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Surprisingly Sweet: Vintage UW Volleyball sweeps Creighton

Finding themselves in an unusual postseason underdog role, the Huskies rode a ferocious blocking effort to knock out the 9th-seeded Bluejays.

Lauren Sanders (leaping, in middle), Kara Bajema (15), and Shayne McPherson (in white) celebrate with their team after finishing a stunning sweep of 9th-seeded Creighton.
Washington Athletics

Washington put together their most complete performance of the season, sweeping #9 Creighton in Omaha on Saturday evening (25-19, 25-21, 25-23) to snap a 21-game win streak for the Bluejays (29-5, 18-0 Big East).

The Huskies (20-12, 10-10 Pac-12) qualify for their sixth Sweet 16 in 7 years, but this was by far the least likely of those appearances. Washington has rarely been in the role of underdog

I’m almost more tempted to believe one of the 2004-2015 Husky teams simply time-traveled and played this match instead. That wasn’t just a really good performance by the Huskies — it’s just not how 2018 Washington normally wins matches.

This year’s Huskies do have similar size to many of those squads, but the team as a whole is nowhere near as good at blocking. From a footwork/reading the setter standpoint, the best fundamental blocker on the current team is junior Avie Niece, who’s somewhat undersized for a Pac-12 MB. This year’s team usually wins with smart, aggressive serving and the rubber arm of junior OH Kara Bajema.

The Huskies recorded four aces and three service errors against Creighton, which is a very respectable mark, but nothing spectacular. Meanwhile, Bajema was not overly effective, recording 9 kills on .148, tied for her second-fewest kills in a match since the start of conference play.

Against a Creighton front line with just as much height as UW, the Huskies piled up 14 blocks in 3 sets, with 12 of them coming in just the first two sets. Sophomore MB Lauren Sanders, who had been struggling recently, played her best match in weeks, and perhaps all season: 7 kills on .600 hitting and had a hand in 8 of the Huskies’ 14 blocks, including 2 solo rejections.

Due mostly to that tremendous blocking, the Huskies held the elite offensive weapons of Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth to miserable nights offensively:

  • Winters: 8 kills, 7 errors, 37 swings = .027
  • Kloth: 11 kills, 9 errors, 34 swings = .059

After the first two sets, the numbers looked even worse for Creighton, as the much more veteran Bluejays seemed to have mental breakdowns on a couple of plays. But even when CU steadied out and the ridiculous blocking pace of sets 1 & 2 slowed down, the youth-laden Huskies still found a way to grind out a win in the third set.

When the blocking died down somewhat late, junior libero Shayne McPherson was there to pick up the slack, recording 14 of her 20 digs in the third set alone to keep a number of rallies alive.

The Huskies advance to the Sweet 16, better known in volleyball as the regional semifinals. Washington will play in the Palo Alto regional, hosted by #1 overall seed Stanford. The Huskies will face #8 Penn State on Friday, Dec. 7, with the Cardinal facing #16 Washington State in the other Palo Alto semifinal. The times and TV coverage for those matches are TBA, but should be posted either late tonight or fairly early Sunday.