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Originally published December 6, 2013 at 10:18 PM | Page modified December 6, 2013 at 10:48 PM

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Washington overwhelms Alabama State in NCAA tournament opener

The Huskies move on to face unseeded Louisiana State, a 3-2 winner over Michigan in an early match, Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the round of 16 next weekend at USC.

Special to The Seattle Times

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In a pregame appraisal of the Washington volleyball team, Alabama State coach Penny Lucas-White praised UW’s ace, outside hitter Krista Vansant, the Pac-12 player of the year, for her well-known variety of skills.

Lucas-White then shifted to a confidential tone.

“I actually like that number 8 — the feisty one,” she said, a reference to 5-foot-8 outside hitter Cassie Strickland. “I love that kind of kid. They’re special.”

Strickland, UW’s high-flying, high-intensity sophomore, was pretty special Friday night as Washington cruised to a 3-0 victory against the overmatched Hornets in a first-round NCAA tournament match in front of 2,730 at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The Huskies move on to face unseeded Louisiana State, a 3-2 winner over Michigan in an early match, Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the round of 16 next weekend at USC.

Strickland and Vansant each had a team-high 10 kills as the third-seeded Huskies (27-2, with an RPI of 3) thumped Alabama State (RPI: 278) in swift fashion, 25-11, 25-5, 25-16.

Strickland had nine kills on nine attacks with no errors in the first two sets. She added three aces and finished the night hitting .692.

“She’s got a good motor,” said UW coach Jim McLaughlin, who has won 12 straight first-round tournament matches since coming to Washington in 2001. “Maybe the most important thing you can have is an intangible so your heart’s pounding and you go very hard.”

Strickland had five kills in the first set, which the Huskies finished with a 6-0 run that featured five straight points off Strickland serves, including an ace on set point.

“I was just trying to be aggressive.” Strickland said, “I’ve been working really hard to improve my hitting, to have less errors but still be aggressive. When they set me the ball, I just want to take care of it for my team.”

Strickland, who elicits a collective boom from the student section when she delivers one of her cannon-shot jump serves, said she likes “to play with a lot of fire.”

“I just get really excited when I play,” she said. “It’s the best thing to see my teammates succeed and, I don’t know, I can’t control it.”

Vansant, who also had six digs and two aces, concurred.

“She just goes all out for the ball,” Vansant said. “That’s something you really ask for in a teammate, knowing she’s going to put her body at risk to save a ball.”

Kaleigh Nelson had eight kills and middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon finished with seven on nine attacks and just one error (.667).

The Huskies defeated LSU 3-0 last year in a nonconference tournament that was played in Houston.

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