huntsman Center. Traveling from Colorado to Utah early this morning, the road-weary Huskies fought hard for the 25-23, 25-15, 30-28 victory, led by Nelson’s 13 kills.
The No. 1-ranked Huskies are likely to lose the top billing which they earned last week after falling in four sets last night at Colorado. But more importantly, the Huskies made the adjustments necessary to earn another key road win, improving to 11-1 on the year and 3-1 in Pac-12 play.
“I think we played well in spurts,” said Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. “Game two was a complete game, start to finish. We had a rough start in game three, just missed easy plays, and that’s a concern. So I told the team it’s a good win, any win is good in the Pac-12, especially on the road and after last night. But we’ve got to get back to Seattle and fix some stuff and really get to work on a higher level.”
The Huskies won despite being out-hit in the first and third sets, but overall for the match the Dawgs led in attack percentage, .255 to .174. Washington had 44 kills to 41 for Utah, and six service aces helped the cause compared to two for the Utes. Nelson hit .385 for the night and over the last two sets she had 10 kills and no errors on 15 swings for a .667 mark. Krista Vansant added 10 kills and sophomore Melanie Wade had five kills on 10 swings without a miss and sophomore Cassie Strickland had a team-best 14 digs plus five kills.
The Huskies opened with a couple misses before Wade put her first swing away, and then Cassie Strickland laced an ace. The Huskies took their first lead at 6-5 after a Vansant stuff, and then Sybeldon slammed two straight overpasses off tough Katy Beals serves. Utah used a 4-1 run to even it back up at 9-9, but Muñoz had a couple kills over the next three points to keep UW siding out. The Huskies led 13-12, but then Utah killed in serve-receive and Vansant sent a pair of swings out of bounds to force a Husky timeout at 13-15. A perfect pass from Vansant led to a Sybeldon smash out of the break to steady the Dawgs. Sybeldon and Strickland stuffed down a tip attempt at a critical point late in the set, getting it to 17-19. But after cutting it to one, the Utes answered with a kill straight to the floor, and then Strickland missed wide for 18-21, and the Huskies needed their last timeout. The teams traded sideouts until a tough Strickland serve produced a free ball that Kaleigh Nelson converted for a kill to prompt a Utah timeout at 21-22 Utes. Utah got the kill in serve-receive just inside the block out of the break, but Vansant answered with a roll shot off a running Nogueras set. Nelson then tied it up at 23 with a tip to the floor, and Utah took timeout again. The Utes sent a swing just long out of the timeout and the Huskies got to set point at 24-23. After the ball swung sides a few times, Nelson and Sybeldon stepped up with a rejection to seal the first set for the Huskies, 25-23. The Dawgs won despite hitting just .098, with Utah hitting .133, but the Utes missed three serves to just one for UW, and the Huskies added an ace to help swing the score.
A sprawling Strickland dig led to a Vansant sling to the corner to fire the Dawgs up early in set two. A Nelson shot and a Utah error made it 5-3 Dawgs, but Utah picked it right back up with four straight points and the Huskies suddenly needed timeout down 5-7. Vansant got the touch on a combo swing out of the break. Strickland then knotted it back up at 8-all with two straight kills from the left, and a Muñoz right side conversion was followed by another Strickland transition kill after Orlandini popped up a perfect pass, and the Utes needed timeout with the Huskies riding a 4-0 run. A tough Orlandini serve forced a Utah error, and then more tough UW ‘D’ led to a Utes overpass that Wade hit down for a 12-8 lead. Utah snapped the six-point run, but Wade got the serve right back with a swing from the middle, then Nogueras dropped a serve right on the back line for an ace and 14-9. A diving dig from Vansant led to a Nelson kill at 15-9. Wade put another down in transition for a 17-10 edge that made Utah take its last timeout. The Dawgs continued to roll after the break, with Nelson tipping one for a kill and then pushing down the overpass off the Strickland jump serve for a 19-10 lead. More kills came late from Wade, Nelson, and Vansant as the Huskies maintained a ten-point cushion. Sybeldon got UW to set point at 24-14, and then she finished it with another strike at 25-15. The Dawgs got the offense rolling at a .421 clip in the second set and held Utah to .108. After trailing 6-8, the Husky defense held the Utes to just one kill until it was 21-11 Dawgs. Nelson and Wade combined for nine kills in the set without an error.
A three-point Husky run capped off by a Vansant ace gave the Dawgs the early 5-3 lead in the third set. The Huskies made a few unforced mistakes, however, and Utah tied it up at 7-7 with an ace. Utah then had another three-point surge to take a 10-8 lead and force a Husky timeout. Nelson righted the ship with a right-side blast straight to the floor. Beals dropped an ace short off the diving defense to cut it to 11-12, but Utah came right back with two straight and the Huskies took timeout once again down 11-14. Muñoz connected out of the break and then Vansant served up an ace to get the Huskies right back within one, but Utah sided out and then got an ace of its own for 16-13. Right back came Washington with an Orlandini ace for 15-16. Washington finally evened it back up at 17-all after a solo block from Nelson, and then Utah missed on a set and needed timeout with the Huskies up one. Nogueras served long out of the break for 18-up, but Nelson got one through the block and down on a tough swing to get it right back. UW then donated serve again, Strickland missing long. Utah then went up after a Husky error, but Nelson answered the bell again from the right side to tie it at 20. Nogueras then dove for a dig and Sybeldon set Vansant for a key kill for 21-20, and then Utah swung long and took its last timeout. Utah tipped for a kill but then served long for 23-21. Utah won a long rally on the next point and then Vansant missed wide to even things at 23-23, but the Utes gave a serve back to set up match point. Utah got the sideout with a kill in serve-receive. A Muñoz swing got UW a second match point, but the Utes answered again. Strickland then missed a swing long for Utah set point at 25-26, but the Huskies dove all over the court to get it back over and down on a well-placed Strickland swing. Muñoz then served into the net for another set point Utes. Vansant put one down out of the back row for 27-all. Utah then swung long to get the Dawgs a third chance at the match, but the Utes had their own perfectly placed roll shot to save it. Vansant crushed one from the left to make it 29-28 Dawgs, and finally on the fourth chance, Utah missed its last swing long and the Huskies survived, 30-28, to get the sweep.
The third set stats saw the Huskies outhit .258 to .303 but got the win once again thanks in large part to four service aces. Nelson was outstanding in the frame, with five kills on six swings without an error for a .833 attack percentage.
Washington finally gets to head home and play in front of the Dawg Pack next week as the Arizona schools come to town. First match will be next Friday against the Wildcats at 8 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Arena.