SEATTLE – It may have been an exhibition and the box score won’t be entered into the recordbooks, but the Husky volleyball team certainly played like this was as big a match as any other on its schedule, taking down the Canadian National Team in four sets at KeyArena. The thrilling finish whet the appetite of the 1,072 fans in attendance, as the next volleyball action they see on the KeyArena floor will be the NCAA semifinals and finals this December.
Washington is hosting Team Canada for a rare two-match in-season exhibition series, with the second match coming tomorrow night back at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Huskies played with regular season intensity in earning the 25-21, 25-19, 24-26, 25-23 victory over a team that features several former NCAA All-Americans on its roster.
The Huskies owned two match points in the third set, but Canada closed with a four point run to push things to a fourth. UW then had to overcome a four-point deficit late to put the match away. The Huskies outhit the Canadians, .261 to .237, finishing with 54 kills to 52 for Canada. Junior Krista Vansant led the Huskies with 15 kills and added 11 digs for a double-double, while senior Jenna Orlandini had a huge night with 28 digs, which would have been just one off her career-high. Junior Kaleigh Nelson added 10 kills and Kylin Muñoz had nine more on a .381 attack percentage.
Head Coach Jim McLaughlin was not approaching tonight’s match any differently despite the opponent and “exhibition.” “I think it’s about us, it’s about improvement. I’ve always said it doesn’t matter who we play, where we play, when we play, it’s how we play and we control that,” McLaughlin said. “I told them one of the most important values that carries the most weight is improvement. It’s just about us getting better, it’s the foundation of our program.”
Muñoz got the first kill of the night for the Dawgs from the right side and Gabbi Parker hit for a 3-2 lead. Orlandini popped up a heavy ball and Vansant got her first kill on a tough swing off the net for a 7-5 UW lead. Muñoz had a couple tips for kills, and then an ace from Kaleigh Nelson pushed it to 10-6. After a Vansant finish for 11-7, Canada called timeout. The teams traded points until a 3-0 Canada run cut it to 13-12 and forced UW to take time. Canada tied it up on several rallies, but UW kept pulling ahead, and an Orlandini ace put it back up to 18-16. Canada then ran off three straight points to get its first lead since 3-4, at 18-19. Washington answered with a 4-0 run of its own, with Wade slamming a quick set from Nogueras and then a Canada error, a Vansant kill, and an ace from Katy Beals. A Parker kill made it 23-20, then UW got set point on a Canada service error. Canada’s Marcelle tipped one wide on the next rally to end it, with UW taking the set, 25-21. Wade, Vansant, and Muñoz all had three kills in the first set as UW finished at .296 with Canada at .258 for the set.
Early in the second set, the teams tied up at every point all the way up to 10-10, before the Huskies went on a 5-1 run to claim a 15-11 edge. Sybeldon had a pair of early kills, and the first Husky block of the night from Sybeldon and Parker made it 16-12 Dawgs. Wade hammered another to the back line and then Parker hit a sharp angle for a 20-15 edge. Vansant put away a combo set and then Nelson finished with an off-speed swing for 22-17. An ace from Wade and a Canada error brought up set point, and Sybeldon slammed her third kill of the set to clinch it, 25-19. The Huskies outhit Team Canada, .273 to .188 in the second set.
The Huskies took an early 3-1 lead but Canada came back with three straight. Kills from Vansant, Sybeldon, and Nelson kept pulling UW even, then the Huskies had a 3-0 run on Nogueras’ serve to take an 8-6 edge, two more kills coming from Sybeldon. But the momentum swung right back as Canada won three straight for a 9-8 lead. Muñoz put one down inside the block to tie it. A two point Canada lead was erased by a Wade kill after a long rally and a bad set by the Canadians, but Canada came back with a four point surge to take its biggest lead of the night at 17-13. Nelson capped a long rally with a crucial kill to stop the run, then put away another on the next play to make it 15-17. Down 18-21, Vansant got a kill off a blocking error, and then proceeded to take over the set. She killed four points in a row, getting increasingly fired up with every set coming her way, as UW surged into the lead and her sixth kill in the span of seven points gave UW two match points at 24-22. Canada called timeout, and Love saved one match point with a kill in serve-receive out of the break. Vansant had a swing on the next rally but was dug, and Canada got even with another kill from Love. Washington then let a Canada serve hit the back line for an ace, and Vansant was then blocked, capping a 4-0 run that got Canada back from the brink and the 26-24 set win.
Washington shook off the disappointment of the third set to get an early 6-5 lead in the fourth set after two straight kills from Parker. Vansant then served up an ace for 7-5, but Canada responded by taking five of the next six points for a 10-8 lead. Canada pushed out to a three point edge at 16-13 and forced a Husky timeout. Team Canada missed a couple serves, but added three more kills for 19-15, and UW needed time again. Out of the break, Nelson hammered one for a kill to snap the Huskies awake. Muñoz and Sybeldon then marked Marcelle and sent her swing straight down for a much-needed block. Muñoz followed that with a crosscourt kill and it was 18-19 with Canada calling for time. Another block, this one right in the middle with all three Husky blockers up at net tied the score at 19-all. Marcelle’s kill got Canada back in front, but Nelson evened it with a finish. The teams swapped points a couple more times, with Vansant getting a kill for 22-all, and then a tough Beals serve forced Canada into an error and UW went up 23-22, prompting Canada’s second timeout. Beals hit her spot again and Canada misfired, bring back match point at 24-22 just like set three. Again Canada saved the first with a kill from Lisa Barclay, but on the next rally, Beals set Parker quick in the middle and she found the floor to end it, 25-23. The Huskies outhit Canada, .286 to .171 in the frame, led by Parker’s four kills, and seven big digs from Orlandini.
The teams will meet again in less than 24 hours, as they had north to Alaska Airlines Arena for a 6 p.m. start tomorrow evening.