Special Season Ends In Semifinals
OMAHA, Neb. – Washington brought the determination and resilience it has displayed all season to the biggest stage tonight, but the Huskies saw their thrilling NCAA tournament run come to a close in the semifinals with a four set defeat to second-seeded Kentucky. After a slow start, the sixth-seeded Huskies (20-4) stormed back to take set two and build a healthy lead in the third, but the Wildcats (22-1) turned the tables and stole set three with a late run, then closed it out 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 25-17 at the CHI Health Center Arena.
The Huskies were appearing in the Final Four for the first time since 2013 and the fifth time in program history. Washington is now 1-4 in its semifinal appearances, with the win in 2005 followed up with a win in the title match.
The Dawgs had made headlines in this Omaha bubble tourney setting by winning all three of their matches in fifth sets. No team had ever reached the Final Four in tournament history with 3-2 wins from the second round to the regional final.
"Proud of our group, how can you not be?" said Keegan Cook after leading the Pac-12 Champions to the semis for the first time during his head coaching tenure. "Just getting this program back to this level and competing hard against an outstanding Kentucky team. A lot of gratitude for the women in that locker room."
What a run and what a journey.
The fall can't come soon enough ...
— Washington Volleyball (@UWVolleyball) April 23, 2021
After Kentucky controlled the first set, the Huskies trailed 15-20 in set two, but ended the set on a 7-1 run, and a 10-3 extended run to win it on a block by Lauren Sanders and Ella May Powell. Washington then controlled the majority of set three with continued pressure from the service line and efficient sideout offense. But with the Huskies up 22-16, Kentucky fought back with a late run of its own, outscoring the Huskies 9-1 to take that set. Kentucky's offense then regained steam in the fourth and the Dawgs eventually were unable to keep pace.
Kentucky wound up hitting .340 for the match, just the second time UW has given up a percentage higher than .300, while the Huskies hit .206. Washington had a 7-6 edge in aces and a 9.0 to 8.0 edge in blocks, but Kentucky had 65 kills compared to 50 for the Dawgs. Still, Washington was just one or two plays away from a 2-1 lead.
"(Kentucky is) a team that's been playing at a really high level the entire season," said Cook. "We got to see them at the end of their season last year, and the improvement is just unbelievable in so many spaces. We knew it was going to take a lot to be able to sideout with them for long periods of time, and we were able to do that for a good portion. Unfortunate to let that third set get away from us, but again, just their steadiness. I thought we served the ball at a really high level and they were able to weather those storms."
— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) April 23, 2021
First Team All-American Samantha Drechsel led the Huskies with 18 kills and hit .289 and senior Lauren Sanders was stellar with nine kills on a .471 attack percentage with four blocks. First Team All-America setter Ella May Powell had 40 assists, three blocks and three kills, and Second Team All-American Claire Hoffman had 10 kills and nine digs. Senior Emma Calle had a great match with 16 digs and two aces.
Only serving specialist Maria Bogomolova officially played her final Husky match tonight, so Washington will be looking to find ways to improve during the offseason then make a renewed push in the fall.
"We've come a long way with our group," said Cook. "We've gotten good at a lot of big things that are important. There are some little spaces that we've got to get a lot better in. I know that our athletes are bummed right now, but after that there will be a lot of motivation in a short offseason to come back better than we were."
— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) April 22, 2021
SET 1: Endsley tipped for a kill on the fourth point of the match for 2-2. Hoffman got a kill off the block touch and Grote put a slide away as the Huskies held a 5-4 lead. A couple Husky errors contributed to a Kentucky 4-0 run and the Huskies took the first timeout at 6-9. A great bump set from Powell led to Drechsel's first kill out of the break to stop the run. Drechsel had another finish for 8-11. Sanders killed a slide, and then Hoffman pounded down an overpass to get the Dawgs running. Sanders and Powell teamed for a rejection for a fourth point for 12-13 and Kentucky took timeout. Out of the break, UK made an error and the Dawgs were even at 13-all. But the next UK swing just caught the line and Kentucky added three more to put them back down four at 13-17 and UW needed its second timeout. The Dawgs forced an error out of the break but Kentucky added two more. Hoffman connected on a couple Powell sets to get the Dawgs within four at 16-20, but a Husky overpass forced Powell into a back row attack for 16-22. Sanders killed a quick for 18-23, but the Wildcats took the final two points to close out the set, 18-25.
