Record crowd sees No. 5 Washington hand No. 1 Stanford first loss of year
SEATTLE -- Krista Vansant, after the dust settled on an historic night at Alaska Airlines Arena, said that she didn’t think anyone ever had a better Senior Night than what she and Kaleigh Nelson just enjoyed. In front of the largest volleyball crowd ever at a Pac-12 venue, a roof-shaking 8,646 fans, the Huskies knocked off previously unbeaten and No. 1 Stanford in four sets Wednesday, with Vansant and Nelson leading the charge.
The fifth-ranked Dawgs defeated a top-ranked team for just the second time in head coach Jim McLaughlin’s 14 years, the previous one being in the 2005 NCAA title match, a sweep of No. 1 Nebraska. Washington (28-2, 17-2 Pac-12) took the first two sets 25-18 and 25-21 before the Cardinal (28-1, 18-1 Pac-12) battled back to take the third set 25-23. The Huskies wouldn’t be deterred, hitting at a .457 clip in the final set to slowly shake Stanford and close it out 25-20.
“It’s just awesome,” McLaughlin. “But I’ve got to be the bad guy and tell them we’ve got to get ready for Pullman. But this team’s got what it takes. We’ve got all the things you need, and if we can maintain a focus … we’ve got a shot. This reinforces that.”
Vansant and Nelson were honored before the match with their family on the court. The All-American duo made a memorable regular season home finale, as Vansant pounded 21 kills on a .304 attack percentage and Nelson added nine on a .300 clip. Freshman Tia Scambray was also huge with a double-double of 12 kills and 11 digs, while junior Melanie Wade, a Palo Alto native, hit .727 with eight kills on 11 swings, plus two aces and four blocks.
Cassie Strickland’s 16 digs helped the Dawgs out-dig the Cardinal 54-50 and she ripped four service aces, as the Huskies held the edge in that stat 9-4. Overall, the Dawgs hit .331 against a Cardinal team that was holding opponents to just .173. Meanwhile, the Huskies held Stanford to .265, below its average coming in of .317.
The near-sellout crowd broke the previous UW record of 7,809 fans at a 2009 match against UCLA. No Pac-12 school has hosted a larger single match according to the NCAA recordbooks.
“It’s the biggest crowd in Pac-12 history and biggest anywhere this year, which is just giant, that’s a big deal in Seattle,” McLaughlin said.
“I don’t think there’s words to describe how good it feels, I think this might be the best Senior Night in history, ever,” Vansat said. “It was awesome to have that many people in the crowd. We’ve been working really hard, and I think it’s good to show it off against a really good team. Good night overall.”
Due to a schedule quirk, the Huskies and Cardinal did not meet all year until this, the penultimate match of the regular season. The teams were two of the final unbeatens, ranked one and two much of the year, up until Washington stumbled in two heartbreakers at Colorado and Utah, which left Stanford alone without a loss. But this was the match that everyone had been pointing toward. The win also extended UW's home win streak to 32, second-longest in program history.
The Huskies made sure the Cardinal would not be the first team since 2003 to navigate the brutal Pac-12 without a single defeat, and most importantly, kept alive a chance of a Pac-12 title split, if UW wins at Washington State on Friday and Stanford were to fall at Cal.