The harsh reality of beginning conference play punched a few volleyball teams right in the nose on Wednesday.
To wit: Washington State, which finished 5-15 in Pac-12 play in 2015, knocked off No. 4 Washington on the the previously unbeaten Huskies’ home floor. And Utah went to No. 16 Colorado and won in five.
Another big home loss? Purdue, ranked 10th after a tremendous preseason, was beaten at home by Illinois in five.
They weren’t ranked, but South Carolina was 12-0 and Georgia was 12-1 after preseason. Wednesday night South Carolina opened SEC play by getting swept by Missouri and Georgia was swept by Kentucky.
Four other ranked teams played Wednesday. In the Pac-12, No. 9 UCLA won in four at No. 21 USC, in the Big 12, No. 8 Kansas swept visiting Oklahoma and in another Big Ten match, No. 18 Penn State crushed Rutgers.
We’ll start with the big rivalry match in Los Angeles.
UCLA improved to 10-1 with the 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 29-27 victory.
Senior Reily Buechler had a season-best and match-high 21 kills to go with nine digs, senior Taylor Formico surpassed the 2,000-career dig mark and senior Jordan Anderson posted her first double-double as a Bruin with 11 kills and 15 digs.
Formico had 22 digs, her third straight match with at least 20, as she surpassed both the 1,200-dig mark at UCLA and the 2,000-dig mark for her career, the latter of which came on the first rally of the third set.
VBM’s Ed Chan caught up with Formico after the match:
And he also visited with Buechler:
USC, which fell to 8-4, was led by junior opposite hitter Niki Withers, who matched her season high with 13 kills. Freshman outside hitter Khalia Lanier had 12 kills, a service ace, and a solo block to go with nine digs. Sophomore outside hitter Alyse Ford put up her second-career double-double with 11 kills and a career-high 20 digs. Ford also had three blocks.
Both teams get right back into it Friday when Washington State goes to UCLA and Washington visits USC.
Utah is 10-2 after winning at Colorado in a wild one 25-18, 15-25, 21-25, 25-16, 20-18.
Junior Adora Anae had a match-high 27 kills and added 16 digs for her ninth double-double of the season, including her 1,000th kill.
Junior Tawnee Luafalemana had 10 kills and matched a season-high with seven total blocks. After Utah fell behind 2-1 in the match, Luafalemana teamed with fellow junior Eliza Katoa on a block that sent the contest into a decisive fifth set. Meanwhile, Katoa posted a season-high nine kills and was credited with five total blocks.
In the fifth set, kills by Anae and Katoae put Utah up match point, 19-18. Anae then ended the match with her 27th kill.
“We really worked to fine-tune our offense there in the end,” Anae said. “We were getting really good passes and were able to execute on them there in the fifth set.”
Utah is at home Saturday against Arizona State.
Colorado sophomore Alexa Smith led the Buffs with 18 kills and added 12 digs for her fifth double-double of the season. Teammates Gabby Simpson and Joslyn Hayes each added another 11 kills. Cierra Simpson led the match with 23 digs and Naghede Abu posted a team-best seven blocks.
“It was a really uneven match. The first four sets, none of them were competitive. If someone was out ahead early, they just steamrolled. The fifth set was really well played; a competitive match on both sides,” first-year CU coach Jesse Mahoney said.
“If we pass well, we’re a really good team. If we don’t, we become predictable and we struggle to score like a lot of teams. You can look at sets two and three where we won; we passed extremely well. Even in set five, we passed pretty well and it just didn’t go our way. We’ll find a way to learn from it, regroup, and get ready for this weekend.”
Colorado is back at it Sunday when Arizona comes to town. Speaking of which, Arizona, which started 0-3, is slowly getting back on track and beat Arizona State 25-22, 19-25, 25-23, 25-18. The Wildcats are 9-4, while Arizona State fell to 7-6.
Washington State improved to 11-2 as perhaps the best-kept secret in the NCAA. Kyra Holt had 21 kills and 14 digs in the 16-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-19 victory.
The Cougars won in Seattle for the first time since 2001 and beat Washington for the first time since 2009 as sophomore McKenna Woodford added 12 kills.
“I’m super proud of this team,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said. “I think we had some nerves going in. Our passing was pretty atrocious in that first set and then we settled into it and the second set was so much better. We relaxed and I think they got a lot more confidence as the match went along.
“We talked a lot about being poised, whether we’re up or we’re down. In the preseason we worked on trying to act the same no matter what the score is or who we’re playing. I think that came through tonight. Every timeout, no matter who called it, our team was talking about being poised and working one point at a time.”
Courtney Schwan led the Huskies with a double-double of 15 kills and 12 digs, and Crissy Jones added 10 kills and seven digs.
“Washington State played a great match,” UW coach Keegan Cook said. “They executed extremely well. I think we’re feeling the weight of our habits now. Little things take on a different meaning when they cost you a match, so we’ve got a great opportunity to learn.”
By the way, all this came a day after Stanford went a hard-fought four to win at Cal, which was 5-35 the last two years in Pac-12 play.
In the Big Ten, the Illinois victory at Purdue is probably a pretty good indicator of what’s to come in a league in which every night almost every team is open for business.
Illinois, 8-4, won at Purdue for the first time since 2009. What’s more, the 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-27, 15-11 win was Illinois’ first over a top-10 team in almost two years.
“I thought tonight we ran into a team that was a little hungrier,” Purdue coach Dave Shondell said.
Senior Naya Crittenden equaled a career-high 15 kills on 28 swings and only five errors for a .357 hitting percentage and five blocks, while sophomore Ali Bastianelli added a match-high 11 blocks. Sophomore setter Jordyn Poulter had 50 assists to go along with six kills on 11 attacks and a .545 hitting percentage, five blocks and five digs.
Senior Faye Adelaja and junior Danielle Cuttino had 14 kills each for Purdue. Junior Azariah Stahl added 13 and sophomore Sherridan Atkinson had 10.
How bad are things at Rutgers? Consider these scores in Penn State’s sweep: 25-17, 25-17, 25-5.
Also Wednesday, Indiana beat visiting Northwestern 25-16, 25-19, 25-27, 25-20 to improve to 12-2.
Kansas is 12-1 after dispatching visiting Oklahoma 25-17, 25-13, 29-27. Another sweep, but another match with a wild, close set to end it.
Kansas held OU’s offense, ranked 19th in the NCAA in hitting percentage entering Wednesday, to .092. led by 23 digs from senior libero Cassie Wait – her third three-set match with over 20 digs this season. Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and freshman outside hitter Jada Burse paced KU with five blocks each, including two solo blocks from Soucie in the third set.
“Defensively, I thought that this was our best effort of the season. We held them to .092 hitting percentage – a team that has a ton of weapons,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “First and foremost I thought that was the key. When we hold teams under .100, it speaks volumes to Cassie Wait and some opportune blocks by Tayler Soucie.”
Kansas goes to No. 5 Texas on Saturday in what will certainly be the showcase match of the young Big 12 season.
On Thursday night there are a few matches worth keeping an eye on, including San Francisco at No. 7 San Diego, Santa Clara at No. 13 BYU, Long Beach State at UC Davis, North Carolina at NC State and Oregon State at No. 24 Oregon.
And Cincinnati (5-6), the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, plays at Tulsa (11-1).