SET 2: Sanders and Endsley teamed up for a booming block and then Bogomolova served up the first Husky ace for 3-3. Grote hammered down a quick from Powell for 5-6 Wildcats. But the Dawgs stalled with a couple unforced errors and Kentucky ran off three for 5-9 and the Huskies took time. Drechsel sided out for the Dawgs and then Endsley tooled the block for 7-9. Drechsel blasted twice from the right and put the second down for 8-9 to cap the 3-0 Husky run. Sanders went offspeed for a kill and then Calle dropped a short serve to the floor for an ace. A long rally ended in a Kentucky error for 12-12, and then Calle fired another ace for 13-12 and Kentucky took timeout as the Dawgs were on a 4-0 run. Sanders finished off a Powell slide for 14-13, but the Wildcats scored three straight to retake the lead. Drechsel had a perfectly place back row swing for 15-16, but two more for Kentucky forced the Huskies to take timeout at 15-18. Kentucky got two more out of the break, but then the Dawgs started a late push. Hoffman had a kill and then she dropped a short serve ace for 17-20. Drechsel finished and then Endsley rose up for a solo rejection for 20-22. A replay reversal on the next point got Endsley a kill on the touch to pull UW within a point, and then Sanders and Powell stuffed one down for 22-22 and Kentucky took time. Out of the break, Drechsel fired an ace as the Dawgs kept running. The next point, the Dawgs got a dig and Endsley crushed up the line in transition for 24-22 and two set points. Kentucky saved one to snap the 6-0 run, but on the next point, Sanders and Powell blocked another to end it, 25-23. The Huskies finished the set on runs of 10-3 and 7-1 to even the match at a set apiece.
SET 3: Hoffman had a kill and then teamed with Grote for a block for 3-3 early in the third set. A kill from Grote and then an ace for Powell put the Huskies on top, 6-4. Grote got all over a rejection and then Drechsel got one down inside the block for a 9-6 lead. Endsley blasted crosscourt from the left for 10-7 Dawgs. Washington won another challenge for 11-7 and then Drechsel capped a long rally with a back row strike for 12-7 and Kentucky called time. Endsley barely missed one wide up the line but Sanders landed another slide for 13-9. Another finish for Hoffman followed by a Wildcat error had the Dawgs up five at 16-11. Drechsel pulverized one from the left and then another long rally was ended by Grote stuffing one down for 18-13 Dawgs. Another Drechsel kill in serve-receive made it 19-14 and Kentucky took time. UW missed serve out of the break but Endsley smartly wiped off the block for 20-15, and then Powell hit Hoffman in transition for another point for 21-15. Kentucky got a couple to cut into the lead and the Huskies took time at 22-18. Washington couldn't find the floor and Kentucky made them pay in transition, getting two more points for 22-20. Then the Wildcats had what replays showed was a clear net violation during a point they eventually won. Without any remaining challenges the Huskies had no recourse and the Wildcats got within one instead of a 23-20 Husky lead. Finally, Powell snapped the Kentucky run with a dump for 23-22, but Kentucky answered with two more kills as the Dawgs found themselves down set point. Kentucky came through on its first chance, getting a kill to steal the set and retake the lead. Kentucky ended the third set on a 9-1 run.
SET 4: Sanders and Grote got UW started well with kills on slide sets from Powell. A Drechsel kill was followed by a Grote stuff for a 5-2 lead. Kentucky used a 4-0 run to move ahead, 6-8, but Drechsel lasered one from the right to snap that streak. Hoffman swung up the left line off the defense and out for 9-10. But Kentucky had a block and then UW hit out of bounds on a slide attempt for 9-13 and needed timeout. Powell threw down for a point out of the break but Kentucky scored three more to put the Dawgs in a seven-point hole at 10-17. After their last timeout, Drechsel had a solo block followed by a right side kill to get back within five. Drechsel had two more kills but Kentucky kept responding with sideouts of its own. Sanders finished to make it 15-20, but Kentucky answered and then had a block to rebuild a 15-22 lead. Powell ended a long rally with another kill for 16-23, but Kentucky reached match point on the next rally. Washington saved one but Kentucky closed it out, as the Wildcats hit .520 in the last set.