Once again, it all came down to the fifth set.
Unlike during the regular season though, Thursday’s fifth set against Dayton held the Washington volleyball team’s postseason fate in its hands. It was a closer game than the No. 6 seed probably would have liked, but the Huskies (18-3) managed to come back from a mid-game struggle and secured their spot in the Sweet 16 with a five-set win (25-18, 25-23, 24-26, 21-25, 15-11).
“Lot of respect for that program and the way [Dayton] played,” head coach Keegan Cook said. “And proud of our group for putting aside some difficult sets in sets three and four and being their best in the fifth set when they needed to be.”
At first, it didn’t look as though the game would be as close as it turned out to be, with Washington winning the first fairly quickly by seven points. That turned out to be the UW’s largest lead of the match, as Dayton held close for the rest of the afternoon with both teams fighting for control.
Things immediately got tougher in the second, with both the Flyers (14-2) and the Huskies improving hitting and keeping close with one another. The Huskies won the second after pulling just ahead after a 23-23 tie, securing two set wins in a row. Quality serving boosted Washington in the beginning, with five aces coming from the first set alone.
“It won us those first two sets I thought,” Cook said about serving. “I thought serve and pass were strong all the way through the match but particularly in the first, second, and fifth set obviously.”
Things started to get shaky after the first two sets as offensive strength slowed and the Flyers found a consistent rhythm. After both teams alternated from one point leads back to ties at every point from 18 to 24, Dayton was able to pull in front after a 24-24 tie and ended with its first set win. In the third, the UW’s hitting fell into the low .100s and Dayton’s improved to .317. Dayton’s hitting trumped Washington’s again in the fourth as it won with a bit more room for error at 25-21.
Everything rode on the fifth set. With the Flyers’ hitting in the negatives, the Huskies found a final push to end the game in their favor. Freshman Madi Endsley, who set her career-high in kills Thursday, didn’t doubt Washington’s abilities heading into the game-determining set.
“Like Keegan said, we’ve played enough fifth sets that I knew that my team was going to do what we know how to do,” she said. “I went in pretty confident that we were gonna play our game.”
Endsley led the team in kills with 20 and hit .368. The Huskies finished hitting .210 overall.
“I think our setter Ella May Powell did a good job of getting everyone engaged and ready to keep battling,” Endsley said. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy win. Dayton’s a really good team and I think we kinda came together and really kept fighting the last couple sets.”
The five-set win sends the Huskies deeper into the tournament, with the Sweet 16 round next up. Washington will take on No. 11 Louisville on Sunday, April 18. Times are still to be announced.
Reach Co-Sports Editor Sydney Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sydneym_nash
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