Sybeldon, Wade, Strickland and Beals book another dance with Nebraska
- #1 Washington def. #14 Ohio State 3-2 (23-25, 25-20, 25-18, 12-25, 15-8)
- Dec 12 | 1PM (Pacific) | #1 Washington vs. #5 Nebraska | ESPNU
|Washington will get another crack at Nebraska after defeating Ohio State 3-2|
-Volleyblog Seattle file photo by Leslie Hamann
It didn't end the way it started.
Playing in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season, Washington started flat. Serves were too easy. Passing was suspect. Sets were too low. UW senior middle Lianna Sybeldon, the best percentage hitter in the nation, ended the first set with no kills and 3 errors on 6 attempts. On the set's final play, the All-American was stuffed at the net.
"Our timing was off," said Washington coach Keegan Cook. "The set's to Lianna were a little low. And she wasn't seeing the block very well."
As a team, UW hit .025 in that opening set. And on a night when favored Wisconsin lost to Florida, favored Penn State lost to and favored Texas struggled to beat UCLA, the Huskies looked ripe for the tournament dustbin.
And then the seniors stepped up. Middle Melanie Wade (thanks, in big part, to passing and defense by sophomores Tia Scambray and Courtney Schwan) connected for kills and served strong. Setter Katy Beals disguised her dishes and played exceptional defense. Sybeldon waited on the ball another split second, blasting past what Cook called one of the best blocking teams the Huskies have seen this season.
And then, there was Cassie Strickland. The senior libero made two plays for this or any other season's highlight reel. The first was a sprint for the sidelines, laying out to save an errant pass with a dive that would make any NFL wide receiver proud. The second was a kick save worthy of an NHL goalie, helping keep a crucial rally alive.
"Our team was so amazed (by the out-of-bounds dive)," said Cook, "that they just stood and watched. It was just the way I want Cassie to play."
The second and third sets were both won by Washington, largely on the strength of its balanced attack and its typically strong serve receive. Over a long stretch, UW's passes and digs went consistently to the ten-foot line, allowing Beals and fellow setter Bailey Tanner to vary their attack, often allowing hitters to face just one blocker.
During more than one timeout, one of Ohio State's best players, outside hitter Taylor Sandbothe, walked over to a courtside trashcan and vomited. Despite her illness, neither she nor her teammates rolled over, absolutely demolishing the Huskies in the fourth set. As in the first set, nothing seemed to work for UW, especially from the service line. Washington managed just 12 points in the fourth.
But in the final frame, the Huskies took back control. Great passing led to great sets led to an unstoppable attack from Wade and Sybeldon in the middle. The two seniors finished with a combined 24 kills and 11 block assists between them.
"Our seniors are unreal," said Cook. "so steady."
Next up is an old nemesis, Nebraska. Former Washington coach Jim McLaughlin had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Huskers' coach John Cook, and his team played tight in several tournament losses to Nebraska, including last season.
This time, however, it's Cook vs. Cook. And Keegan has no bones to pick with John.
"Mel (Wade) pulled me aside and said, no big deal. Just another team."