For the first time in 14 matches, the No. 5-seeded Washington women’s volleyball team was on the verge of losing, as No. 12 Ohio State forced a fifth set.
Despite a gritty effort, however, the Buckeyes couldn’t pull off the upset, falling in the back-and-forth Sweet 16 matchup (23-25, 25-20, 25-18, 12-25, 15-8) in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Huskies extended their winning streak to 14 and will advance to the Elite Eight to face fourth-seeded Nebraska on Saturday.
Against a Washington squad that leads the country in hitting percentage, OSU was able to turn the match into a defensive battle. Even in defeat, the Buckeyes outhit the Huskies, .179-.154, and out-dug them 75-60.
“It was the kind of match we wanted,” coach Geoff Carlston said. “We really wanted a brawl. It was a defensive battle. I was really, super proud of our team.”
Freshman setter Taylor Hughes and junior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe led the effort on defense. Hughes added to her 44 assists with a career-high 22 digs and five blocks, while Sandbothe had eight blocks despite battling an illness that clearly took its toll.
OSU held senior middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon — the nation’s leader in hitting percentage — to a .206 clip, though she still led Washington in kills with 14. Sybeldon added six blocks to give her a team-high 17 points.
Senior middle blocker Melanie Wade was the Huskers’ most efficient hitter, posting a .406 hitting percentage with 10 kills and only one error.
For OSU, Elizabeth Campbell was the driving force on offense, leading all players with 24 kills — including 18 over the final three sets. The senior outside hitter finished one away from her career-best mark of 25, which she set during her time at Duke.
In the first set, the Scarlet and Gray hit only .070 and had five service errors but held the proficient Washington offense to a minus-.024 hitting percentage behind seven blocks, including five from Sandbothe.
“The first set was indicative of what the match was going to be,” Carlston said. “It was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to be an easy match by anybody.”
Neither team led by more than three points in the opening frame, but OSU was able to fend off the Huskies, giving them only their fifth loss in a set during their winning streak.
But Washington got back on track in the second and third sets, shooting a combined .277 as the Buckeyes could muster only one block after their big performance in the opening frame.
Faced with defeat in fourth, OSU buckled down and handed Washington its worst loss in a set this season. Once again, the Huskies had a negative hitting percentage (minus-.059) as the Buckeyes registered four more blocks.
Although it had lost its momentum, Washington couldn’t be stopped in the fifth set. The Huskies didn’t make a single error, hitting .571 to end OSU’s upset bid.
“Congrats to Washington,” Carlston said. “They made great plays, especially (in) the fifth set. We just weren’t able to get a rally going.”
Aside from Campbell, three other seniors played in their final collegiate game. Middle blocker Tyler Richardson had six kills and four blocks (three solo), outside hitter Katie Mitchell sent home seven kills and setter Emily Ruetter picked up six assists. Middle blocker Andrea Kacsits did not appear in the contest.
“As far as our four or five years are concerned, we have had memory after memory and it’s because of awesome people that we were surrounded by,” Kacsits said.
OSU finished the season with a 25-10 record, tying its best mark under Carlston during his eight years in Columbus.
“So thankful for this group and the opportunity to be here,” Carlston said. “It hurts, but in the locker room I told our team the feelings we have and the emotions in that room was a really unique experience. I wanted them to take a moment and get some perspective on it because it’s pretty cool.”