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Originally published Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 10:03 PM

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Washington hands Washington State 3-1 loss in Pac-12 volleyball opener

In a tense set late in a tight match, sophomore Kayleigh Nelson proved she can be counted on as a go-to hitter for the Washington volleyball...

Special to The Seattle Times

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In a tense set late in a tight match, sophomore Kayleigh Nelson proved she can be counted on as a go-to hitter for the Washington volleyball team.

Nelson produced eight kills in a fourth, frantic set as the fifth-ranked Huskies outlasted a tough Washington State squad for a 3-1 victory in the Pac-12 opener for both teams Tuesday night in front of 1,691 at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Nelson tied fellow sophomore Krista Vansant with team-high honors for the night with 16 kills, but it was Nelson whom setter Jenni Nogueras was most often setting late in the match.

"I would have gone to her the whole game if it wasn't for (the need for) even distribution," said Nogueras, who shares setter duties with Katy Beals in UW's 6-2 offense. "She was having a good game, and I knew she was going to kill it.

"We just have this connection. I think it's because we room together."

Twice the Cougars served with set point on the line in the fourth set, at 24-23 and 25-24, but both times Nelson drilled home a set-tying kill.

The Huskies (10-0) finally put away WSU (10-3) with a back-row kill from Vansant and block by Nelson and Amanda Gil, giving UW its toughest win of the season, 25-20, 27-29, 25-14, 27-25.

Coach Jim McLaughlin said this is the new normal for the Huskies.

"I think it's just the Pac-12," said McLaughlin, whose team dropped its first set of the season against a Washington State team that had won its last nine matches and ranked first nationally in blocks per set.

"The intensity ups significantly," he said. "When we had composure we were awful good. But we lost our composure many times.

"I like the way we battled, but I don't like the way we played in transition. We hit a lot of balls down into the block and hit some balls out of bounds. When we're good, we're a real good team. But when you're not doing the things you're supposed to do, you pay a price."

McLaughlin liked Nelson's play.

"Offensively she's doing a hell of a job," he said, "but blocking she needs to get into better spots. But she's still a first-year player. It's coming."

Nelson was pleased to be a big-time contributor. "It feels good," she said. "It feels good that this girl (Nogueras) trusts me enough to keep setting me."

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