Saturday, October 4, 2014

College | Washington volleyball bounces all the way back to beat UCLA

In a thriller, Huskies win the final three sets behind Vansant, Sybeldon

#4 Washington def. #20 UCLA 3-2 (18-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-20, 15-10)
  • New Mexico St @ Seattle U | Sat, Oct 4 | 1PM
  • #4 Washington @ Oregon State | Fri, Oct 10 | 6PM | Pac-12 Networks
  • #4 Washington @ #11 Oregon | Sun, Oct 12 | 11AM | Pac-12 Networks

UCLA players, including setter Julie Consani (15) react as Washington rallied for a 3-2 victory in Seattle
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Lianna Sybeldon paced outside the locker room, barely able to stand still. Moments earlier, #4 Washington had climbed all the way back from an 0-2 hole to defeat #20 UCLA 3-2. In the arena, fans were still buzzing, slow to leave after the heart-stopping finish. Sybeldon bounced on her toes, scrunched her face and did all she could not to flap her arms with joy.

“I try to be more controlled on the court,” she said. “But when we’re off, there’s too much energy.” 


Before a full-throated crowd of 4,031, Sybeldon was a symbol of everything the Huskies did right this night. For the 13th time in a row, Washington (15-0, 4-0) won a match that went to five sets, defeating a team from UCLA (10-4, 1-2) that seemed determined to hand the Huskies its first loss of the season.

Down 2 sets to 1, Washington trailed 13-7 in the fourth
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Back in the fourth set, the Bruins led 13-7 and held a 2-1 advantage in sets. UCLA All-American Karsta Lowe had been all but unstoppable, amassing 25 kills to that point. A 6-4 senior, Lowe has played with a strength and ease that seemed absent her first three seasons. This year, she leads the nation in kills per set, and has been named Pac-12 Player of the Week in three of the season’s first five weeks. Last night, Bruin setter Julie Consani looked for Lowe wherever she was in the rotation—left, right, front, back. Lowe consistently found open angles or simply soared above the block.

In that crucial fourth set, Washington’s Krista Vansant tipped over the block to cut the lead to 13-8. Cassie Strickland, whose jump serve was on target most of the night, followed with an ace. A second scorching serve sent the Bruins scrambling, forcing Lowe’s shot into the antenna. At 13-10, Lowe buried her 26th kill, tooling the block attempt on the right. Vansant looked skyward in frustration. But it also signaled resolve. Lowe would tally just two more kills the rest of the night.

Vansant (19 kills, 4 errors, 45 attempts, .333) is the defending AVCA National Player of the Year. This season, Lowe may be her biggest competition for a repeat award. But as Lowe seemed to tire, Vansant grew ever stronger. The Huskies, she said, kept tweaking their blocking assignments until they made it tougher for Lowe to hit cross-court, forcing her to hit line. With UCLA leading 15-12, Lowe’s attack went into the net. At 16-14, she line shot went wide. Kills by Kaleigh Nelson and Courtney Schwan gave UW an 18-17 lead; Schwan’s off-speed attacks seemed to rattle the Bruins. “We had a nice little cushion, then we gave up a few easy points,” said UCLA coach Mike Sealy. “We let them tip and roll shot out of some situations.”
UCLA's Karsta Lowe attacks against the block of Washington's Krista Vansant and Lianna Sybeldon
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
With the Huskies up by one, Lowe was stuffed by Sybeldon and Crissy Jones. At 19-18, Lowe hit into the net. At 24-20, Lowe’s back row bomb went wide right, and the teams were headed to a deciding fifth set. After four sets, Lowe had taken 57 swings. “Fatigue started setting in a little bit,” said Sealy. “We just weren’t as precise.” By comparison, the Huskies’ attack was far more balanced. Nelson, in particular, continued her long pattern of delivering emphatic kills just when the Huskies needed it.

As the crowd amped up for set five, Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin knew how hard it is to come back from an 0-2 deficit against a quality Pac-12 team, even at home. He and assistant coach Keegan Cook talked about how it was a test of the UW system. “Our backs are against the wall,” McLaughlin said, “How are we going to respond?”

In the Huskies’ system, everything starts with the serve. And that, in the end, was the difference. Melanie Wade delivered hard, flat serves to the Bruins’ deep corner. Tia Scambray launched three crucial serves that kept UCLA setters out of system. And during a deciding 6-2 run, it was powerful quicks in the middle by Sybeldon (13 kills, 2 errors, 20 attempts, .550) and a determined mix of crosses and tools off the Bruin block by Vansant that sealed the deal. With UW leading 12-8 and Lowe at the service line, the crowd rose to its feet, raising the volume as loud as it’s been during Vansant’s four-year career. Scambray’s pass popped back over the net, but UCLA couldn’t set up a kill. With the Bruins scrambling, Vansant landed a perfect tip. Four plays later UW won yet another five-set match, and its 25th home match in a row. As Vansant summed it up, “we’re a hard team to beat.”

