Sometimes it’s hard to put lengths of time into context, but how’s this one for you: The last time WSU beat national volleyball powerhouse Washington in Seattle, the Cougs’ current star, Kyra Holt, was a few months into first grade.
No longer. Holt and her WSU teammates pulled a stunner — at least, it was stunning to those looking on from afar — beating the fourth-ranked Huskies on their home court last night, 3-1.
The manner in which it happened was as incredible as its perceived unlikelihood. After dropping the first set — and looking pretty awful doing it — WSU ran off three consecutive set victories, including a 25-19 victory in the final set that ended like this:
Long time coming but SO WELL EARNED! https://t.co/ucja43LTm9— Cougar Volleyball (@wsuvolleyball) September 22, 2016
While that sort of an ending might have seemed anticlimactic, it was actually fairly fitting: The Cougars kept the pressure on the Huskies throughout the fourth set, frustrating Washington with outstanding defense until the Huskies — who called two timeouts in the decisive set, but still couldn’t pull it together — finally wilted on their home floor as WSU pulled away.
"I'm super proud of this team," coach Jen Greeny told WSUCougars.com. "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."
Holt, by the way, finished with 21 kills and 14 digs as she continues to move up into some heady company at a once-proud-and-now-again volleyball school that has had some excellent players through the years:
CONGRATS to Kyra Holt. MOVING UP in another WSU all-time list. #GoCougs#RiseAgain pic.twitter.com/EQWKqePwIp— Cougar Volleyball (@wsuvolleyball) September 22, 2016
OH WAIT...KYRA HOLT WITH ANOTHER NOTABLE STAT: 1000 DIGS!!! She is the FIFTH COUGAR to reach 1000 kills & 1000 digs. #BeUncommon#RiseAgain pic.twitter.com/oRGp0PsB14— Cougar Volleyball (@wsuvolleyball) September 22, 2016
"It feels amazing. I have no words to express how this win feels," Holt told WSUCougars.com. "We kept working in practice and pushing each other to new levels. We have a belief in the team and a connection with everyone. It's awesome."
Sophomore McKenna Woodford also contributed 12 kills for WSU, while Taylor Mims finished with eight kills, a .316 hitting percentage, and five blocks. Casey Schoenlein and Claire Martin each finished with seven blocks while Hailey Bethune had four blocks.
The win is only stunning, though, if you haven’t been paying attention to what Greeny has been building in Pullman.
The win represents something of a milestone for the Cougs and their coach; Greeny took over a program in shambles back in 2011 after the departure of coach Andrew Palileo. WSU had 0-18 in conference games the year before, and there was a mass exodus from the program that led to some truly awful academic scores on the NCAA’s APR metric.
Greeny, a WSU alumnus who previously coached at Lewis-Clark State College, knew it wouldn’t be a quick rebuild. Playing in the gauntlet that is the Pac-12, roundly recognized as the best volleyball conference in the country, is harrowing. But WSU has been steadily rising as a program over the past five years. The improvement hasn’t been linear — it rarely is, and 2014 was a rough one — but narrow losses by a young team last season to strong programs indicated the Cougs could be on the verge of a big 2016 campaign.
That season appears to finally be upon us: The Cougs are now 11-2 overall and will likely begin next week ranked, even if they lose on the road to No. 9 UCLA tomorrow.
But if they somehow beat the Bruins, too? Yeah, that’ll be awesome.