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Legendary finish by Bajema seals comeback win vs Utes

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The senior OH single-handedly won the fifth set for 13th-ranked Washington

Kara Bajema (center) led a ferocious comeback vs 15th-ranked Utah.
UW Athletics/Red Box Pictures

It took 21 points for Washington to get past Utah in the fifth set.

Kara Bajema had 12 of them.

The senior outside hitter had one of the most legendary matches in Husky volleyball history as #13 Washington (21-5, 12-4 Pac-12) fought off seven match points and seized sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 with a 3-2 win (25-18, 20-25, 18-25, 25-14, 21-19) over #15 Utah (19-8, 11-5).

On the match, Bajema had a career-high-tying 26 kills on .339 hitting to go with 10 digs, 7 blocks and 2 aces. Her seven blocks ties her highest total in her three seasons as an outside hitter (she had as many as 12 while playing her freshman season as a middle blocker).

The teams traded 4-0 spurts early in the fifth and were tied at 7 before the Utes started pulling away. After UW got within 9-8, Utah star junior OH Dani Drews had back-to-back kills and an ace, burning through both Husky timeouts. Utah led 13-9 and then held three straight match points at 14-11 when Bajema took over.

Bajema had three straight kills to fend off the win in regulation, one coming after a key dig by senior libero Shayne McPherson, who led UW with 12 digs. Bajema’s second ace gave UW their first match point at 16-15, but senior middle blocker Avie Niece missed just a few inches long to allow Utah to tie it up again. Utah’s fifth and sixth match points were denied with the Huskies blocking Drews, who has been one of the best hitters in the Pac-12 this season. Bajema’s eighth kill of the set fended off Utah’s final match point before sophomore OH Claire Hoffman served what appeared to be an ace just inside the back line. It was called long, but Head Coach Keegan Cook won his second challenge of the set to earn the Huskies’ second match point. UW finally ended the match when Bajema turned away a slide attack by Utah MB Berkeley Oblad, who was the top offensive weapon on the day for Utah with 13 kills on .435 hitting.

Seven match points are the most UW has turned away in a win in five years under Cook. Then-#6 Washington fended off a program-record 14 (12 of them in set five) in a 3-2 win vs #4 Oregon on November 16, 2012 before finally converting their first opportunity in a 25-23 fifth set.

After three sets, the match was looking eerily similar to Utah’s 3-1 win 3 weeks ago in Salt Lake City: UW had taken the first set comfortably and had a 10-4 lead in the second before everything seemed to fall apart. Utah outscored Washington 21-10 the rest of the way in the second and won the third 25-18. In the previous match, the major struggles of sets 2 & 3 only got worse in the fourth as Utah nearly held the Huskies to single digits before UW picked up a few points late in a 25-10 loss, unquestionably the worst performance for the Huskies since at least the loss at Hawaii on opening weekend.

Instead of folding in the fourth, this time the Huskies came out firing. Utah didn’t record a point on their own serve until the Huskies led 14-7, and their only small run came when the set was realistically over as UW outhit the Utes .412 to .161, setting the stage for Bajema’s dramatics in the fifth.

Washington now sits alone in second in the Pac-12 with four games left, two behind Stanford and one ahead of Utah and WSU in a tie for third. The Huskies visit the Arizona schools next weekend before finishing the regular season at home the week of Thanksgiving vs #20 Cal and #22 Washington State.