Kansas had weathered plenty of storms en route to its first NCAA women’s volleyball Sweet 16 appearance, but it had few answers for third-seeded Washington on Friday evening and saw its finest campaign come to an end.
The 14th-seeded Jayhawks struggled to deal with the Pac-12 Conference champions’ serves, watched their passing game go haywire and couldn’t match the Huskies at the net while dropping their first 3-0 decision all year at Southern California’s Galen Center.
Washington, 29-2, used big runs to open huge leads en route to 25-18 and 25-13 wins in the first two games, then rallied for a 26-24 triumph in the finale to reach their seventh Elite Eight in a dozen years.
Krista Vansant had 10 kills and Lianna Sybeldon eight with a .500 percentage to lead the Huskies, who with a victory Saturday over sixth-seeded USC or BYU — combatants in the second match — would head home to Seattle for next weekend’s final four. Washington beat USC in both conference meetings.
Kansas, 25-8, had a season-worst .082 hitting percentage, nearly matching Washington for kills — 36-34 for the Huskies — but committing nearly twice as many hitting errors, 25-13.
“Washington played much better than we did, and we need to credit them. They played a very high level offensively,” Jayhawks coach Ray Bechard said. “It was disappointing the first two sets that we didn’t have a better response, and then when we had the opportunity to close the third set, we need to do that, and we couldn’t quite get that done.”
Taylor Soucie and Caroline Jarmoc were the only Kansas hitters with multiple kills and a percentage better than .200. They combined for 13 kills, and Sara McClinton led the Jayhawks with eight, but they couldn’t match Washington at the net.
The Huskies had nine blocks to just four by Kansas, and they applied heavy pressure from the start with a series of superb servers and a two-setter attack that amplified their strength at the net.
“Their serving was really tough. We had a difficult time,” said senior Brianne Riley, who led the Jayhawks with 12 digs. “They went on some runs, and we couldn’t get in system, which is usually a strong point for us. That was frustrating.
“Also their blocking. They always set up a really solid block, and they’re really consistent with that. We had a tough time getting around that in the first two games.”
The Huskies used a 13-3 run to take command in the first game, then opened a 14-4 lead in game two. Kansas made adjustments in the third game, passing to the middle for Soucie and Jarmoc, but Washington scored four of the final five points to finish things off.
“If you don’t have options, like we didn’t in the first set and a half, you become very predictable,” Bechard said. “We did feed the middles a lot more in the third set because we were passing better. If we could have just extended that, I felt a little momentum shift going on, but (with a lead of) 23-22, you need to make some plays, and we had a couple of errors that really hurt us.”