Huskies Rally Past LSU Into Round Of 16

SEATTLE – After cruising through the first round of the NCAA Championships last night, the Husky volleyball team received a first set wake-up call from a determined LSU squad tonight in the second round, as the Tigers roared out to a 25-17 first set win. But facing adversity for the first time in the tournament, but hardly the first time all season, the third-seeded Huskies (28-2) responded by marching off the final three sets 25-18, 25-21, 25-19 to advance into the round of 16 for the second straight season.
Washington will now travel to Los Angeles and the Galen Center, home of Pac-12 rival USC, to face 14th-seeded Kansas in the round of 16 next Friday, Dec. 13. The winner of that match will then play the winner between sixth-seeded USC and BYU for a spot in the Final Four back in Seattle at KeyArena. This is the eighth trip to the round of 16 for Washington in Head Coach Jim McLaughlin’s thirteen seasons.
Tonight, in front of 3,135 fans in the final match at Alaska Airlines Arena, junior Krista Vansant showed off the all-around skills that made her Pac-12 Player of the Year to the visitors from Baton Rouge, as she had 24 kills on the night while hitting .370 and adding 13 digs, an ace and two blocks. Vansant’s kills total was twice as many as any other player in the match, as she carried the offense early and then received help late from junior Kaleigh Nelson, who bounced back from a slow start to finish with 12 kills and a season-high-matching seven blocks.
Washington was held under .200 on offense for just the third time this season, hitting .178, as LSU (19-13) tenaciously dug, blocked, and extended rallies as it did to come back from 0-2 on Friday to beat Michigan. But the Huskies were just as stingy, led by 22 digs from Jenna Orlandini, and UW held LSU to just .131 overall. After LSU had six blocks in the first set to just one for UW, Washington’s block turned things around, and over the final three sets, the Huskies had 13.0 blocks to 7.0 for LSU. Middles Lianna Sybeldon and Melanie Wade had seven and six blocks, respectively.
“What a match,” said Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. “Good intensity. I really like (LSU Head Coach Fran Flory’s) team; they play extremely hard, they play very good defense and can put a lot of pressure on you … it really forced us to respond. The numbers weren’t great, but we fought hard, and the girls tapped out emotionally and they had to. We got some big swings and (Vansant) did some good things, especially in crunch time when we had to get a kill. I think we need a match like this, I really do.”
Vansant climbed two spots on the Washington career kills list tonight, passing two-time All-American Kindra Carlson (2007-10) and two-time All-Pac-12 selection Kristina Laffling (1996-99) to move up to seventh on the UW top-10. The junior from Redlands, Calif. now has 1,273 career kills.
The teams swapped points back and forth for the first ten points, until a Nelson finish put UW up for the first time at 6-5. The Tigers then strung together three straight points, only to have the Huskies come back with three in a row to take back a 9-8 lead after consecutive Nelson kills. But momentum swung back with yet another 3-0 LSU run, including an ace served short, and a solo block for Helen Boyle. Another ace found the back line for LSU and the Huskies called timeout, down 11-14. Vansant put a perfect pass to Beals who found Sybeldon for a kill to snap the run, and then Sybeldon and Muñoz had a rejection for 13-15 Tigers. Washington had chances in transition to cut into the lead, but LSU came up with blocks of Vansant and Nelson, and then Elliott rolled one over and down for a 20-15 LSU lead and the Huskies called their last timeout. Nelson scored out of the break on a crosscourt shot between defenders, and then another long rally ended in a Nelson shot that rattled and fell and LSU asked for its first timeout at 17-20. The LSU adjustments proved apt, as the Tigers ran off the final five points in a row to take the set, 25-17. Sybeldon was blocked solo twice by Briana Holman in the string. Washington hit just .125 in the first set while LSU hit .400, with the Tigers posting six blocks to just one for UW.
