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WSU’s volleyball victory over rival Washington “one for the ages”

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 27, 2021

Washington State University volleyball players had Monday off, fittingly, after working overtime Sunday in a memorable victory over rival Washington.

WSU coach Jen Greeny began playing volleyball in 1991 and coaching the sport in 2000. She’s never been part of a match quite like Sunday’s five-set thriller. Few have.

The Cougars won the near three-hour marathon 25-14, 23-25, 25-16, 44-46, 15-11 in front of 1,535 at Bohler Gym. The fourth set matched the NCAA single-set record for points – Santa Clara edged Saint Mary’s 46-44 in the third set before falling in five in 2017 – since the 25-point rally scoring system was instituted in 2008.

“It definitely seemed a little surreal in that fourth set that it was just never going to end,” Greeny said. “I think people got their money’s worth. It did seem kind of crazy that you kept looking at the scoreboard and the numbers kept getting higher and higher. Washington is such a great program and it was definitely a great battle and one for the ages.”

The fourth-set stats were almost beyond belief. Washington staved off 12 match points while WSU outlasted nine set points before Emoni Bush’s kill ended the set. The teams combined for 51 kills and 83 digs. UW’s Ella May Powell had 13 assists and 13 digs in the set.

After a slow start, WSU regrouped in the fifth set for its fourth straight win over the Huskies. The Cougars erased a 5-2 deficit with Pia Timmer’s kill, two aces and serve that led to a UW overpass and a kill by middle blocker Magda Jehlarova.

“I don’t have words, it’s so cool,” Timmer said in a post-match interview on Pac-12 Network. “There were so many people here. I’m just really proud of my team and what we did.

“It was really frustrating at points because we missed six serves in crunch time (in the fourth set). It was a roller coaster, but we made it back (in the fifth). It just comes from every single player just cheering each other up and telling each other to stay positive the whole time.”

It followed the Cougars’ pattern of resiliency throughout the young season. WSU, which opened the season with a program-high No. 18 ranking, promptly dropped its first four matches to current No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 4 Purdue, UNLV and South Carolina. The latter two programs were in the receiving votes category just outside the top 25 in last week’s AVCA poll.

The Cougars have responded with eight consecutive victories, including a pair of wins over nationally ranked Pac-12 foes to open conference play. They share first place with No. 11 Oregon, No. 15 UCLA and unranked Arizona.

“With some people transferring, with some injuries, this team has just really stuck together, really tried to work hard and they have some grit,” Greeny said.

WSU, which entertains USC on Friday and UCLA on Sunday, nearly returned to the top 25 after its 2-0 week. The Cougars are the first team in the receiving votes category. Washington, one of four Pac-12 teams at 0-2, dropped to 13th.

Timmer equaled the school record with 31 kills in the rally-scoring era (since 2001). She was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week. Jehlarova won defensive honors after tying her career high with 10 blocks versus Washington. The two teamed up for a pair of blocks as WSU closed out the fifth set.

Junior setter Hannah Pukis rolled her left ankle after inadvertently stepping on a teammate’s foot early in the fourth set. Trainers checked on her for a few minutes but she remained on the court, adjusted her ankle brace and finished with 53 assists to move into 10th on WSU’s career list. Katy Ryan, a 6-foot-5 freshman from Lakeland High in Rathdrum, Idaho, contributed a season-high 14 kills.

Greeny lauded the fan support inside Bohler Gym for making a difference in the outcome.

“Great crowd, it was a really fun atmosphere,” said Greeny, who received congratulatory texts from program alums, her former Cougar teammates and school president Kirk Schulz. “It’s a huge advantage, not only because we’re the only ones (in the Pac-12) that play in a smaller arena. Everyone else plays in a basketball arena and they might have a good crowd, but it might not be as loud (as Bohler) and the fans might not be on top of you.”

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