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Bajema powers VB to two-match sweep of #14 San Diego

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Kara Bajema carried the Huskies’ offense on both nights as #17 Washington got the season off to a roaring start.

UW's Kara Bajema prepares to serve during the Huskies' season opener on 8/24/18. #17 Washington defeated #14 San Diego 3-1.
Edward Strong

Kara Bajema pounded out a match-high 20 kills in a 3-1 comeback win for Washington on Friday night, then backed that up with a team-high 13 to help UW sweep the rematch on Saturday.

Bajema made a big impact on the defensive side of the ball as well. A pair of sprawling digs from Bajema, combined with a big block from Drechsel, helped make one rally on Saturday NCAAVolleyball’s #1 play of the weekend:

Friday: #17 Washington 3, #14 San Diego 1 (21-25, 28-26, 25-21, 25-22)

Saturday: UW 3, USD 0 (25-15, 25-21, 25-16)

What we learned

The rotation for UW on Friday and Saturday was slightly different, but mostly the same. Surprisingly, Coach Cook didn’t do a whole lot of experimenting with the lineup, playing the same rotation pretty much the whole way.

3 starters were pretty easy to figure out: Bajema at OH1, Sanders at MB1, and McPherson at libero. Avie Niece started at MB2, which wasn’t surprising, but the fact that Marin Grote never made an appearance was at least a mild surprise. Ella May Powell played all 6 rotations as the setter (in a 5-1 rotation), which was not a certainty, but seemed likely. The real surprise came between OH2 and RS.

Maryland transfer Samantha Drechsel had played RS for the Terrapins last year, so with UW graduating both starters, she seemed to slide in logically as a replacement. Either Destiny Julye, the lone senior on this year’s squad, or one of the freshmen, probably Shannon Crenshaw, seemed likely to be the 2nd OH behind Bajema.

Instead, Cook flipped them. Drechsel was the starting OH2 for both matches, while Destiny Julye played as the RS. Given their respective heights (6’4” for Drechsel, 5’11” for Julye) this seemed a bit odd, although neither is a lefty and therefore a “true” right-side hitter.

I asked Coach Cook about that lineup decision after Friday night’s game. He mentioned that nothing was set in stone as far as lineups are concerned, but he really liked the ability of Drechsel to help in serve-receive. With right-side hitters only playing in the front row, their ability to receive serve would be taken out of the game.

On Saturday, though, that changed a little bit. Drechsel still was the starting OH2 when in the front row or serving. But instead of staying in all the way around, Shannon Crenshaw subbed in for the remaining 2.5 rotations of back row, after Drechsel was done serving. She seemed to fare better in the back than Drechsel had, so my guess is that we’ll see more of that moving forward.

One injury note: freshman RS/OH Dani Cole was with her teammates on the sideline, but was not dressed to play for either game. No update on her at this point.

Pac-12 Rankings and Standings (through Monday, 8/28)

It was a strong opening weekend for the Pac-12 in general, highlighted by UW’s sweep of #14 USD and USC going 3-0 with a pair of top-15 wins. Washington moved up 4 spots to #13, while USC climbed 3 spots to #7. Some other notes:

  • The undefeated starts by projected bottom-feeders Arizona State and Cal don’t mean a whole lot yet, given the low level of competition they faced.
  • Colorado and Utah both looked shaky, suffering one upset (CU at Wyoming, Utah vs Saint Mary’s) and looking vulnerable in others (CU vs Oral Roberts, Utah vs Denver).
  • Oregon’s 0-2 start didn’t even drop them a spot in the poll, as the losses were fairly hard-fought losses to #2 Nebraska and #3 Texas.
  • Outside of the Huskies and Trojans, the strongest team relative to expectations looked to be WSU, which played very well in wins over NC State and defending A-10 champ VCU.
  1. #7 USC (3-0)
  2. (RV) Arizona (3-0)
  3. Arizona State (3-0)
  4. California (3-0)
  5. #1 Stanford (2-0)
  6. #10 UCLA (2-0)
  7. #13 Washington (2-0)
  8. (RV) Washington State (2-0)
  9. #21 Colorado (2-1)
  10. #22 Utah (2-1)
  11. (RV) Oregon State (2-1)
  12. #18 Oregon (0-2)

What’s Next?

Washington will play at home for the second straight week, and the final time until conference play starts. Rather than a single team visiting, this weekend is one of the locations of this year’s Pac-12/Big Ten challenge, a head-to-head showdown for volleyball’s top two conferences. #13 Washington and #21 Colorado will each play matches against #11 Illinois and Iowa on Friday and Saturday nights. All 4 games in Seattle are the first volleyball broadcasts of the year on Pac-12 Networks.

The Huskies that do return from last year's squad have their eyes set on a grudge match with the Illini team that knocked UW out in the second round last year. Other than libero Brandi Donnelly, Illinois returns everyone in their starting rotation. Seniors MB #5 Ali Bastianelli and S #1 Jordyn Poulter are among the elite at their positions, while junior OH #7 Jackie Quade had a huge weekend to help the Illini dodge a pair of upset bids at Colorado State and Northern Colorado last week.

  • Fri, 5 PM: #11 Illinois vs #21 Colorado (3-0) (P12 Net/Mtn)
  • Fri, 8 PM: Iowa (2-1) at #13 Washington (2-0) (P12 Net/WA)
  • Sat, 5 PM: Iowa vs #21 Colorado (P12 Mtn only)
  • Sat, 8 PM: #11 Illinois at #13 Washington (P12 WA only)

I’ll be there for both matches on Saturday. I am unable to be at Friday’s matches, but I will attempt to tweet about them when possible. For more consistent updates, follow the UW Daily’s Hailey Robinson on Twitter. If you can’t get Pac-12 Network, there are links to live stats pages for all the games through UW’s website.