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Boga’s Houdini Act

Volleyball pulls a comeback for the ages vs Louisville to reach Elite Eight

Maria Bogomolova single-handedly extended her career with a clutch serving run vs Louisville
Red Box Pictures via UW Athletics

Down 11-6 in the fifth set against Louisville, Maria Bogomolova substituted in for what looked very likely to be the final time in her career.

By the time she left, Washington had completely erased the deficit, even briefly taking a 12-11 lead before Louisville finally got her off the service line. She subbed out in tears of joy and disbelief at what had just happened as she got hugs from Head Coach Keegan Cook and multiple teammates.

#6 Washington (19-3, 17-3 Pac-12) pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in program history, rallying from six points down on three separate occasions in the fifth set to shock #11 Louisville (15-3, 12-2 ACC) in five sets: 25-23, 21-25, 21-25, 25-14, 15-13.

With all players getting an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19, many seniors across the country will return for one more go-around next fall, including three for UW: MB Lauren Sanders, RS Samantha Drechsel and DS Emma Calle. Bogomolova, a serving specialist (and occasional backup outside hitter) is the one senior not planning to return in fall 2021 for the Huskies.

Earning six straight points on serve doesn’t happen a lot but happens at least every couple of matches. Against a team the caliber of Louisville, it’s very rare. To have one in such a key moment — by a player whose only court time is while serving — was extraordinary, and neither Cook nor junior setter Ella May Powell could think of a bigger comeback at a more meaningful moment than this one in their careers.

Washington got off to a strong start offensively, hitting .361 as a team in a hard-fought 25-23 opening-set win despite getting blocked three times by the #1 blocking team in the country. That number would spike over the next two sets as the Cardinals harassed UW into hitting .073 and .156, respectively.

The Huskies dominated set four from the beginning, getting into double-digits before Louisville scored their fourth point, and the Cardinals never got closer than a six-point deficit the rest of the way.

As soon as the fifth set started, the Huskies were on their heels. Louisville setter Tori Dilfer served a 5-0 run to open the set, and the Cardinals recorded four blocks in the first eight points to build a 7-1 lead. UW cut the lead in half with a 3-0 run, but UL countered and got it back up to six at 10-4, then again at 11-5 before a kill by Claire Hoffman got Bogomolova to the service line.

Bogomolova aced the Louisville defense on her first serve and then forced the Cardinals way out of system on her next two, resulting in attack errors. Hoffman had the final two of her match-high 20 kills to end back-to-back rallies, tying the set at 11 before Bogomolova had her second ace of the run to give UW the lead. Louisville then briefly retook the lead at 13-12 after a service error and a kill by Claire Chaussee. Marin Grote tied the set up at 13 again with a kill and then earned a match point, combining with Hoffman to block Louisville’s Anna Stevenson. Chaussee had a decent shot to force extra points, but her cross-court shot missed wide to seal Washington’s Houdini act.

The win earns UW a spot in the Elite Eight for the 12th time in program history. The Huskies will face another ACC foe next, as unseeded Pittsburgh (19-4, 14-4 ACC) shocked 3rd-seeded Minnesota in five sets earlier on Sunday to make their first-ever Elite Eight appearance. Washington and Pittsburgh play Monday, April 19 at 9 a.m. PDT on ESPN2. The Final Four will take place on Thursday, April 22 and Saturday, April 24.