Washington players celebrate after the final point of their 3-2 win against UCLA
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

“These guys have a good heart,” said McLaughlin. “We have some intangibles. We’re down, we can come back. We’re not always going to play perfect. But we should grab onto the confidence that this type of game should give us.”

As Sybeldon bounced away from the locker room and back into the Arena, the adrenaline was still pumping. A throng of dozens of fans, most of them young girls, let out a scream, and begged for her autograph.


  • The first set was a strange one, as 9 of Washington’s first 10 points were off UCLA errors. With UW leading 16-15, UCLA defensive specialist Rachel Inouye served 8 straight points, despite two Washington time-outs. In the second set, the Huskies blew three set points as UCLA setter Julie Consani served the final five straight points of the set.
  • The Pac-12 Network opted not to televise this heart-stopping match, just as they failed to broadcast the most recent epic contest at Alaska Airlines Arena: Washington’s extraordinary 3-2 win (26-24, 16-25, 21-25, 32-30, 25-23) over eventual national runner-up Oregon in 2012. Both matches were streamed at, but it should send signals to the Pac-12 Network schedulers that they skip matches in Seattle at their peril.
  • Washington, ranked #4 in the nation, should move up at least one spot this week after #3 Penn State (14-2) lost 3-1 in Lincoln to #3 Nebraska. #2 Texas beat Iowa State, and #1 Stanford knocked off previously-unbeaten #11 Oregon, 3-1 in Palo Alto. Oregon was up 14-8 in the first set, but lost 25-23.
  • #14 Arizona remains unbeaten in Pac-12 play (along with Washington and Stanford) after its 3-0 sweep of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats only loss this season is to Texas in Austin. #17 Arizona State needed five sets to beat Colorado, winning the final set 15-13. In Pullman, #19 USC might have salvaged its season by pulling out a five-set win (15-11 in the 5th) over unlucky Washington State. Samantha Bricio had 28 kills for the Trojans. And the Huskies’ next opponent, Oregon State, is now 2-1 in Pac-12 play after a 3-0 sweep of California in Berkeley. Last season, the Beavers were 0-20 in conference play, and had lost 24 Pac-12 matches in a row before beating Utah last week.
  • USA is now 8-0 in the FIVB World Championships after defeating Serbia this morning, 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-22). Kelly Murphy led USA with 14 kills, followed by Kelsey Robinson (12) and Kim Hill (11). USA—ranked #2 in the world—wraps up pool play against arch-nemesis top-ranked Brazil. Both teams are undefeated (pending today’s Brazil/Russia match). Sunday’s match between USA and Brazil starts at 11AM, and should be available live (and free) on


  1. Karsta was devastating, and it was great fun at times to see their Karsta answered just as forcefully by our Krista. But what won it for us was that so many people made key plays. From the stands I had the feeling that if one player was off, there was always another who would have it covered. Great team.

    We noticed that Cassie changed her serve partway through. We wondered if she was injured. The flatter serve was not quite as spectacular, but was sure effective.

    1. Karsta is a beast! She reminds me of Krista last year, she carries the team on her kills. I love how Jim is playing all these talented freshmen. We have a lot more options which will hopefully translate into a deep run into the playoffs again!

  2. Jack,
    Great post on the match. Always appreciate reading your take on these games and the excellent photography.

    The body language of the UCLA players in the top photo is very interesting. Curious if you know at what point in the match this occurred. It looks like there had just been a block of Lowe.

    1. The photo was taken in the fourth set, with Washington leading 21-19. UCLA's Zoe Nightingale served. In the ensuing rally, both Nightingale and Washington's Cassie Strickland made great defensive plays. During a strong joust by the Huskies' Lianna Sybeldon, UCLA setter Julie Consani (15) left her feet to contest it. Because Consani was a back-row player in that rotation, and because she contacted the ball above the net, she was called for the violation.

      Much thanks, by the way, for the comments about Leslie's photographs. We hope folks feel free to LIKE or SHARE our posts on Facebook. []

  3. Cassie's jump float was way more effective than her topspin v. UCLA. It seemed that UCLA passed all of her topspin effortlessly, and it wasn't until she pulled out the jump float that they were challenged by her. I'd like to see that switch called more often in similar circumstances.

  4. Definately a great match on Friday and caught some of it streaming and some of the updates from friends who made it down to Seattle. What do you think of the freshman this year? While Tia is pretty steadfast, Schwan and Jones seem to have struggles back and forth to who is not playing quite up to snuff. You can see Jones can be a firecracker for this team and she is so athletic! Schwan is long. :) What about DeHoog? going to find her way in?

    Also, do you think Jim is bring any top recruits in this year? a bit search around the web doesn't show any verbals so thought maybe y'all might know something. :)


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