Nelson's Big Night Defuses Cougars In Four
Sept. 18, 2012
SEATTLE - A career night from sophomore Kaleigh Nelson was the tipping point in a fiercely fought Pac-12 opener, as the fifth-ranked Husky volleyball team held off Washington State in four sets at Alaska Airlines Arena. Nelson staved off two WSU set points that would have sent it to a fifth, as the Huskies (10-0, 1-0 Pac-12) stayed undefeated with the 25-20, 27-29, 25-14, 27-25 victory in front of 1,691 fans.
In their first appearance live on the Pac-12 Network, the Dawgs and Cougars created some edge of the couch cushion drama. The Cougars (10-3, 0-1 Pac-12) had a nine-match win streak coming in and spoiled two UW set points in the second set to hand the Huskies their first set loss of the season, 29-27. But after Washington rolled in the third set, it was their turn to face down set points in the fourth. Nelson stepped up with her final two put-aways of a career-best 16-kill night, and Washington closed it out two points later.
Washington State came in with the Pac-12's best defensive mark, limiting teams to a .092 attack percentage and also leading the league with 3.28 blocks per set. But the Huskies asserted themselves with a .295 attack mark, holding WSU to .177, and Washington outblocked the Cougars, 15.0 to 9.0.
Head Coach Jim McLaughlin's initial thoughts on the match were "It's just the Pac-12. The intensity ups significantly. When we had composure we were awful good, but we lost our composure many times. I don't like the way we played in transition but I liked the way we battled. When we're good, we're a real good team, but when you're not doing the things you're supposed to, you pay the price."
Nelson's 16 kills came on just 24 swings as she hit .500 for the night. Eight of those 16 finishes came in the decisive fourth set. The Salem, Ore. native's previous career-high was 11 kills earlier this year at Rice. Sharing the team-high with Nelson was sophomore Krista Vansant, who had a double-double with 16 kills and 120 digs along with four blocks. Junior Gabbi Parker also had the first double-double of her career with 10 kills and a career-high 12 digs. Senior Amanda Gil's eight blocks led the way and she added five kills and four digs.
The first set saw a surprise as freshman middle blocker Melanie Wade made her Washington debut, and was in the starting lineup to boot. The 6-4 native of Palo Alto would get her first kill and three block assists in the first two sets. Early in the opening set, some tough serving from freshman Katy Beals got the Huskies up, 7-4, but Washington State slowly came back to tie it up at 12-all. Kills by Nelson and Parker kept the Huskies up, 15-14, at the media timeout. Beals followed a Gil finish with a diving ace and then Gil and Kylin Muñoz rejected a Jaicee Harris swing to make it 21-18 and force a WSU timeout. Washington then rolled off the last three points with a Vansant finish and a rejection from Wade and Muñoz. Nelson came out of the blocks on fire, as she put away all five of her attempts in the first set. Washington hummed along at a .355 attack percentage in the frame.
An early block from Wade and Nelson in the second set made it 3-3, but the Cougars got their own block going, with two in a four-point run that gave them a 9-6 lead. The Huskies got a kill from Wade on a tap down at the net and a Vansant finish up the line from Orlandini to tie it back up at 10-all, but the Huskies then missed serve and WSU ran with the momentum to three-straight points and a 14-10 edge, forcing a Husky timeout. Nelson banged in another kill and Beals dialed up another ace to cut the lead to one at 15-16. A tough serve from Cassie Strickland led to a Cougars error and UW tied it at 17, then moved ahead on a Muñoz finish to force a WSU timeout. Vansant finished and Jenni Nogueras followed with an ace, and after a Cougars miss they needed timeout again at 22-20 Dawgs. But WSU rallied to tie it back up at 23-all. Parker connected to bring UW to set point, but Harris saved the first for WSU, and after a Nelson kill, Stephanie Logan kept the Cougs alive with another finish. Then the lead shifted to Washington State, and it was the Huskies hanging on, staying alive with another Parker termination and a triple block from Gil, Muñoz, and Vansant to tie it at 27. But Rachel Todorovich lifted WSU over the hump with the final two kills to take the set, 29-27. Washington hit just .087 in the set, as the Cougars blocked six balls and had 22 digs in the second set alone.
Having dropped their first set of the season, the Huskies merely came back out after intermission and won the first six points of the third set to reestablish momentum. The run was made on the serve of Parker, and this time it was the UW block doing the damage, as the Huskies roofed four shots in jumping out to a lead of 8-1. From there the Cougars never really threatened, as Beals served up another 5-0 Washington run to take a 17-6 lead and force the last Cougars timeout. Parker and Muñoz had kills in the run, and Parker had a solo rejection as well. After the lengthy second set, Washington wrapped things up quickly in the third, 25-14. The disparity in attack percentage said it all, as UW hit .448, with not a single error on the card, while the Cougars hit .000 with nine kills and nine errors. Washington had 6.5 blocks to none for WSU. Freshman Lianna Sybeldon checked in for the first time in the third set and she was a spark on offense, collecting three kills on four swings without at error.
The fourth set saw momentum swing back to the Cougars early, as they took a 4-1 lead and forced a quick Washington timeout. Washington rallied back and Sybeldon tied things with her first ace of the night at 7-all, and then Gil and Parker sent back the Logan swing for a one-point Husky lead. But a 4-1 run from Washington State kept the fans on edge. Todorovich had consecutive kills for a 14-11 Cougar lead but UW eschewed the timeout and Vansant hammered one down to end the run. Nelson again began heating up and had a couple put-aways and then a WSU miscue had things level again, 17-17. The teams traded sideouts until Vansant posted a kill and a solo stuff on back-to-back plays for a 20-19 lead and a WSU timeout. Another big swing from Vansant made it 23-22, and Parker had a great look at the next ball but missed long to keep the Cougars alive. Nelson then had a rare error and suddenly it was set point WSU at 24-23. But Nelson swooped in from the right side and crushed the Nogueras set to tie it back up. Harris earned another set point but Nelson wouldn't be denied again. Out of substitutes, Nelson fittingly had to go back to serve for the first time all night. At 25-all, Vansant took a tough swing out of the back row and rattled it off the defense and out long for the kill and match point. Nelson delivered another tough serve and Harris scrambled to hit from the left side, but Gil was there to meet the shot and send it back down for the win, 27-25. Nelson was sensational with eight kills and just one error on 11 swings in the set for a .636 attack percentage, as the Huskies hit .375 overall, holding off the feisty Cougars at .324. Vansant also added five kills in the last set without an error on 14 attempts.
The Huskies take to the road this weekend for just one match, visiting Tucson to face Arizona on Saturday, Sept. 22, in a match that has been moved to 5 p.m. from its originally schedule 7 p.m.