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Defense comes up big for Huskies in weekend sweep

The No. 3 Washington women’s volleyball team has been one of the top offensive units in the country this season. But over the weekend, dominant defense led the Huskies to victory.

The Huskies (21-1, 13-1 Pac-12) swept Arizona (17-9, 7-7) Sunday afternoon, one day after beating Arizona State in four sets to pick up two impressive road wins. Neither opponent hit better than .102 against the Huskies.

Blocking made the difference for the Huskies in both matches. It was a team effort against the Wildcats, as the UW recorded 11 blocks despite no player having a solo block. Melanie Wade was nearly unstoppable in the middle with eight block assists, as Arizona hit a meager .067 with 23 attack errors.

“I liked the discipline, and I liked the eye work,” head coach Jim McLaughlin said. “We applied a lot of pressure at times and made it tough on them.”

Offensively, the Huskies were well below their average production hitting only .216 Sunday and making more mistakes than usual. The UW’s typically strong serving game was off, committing eight errors to only six aces.

Fortunately for the Huskies, Kaleigh Nelson came up big. The junior had a team-high 17 kills, twice as many as any other UW player.

The UW started off fast in each set, as the Wildcats never lead during the first and second sets. Arizona jumped ahead for the first time in the match at 3-2 in the third frame, but that lead was quickly erased by a Wade kill and one of Arizona’s numerous hitting errors. The set and match ended fittingly on another Wildcat error.

Despite the near wire-to-wire victory, the Huskies had to fend off some Arizona runs. The Wildcats cut a huge lead to 19-15 with a 5-0 run late in the first set, but the deficit proved to be too large as the Huskies recovered to get a 25-19 win.

Arizona tied the score at 15 in the second set, but Jenni Nogueras provided one of the bright spots for the UW’s serving, with two aces to grab the lead again.

“We didn’t serve well in game one or two, but we got those two critical aces,” McLaughlin said. “We eventually did a good job of settling down and hitting the serves we hit every day.”

The UW’s defensive effort against Arizona State on Saturday was also impressive. Although McLaughlin felt the blocking performance was more impressive against Arizona, the Huskies racked up a whopping 18 blocks as the Sun Devils committed 32 attack errors.

The UW did a particularly good job against Macey Gardner, who took 74 swings but only registered 18 kills. UW’s Jenna Orlandini had an outstanding night with a career-high 31 digs.

Both Arizona schools have played well at home. The Wildcats were undefeated at home in conference play until the Huskies rolled through and picked up another road win.

“We have been in some tough situations, and it speaks to our character,” McLaughlin said. “Now we just need to apply it for a higher standard for longer periods of time.”

The Huskies return home to take on UCLA on Wednesday night at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Nathaniel Reeves at sports@dailyuw.com Twitter:@njr3701

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