Washington’s emotional four-set win over nemesis Nebraska could be the culprit. Perhaps Cal has Washington’s number. Likely, a confluence of the two ended the Huskies’ season on Saturday night.
Washington was dispatched 3-0 — 25-21, 25-20, 25-14 — by the seventh-seeded Golden Bears in Hec Edmundson Pavilion in the Seattle Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
This was not a typical year for the upper-echelon Washington volleyball program. Things were a struggle. A 12-0 start dissolved into a 19-8 record late in the season. The Huskies won their final two matches prior to the tournament, but entered in the rare position of being unseeded.
The uptick is they also hosted the tournament. Four consecutive home matches were available with a shot at the Final Four as the grand prize. The Huskies throttled Michigan and Hawaii prior to the showdown with Nebraska that ended in controversy and animosity on Friday night. Then Saturday night came with a chance to claim the prize, and Washington was flat.
“One thing I was thinking about was did we just have everything geared up for Nebraska,” Washington head coach Jim McLaughlin said. “I don’t know. I just thought our energy level didn’t match (Friday) night. (Friday) night was incredible.”
It would be unjust not to give California credit, which McLaughlin and the Huskies did. The Bears beat Washington (24-9) for the third time this season, losing only one set in the process. On Saturday night, they became more lubricated as the match evolved. In the third set, McLaughlin was out of timeouts and remedies.
Five Washington players finished with hitting percentages below zero. Senior Kindra Carlson hit a strong .450 and led both teams in kills with 20. Her only support was middle blocker Bianca Rowland, who repeatedly used the wheel play to get clean attacks off. Both were named to the all-region team.
Though two hitters were not enough against a Cal team successful down the middle and outside. The Bears used the knowledge of the prior two meetings to close down Washington’s outside hitters, as well as dig ball after ball. Cal made 54 digs, many an inch above the pail blue tile floor. Cal often tracked down a wayward first pass several feet beyond the baseline or thrust a desperate hand in the air when it appeared the point would go to Washington.
On Saturday, Cal flowed and Washington stumbled. Washington caught it on the wrong night.
“They were frustrating and that’s the sign of a great team,” Washington’s Jenna Hagglund said.
Carlson, Hagglund and Becky Perry played their last match for Washington on Saturday night. The trio leaves with two regional final appearances, both on their home floor, but no Final Four appearances.
“It’s real disappointing right now,” McLaughlin said. “When you put everything you have into this thing and you come up on this side of it, it’s not a fun thing.”