A Vansant kill and a block from Muñoz and Wade got the Huskies going with the first two points in set two, but LSU came back with three in a row, including an ace off the top of the net. Vansant answered with a kill off the block from the left, and then Nogueras’ serving forced LSU into an error from the back. Wade and Nelson then rejected Boyle straight down, and after a Vansant kill, Wade and Nelson got Boyle for another rejection and an LSU timeout with the Huskies up 8-3. The Tigers trimmed it to a three-point lead, but Wade served up an ace to push it back up to 11-6. Sybeldon had a solo rejection of a Tiger attempt from the middle for a six-point lead at 13-7. Vansant added to the lead with another smash and then an LSU miscue made it 17-9 and forced the Tigers’ last timeout. LSU put together three in a row out of the timeout to force the Huskies right into a timeout of their own. After one more Tigers point, Vansant put one down inside the LSU block to break the skid, and then LSU hit into the net to get it back to 19-13. But again LSU responded with three straight as UW’s passing game lapsed. Again Vansant came through, taking a Nogueras set on the right in serve-receive and smashing it for 20-16. Then Nelson and Wade stuffed Boyle for 21-16. Strickland got a LSU touch for a kill for 22-17, and UW then ran off the next two on an off-speed Sybeldon kill and a triple block in the middle to get to set point at 24-17. LSU got one back, but Sybeldon tipped over and down on the next rally to end it, 25-17. Vansant had seven kills in the set to lead the Dawgs, as they still hit just .132 but held LSU to -.045 with 11 errors to just nine kills. Wade and Nelson each had four blocks in the set.
After intermission, Vansant continued to swing away, taking three swings on an early point before lining the third one to the floor for a 2-1 lead. Wade had a nice quick set kill for 3-all, then she smartly knocked a shot over on the second contact for a kill and a 5-4 lead. An ace from Strickland opened up a slim 9-7 lead for the Dawgs, then Vansant hammered one in serve-receive, and on the next rally, she waited on a lofty Nogueras set to hit it off the block and down for a 12-9 edge. The teams traded points until a Sybeldon and Nelson stuff of Boyle brought up the media timeout with the Huskies on top, 15-13. But LSU took three in a row to take its first lead since 4-3 and force a Husky timeout, and the Tigers added another on a Sybeldon error before Muñoz had a much-needed kill to break the run and make it 16-17. Two straight Vansant kills evened things back up at 18-18 and LSU took timeout. Another Vansant swing went off the blockers’ fingertips and fell following an Orlandini dig as the Huskies climbed back up one. Swing after swing from Vansant helped wear out the Tigers defense and she put another away after a LSU free ball for 21-19 and LSU called its last timeout. LSU got the sideout, but Nelson capped a long rally that included a Tigers kick save with a critical kill for 22-20. LSU then missed two straight after tough Vansant serves and it was set point Huskies at 24-20. Nelson missed one long but on the next point, Vansant shanked a pass but Nelson ran to the front row to bump it back into play, and Vansant took a swing from behind the 10-foot line and sent it off the block and out for the kill. That ended things, 25-21, with Vansant landing her ninth kill of the set out of 16 total for UW. The Huskies hit .239 and held LSU to .133, getting nine more digs from Orlandini.
Vansant hammered down an overpass and then she tipped over the block for an early 3-0 lead in the fourth set, but LSU was able to push back and get within one. Vansant then got the right side kill and served up an ace for a 6-3 lead, and then a good block touch from Strickland eventually led to a Nelson swing and an 8-4 lead. The Tigers blocked Strickland on two straight after shaky UW passes, but Muñoz had another well-timed kill for 10-7. LSU cut the lead to one point at 10-9, but then made a net violation and sailed their next shot well out, taking timeout as UW stretched back out to a 12-9 lead. A tough Orlandini serve funneled LSU into a triple block on the next point, and then Wade punched down a 50-50 ball to extend the Husky run. LSU made another error for a 15-9 Husky lead before Orlandini served long. Back-to-back kills from Vansant and Nelson made it 17-11 Dawgs. Katie Lindelow helped LSU make another push, firing two tough serves, one forcing a ball-handling error on UW and the next going for an ace off Orlandini to cut it to 18-15 and force Washington back to its bench. After the break, Nogueras set it back to Nelson on the right and she put it down for a big point. Wade then lined an ace off the Tigers back row for 20-15 and forced the last LSU timeout. The Tigers finally seemed to run out of gas late, as Nelson and Sybeldon posted a huge stuff of Cati Leak on the left, and then Leak hit one way out trying to avoid the block on the next point. With Wade still serving and forcing LSU into predictable swings, Leak was blocked again by Sybeldon and Nelson, and then Nelson connected for another kill to bring up match point at 24-15. The Tigers gamely fought off four straight match points, but Nogueras found Strickland who smacked the final shot home to end it, 25-19. The Huskies outhit LSU, .205 to .118 in the fourth set, with Vansant posting six more kills on a .462 mark, and Nelson closing strong with five kills on a .400 percentage.