Nelson vs. Utah
Junior Kaleigh Nelson recorded 20 kills in Washington's 3-1 win over Utah.
Junior Kaleigh Nelson recorded 20 kills in Washington's 3-1 win over Utah.Photo by Joshua Bessex
Early on Friday night, it looked like the No. 3 Washington women’s volleyball team was going to cruise to another victory. But nothing in the Pac-12 comes easily.
The Huskies (18-1, 10-1 Pac-12) won their eighth consecutive match in a back-and-forth battle against Utah 3-1 (25-16, 22-25, 26-24, 25-22). Utah (17-6, 6-5) outhit, outblocked, and outdug the Huskies, but the Huskies got the win behind superior serving and a big night from junior Kaleigh Nelson, who finished with 20 kills on the night, second on the team.
“I like the way [Utah] plays, and they have great players, so I knew this would be a tough match,” UW head coach Jim McLaughlin said. “On the positive side, I think we can learn some things and be prepared better.”
After breezing through the first set, things got tougher for the UW, as neither team could get separation for the remainder of the match. Utah’s blocking game got going as it totaled 9.5 blocks in the final three sets. The Huskies hit .246 for the match and only registered 7.5 blocks of their own.
A bigger problem for the Huskies in the second set was stopping Utah’s Erin Redd-Brandon. The senior middle blocker had six kills on eight swings with no errors in the second set, leading Utah to a 25-22 victory. However, the Huskies limited her after that, as Redd-Brandon only got three more kills in the final two sets.
“They were setting quickly a ton in the second game and were going over the top,” McLaughlin said. “Once we figured that out, we started tipping and they made some errors, so I thought we made a good adjustment.”
The Huskies were able to counter offensively behind a great game from Nelson. The junior’s 20 kills came on 42 swings, many more attempts than she has in a usual game.
“I love that Jenni [Nogueras] trusts me to set [me] the ball that often,” Nelson said. “My arm is a little sore, but I’ll bounce right back.”
Behind key plays from Nelson, the Huskies finished off the match in two close games. Kylin Muñoz had two of her four kills at an important time near the end of the critical third set to help the UW win 26-24. The Huskies then held off a late Utah run in the fourth to win, ending the match on one of Krista Vansant’s 22 kills.
“It was a battle, and we had to keep fighting,” senior libero Jenna Orlandini said. “In those long stretches of close games, it’s all about who can do the tough things the longest.”
Utah did themselves no favors in the close game by committing 11 service errors and three net violations. The UW serve was a little more mistake-prone than usual with six errors, but the Huskies totaled seven aces. Nogueras, who had one ace and put the Utes in bad positions on serve receive, especially impressed her teammates with her serve.
The UW next has a chance to get revenge for its only loss of the season when Colorado visits Sunday at 3 p.m.
Reach reporter Nathaniel Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@njr3701
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