A turning point after a time out keeps the Huskies undefeated
- #3 Washington def. #11 Oregon 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-16)
|Washington's Krista Vansant attacks past the Oregon block attempt in the Huskies' 3-1 victory Sunday morning|
-photo courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography
EUGENE—Kaleigh Nelson awoke early Sunday just as she had so many other times in her life: in Oregon. Washington’s senior All-American went to high school near Salem, and with each return to her home state, there was always a contingent of family and friends in the stands. After four seasons—each more productive than the last—this would be her final college match in Oregon.
“I didn’t really think about it,” she said. “We had a lot of work to do, and I can’t really pay attention to what’s out there in the stands.”
When Nelson was growing up, the Ducks played in historic Mac Court. When the Huskies came to town, the arena’s wooden bleachers pounded like a thousand drums under the weight of sold-out crowds.
But Oregon’s new home, Matt Court, with its sleek NBA-style exterior and subdued, cushioned interior, drew a Sunday morning crowd of just 1,631—a shame considering Washington came in undefeated, and Oregon’s only loss was to #1 Stanford.
Nelson and her Washington teammates played the first set like they had just barely rolled out of bed. There was little spark, and a ton of unforced errors, leading to a 25-21 Oregon win.
The Huskies roared back in the second set, however, as Washington’s hitters took better approaches in transition, and hit the ball with more authority. “We cleaned it up and quit making errors,” said Nelson. “We passed a lot better and were more on our assignments.”
The Huskies continue to roll early in the third, until the Ducks went on a tear. An 8-2 Oregon run forced Coach Jim McLaughlin to call a timeout. “I told them they had to have mental intensity,” he said. “If you lose it, it’s hard to get it back. You can’t let up ever up in this game.”
It proved to be the turning point. From the back row, Krista Vansant blasted a kill past the Oregon block. After a Tia Scambray ace, Vansant stuffed an Oregon attack, then followed with a cross-court kill to the very deepest corner of the court. The Ducks shook their heads, and Coach Jim Moore called a timeout.
But the damage had been done. Washington’s servers continued to keep Oregon out of system, allowing UW’s blockers to roof the Ducks time and time again. For the match, Washington outblocked Oregon 20-6. Lianna Sybeldon—the nation’s leading blocker—added another 11 block assists to her season total.
The Ducks, cowed by all the blocks, tried to tip their way to kills. But Huskies defenders were there time and again, picking up 57 digs for the match. “Once you have a good block,” said McLaughlin, “It’s human nature, you don’t want to get blocked and you start tipping. We knew it was coming.”
Late in the fourth set, with the Huskies firmly in control, the two teams had two stellar rallies, among the longest Washington has been part of this season. Both teams played furious defense, digging hard attacks, and flying far and wide to keep the ball in play. At one point, UW libero Cassie Strickland launched herself like a fullback leaping over an offensive line for a goal-line touchdown. In both rallies, Washington won the point.
McLaughlin smiled when asked about those two points. “Mike Normand, one of my mentors, always taught us that great teams win the long rallies. That’s something I’ve been preaching since I’ve been coaching.”
Nelson, too, grinned at the memory of those two long points. If she had been all business before the match, there was a hint of tears in her eyes once it was over. “Final college match here, in front of my loved ones. It was kinda cool.”