Washington finally met its match.
After reaching the college volleyball Final Four with three dramatic wins, including two big comeback victories, the Huskies finally found an opponent, a deficit — and a blown call — that it couldn’t overcome.
No. 2 seed Kentucky ended No. 6 seed Washington’s season in the national semifinals with a 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 25-17 win, avenging a loss to the Huskies in the Sweet 16 of the 2019 tournament.
Perhaps the only surprise was that it didn’t go five sets after UW had become the first team in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Final Four with three straight five-set wins.
The match might have gone five sets had it not been for a crucial missed call in the pivotal third set.
With Washington ahead 22-20, Kentucky had a clear net violation, but it was not called. The Huskies were out of challenges, having used all three — and winning two of the challenges. Washington coach Keegan Cook could be seen complaining, but to no avail.
Instead of UW going ahead 23-20, Kentucky cut the deficit to 22-21. Then, after the score was tied at 23, Kentucky scored the final two points to notch its biggest comeback in a set this season.
That’s when the momentum turned. Kentucky seized control and cruised in the fourth set, leaving the Huskies and their fans to wonder, “what if?”
“We knew it would take a lot to sideout with them for long periods, and we were able to do that for a good portion of the time,” Cook said. “It was unfortunate to let that third set get away from us. We served at a high level, and they were able to weather those storms.”
Glacier Peak High school graduate Lauren Sanders had nine kills on a .471 hitting percenage, four blocks and one assist.
The Huskies started slowly — just as they had against Pittsburgh to advance to the Final Four — with Kentucky winning the first set 25-18.
The Wildcats took control with four straight points after the score was tied at 13. Nine hitting errors in the opening set proved costly for UW.
The Huskies looked on the verge of going down 2-0 when Kentucky led 22-18 in the second set. But a sideout, followed by five great service points by Samantha Drechsel gave UW a 24-22 lead.
The Wildcats saved one set point before an attacking error gave UW a 25-23, Kentucky’s first lost set of the tournament.
The Huskies stepped up every facet of the game late in the second set, beginning with their serving, The kill percentage and blocking started improving too and UW seemed on the verge of winning the third set after taking a 22-16 lead.
Kentucky won the next four points, and then came the point that Husky fans will not soon forget.
While Washington was advancing with three straight five-set victories, Kentucky had advanced with three straight sweeps.
It seemed that no deficit was too much for the Huskies to overcome after coming back from 2-0 down to beat Pittsburgh to advance to the Final Four, and rallying from 2-1 down and a 11-5 deficit in the fifth set to beat Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Kentucky was clearly a tougher opponent, with three first-team All-Americans, including setter Madison Lilley, the national player of the year.
The Wildcats will play No. 4 Texas for the national title Saturday night. The Longhorns beat Wisconsin in straight sets on Thursday night.