Same court, similar scenario two years ago.
The stakes were a tad higher then. Nebraska was playing Washington with a Final Four spot on the line. The Huskers served to Washington outside hitter Becky Perry over and over. Perry had trouble handling the serves and Nebraska won in five sets.
Friday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the Huskies were the upstarts as opposed to the favorites of 2008. Second-seeded Nebraska came into the regional semifinal with just two losses. It targeted Perry again.
Clipboard raised and finger pointed, Nebraska head coach John Cook told his servers to test Perry. The big swinging Texan handled the spotlight during Washington’s taut four-set win over Nebraska, 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 29-27. The Huskies (24-8) will face seventh-seeded California on Saturday night at 8:30 in the regional final. The winner advances to the Final Four in Kansas City, Mo.
Perry squatted, angled, dipped in order to return serves. Her first pass was workable more often than not. Several times she earned the reward for her initial bump, finishing the point with torrid spikes.
“I hope teams serve me because I’m pretty confident in myself,” Perry said. “There was a little period there where I had a bit of a difficulty passing it back, but I came right out of it in game three.
“That’s what it’s about, is having the composure to stay through those little bumps.”
The five-set loss from 2008 lingered with the Washington seniors. They were coy pos-tgame about the feeling of retribution.
“It’s a little sweet. I had some bitter memories from two years ago,” Jenna Hagglund said. “Ultimately we’re going to play whoever is across the net from us and we’re ready to battle every time.”
The heated match took an odd turn post-game when the two coaches, Nebraska’s John Cook, and Washington’s Jim McLaughlin, had an altercation.
That exchange should not overshadow the engaging match presented prior.
Washington found instant rhythm in the first set, hitting .571. A staunch 9-0 Nebraska rally midway through the second set evened things. Washington controlled the third set; the fourth was tenuous for both sides.
Nebraska held the first set point at 24-23 prior to serving long. Washington led 25-24, but a block attempt caromed out, evening things again. Washington’s Bianca Rowland put the Huskies back in front, 26-25, prior to Perry hitting long on a controversial call. Washington felt the ball was tipped at the net.
Nebraska made several desperation saves to go back up 27-26. Then came the most controversial play of the night, Kindra Carlson’s kill for Washington that landed just inside the back line to tie the set at 27. Carlson came up with another kill, then the ultimate redemption for Perry, whose 18th kill of the evening meant advancement.
Washington lost to Cal twice this season. The Golden Bears swept in Berkeley, then won 3-1 in Seattle. Saturday night they will face the home crowd and a resurgent Washington team.
“We know them fairly well,” McLaughlin said. “We played a little bit better the second time and we are just playing better right now.”