FROM PULLMAN - The Washington State volleyball team pulled off the improbable on Sunday: A come-from-behind upset over No. 4 USC using an impressive defensive effort to win the final three sets after getting demolished by the Trojans in the first two.
Washington State is now 17-12 (4-12) on the season after the win, while the Trojans fell to 22-4 (12-3) but remain in second place in the Pac-12.
USC put together an offensive showcase in the first two sets, and there wasn't a whole lot that the Cougs did that could stop the Trojan onslaught. The first set was easily the worst of the match for Washington State; the squad struggled with adapting to USC's height advantage, and the Trojans ran away with the set 25-11.
WSU learned from its mistakes in the first set, and the squad was able to keep pace with the Trojans for the majority of the second set - at one point the score was 12-10 in favor of USC. The Trojans built their lead up to 19-13 behind their massive height advantage at the net. USC ended up winning this set 25-17.
Washington State came out of the break between the second and third sets absolutely on fire. The Cougs built their lead to 8-4 behind some awesome defense - the Cougs had 23 digs and four blocks in this set. WSU's offense wasn't at its best, but it did just enough for the Cougs to win 25-22, and the comeback was on.
The fourth set was easily the best set WSU put together offensively in the match. WSU's passing and sets looked pretty sharp, and USC couldn't find an answer, as the Cougs built their lead to 10-5. Washington State was unable to really put the Trojans away -- at one point the Cougs' lead was down to three (21-18) -- but WSU pulled it out in the end, 25-22.
WSU had come back from a two set deficit to force a fifth set against the No. 4 team in the country, but it was going to take another impressive comeback -- within the fifth set -- for the Cougs to win the match.
The Trojans came out in the fifth set looking like the team that had cruised through the first two sets and built their lead to 6-2. Coach Jen Greeny rotated senior Camryn Irwin in for freshmen Haley MacDonald at setter, and the Washington State offense immediately began to click.
Washington State scored the next three points to pull itself within one of Southern California. The Trojans called a timeout, and whatever was talked about in the circle appeared to work, as USC scored the next four points in the match. Southern California earned its first match point with a five point lead, 14-9.
The Cougs responded by scoring five straight points to tie USC.
At this point the match became a back and forth affair in extra points. Southern California earned the next match point, but WSU tied it at 15. Then Washington State went up 16-15 to earn its first match point of the match, and then USC tied it - WSU actually won the match, but the officials missed a double hit by a USC player.
It continued to be a back and forth affair, as USC would earn the next three match points, but WSU would tie the match after each one. With the score at 19-19, a Trojan player made a major mistake and committed a net violation to give the Cougs the final match point.
On the very next serve, Washington State secured one of the biggest upsets in program history. It also guarantees that the Cougs will finish this season with an above .500 record - the last time a WSU volleyball finished above .500 was in 2009, also the program's last NCAA tournament appearance.
This win also keeps the Cougs NCAA tournament hopes alive.
After the match, Greeny explained how WSU was able to make the comeback when down five points in the final set: "Really just trying to relax our passes; we definitely weren't passing the ball very well at that point. (We were) just talking about what's open, and thinking about what (the passers) were going to do once we got the ball back."
The Cougs take on Stanford at 6 p.m. on Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. It'll be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.
More from Neil Roberts