Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NCAA | The volleyball All-American Cassie Strickland oversight

Regional snub precluded national consideration

  • NCAA semifinal | BYU vs. Texas | Oklahoma City | 4PM (Pacific) | ESPN2
  • NCAA semifinal | Stanford vs. Penn State | Oklahoma City | 7PM (Pacific) ESPN2


Pac-12 Libero of the Year, Cassie Strickland
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
OKLAHOMA CITY--When the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) announced today that three Washington Huskies--senior Krista Vansant (First Team), senior Kaleigh Nelson (Third Team) and junior Lianna Sybeldon (Third Team)--are 2014 All-Americans, some wondered about an obvious oversight: junior libero Cassie Strickland.

Strickland was named Pac-12 Libero of the Year in a vote of conference coaches. Yet USC libero Taylor Whittingham and Stanford libero Kyle Gilbert were honored on the AVCA All-American Honorable Mention list, but Strickland was nowhere to be found.

The answer is simple, if frustrating. The only eligible candidates for All-American honors are those who are first selected to one of the eight AVCA All-Regional teams. Those regions are based on geography, not on conferences, and honorees are selected by regional committees. Strickland was not named to the Pacific North Region team, so she could not be considered for the national awards.

We saw a lot of liberos this year. In the last month of the season, none played as well as Strickland. At the very least, her 2014 credentials were far more impressive than USC's Whittingham.


ROSE PEDALS  FOR THE HUSKIES

Today was media day here in Oklahoma City. During Penn State's session, venerable head coach Russ Rose, while answering questions about his next opponent, Stanford, made a few comments about the Washington Huskies. Among them:


  • "Washington's very good."
  • "I know how it is to play Washington with a huge partisan crowd, and it's a real challenge."
  • "In my mind, (Stanford and Washington) were the top two teams throughout the season."



THE BYU 'STACHE

BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead looked and acted very much like a coach who is thrilled to be in his first Final Four.  He finds himself in the company of Penn State's Rose, who is making his record twelfth Final Four appearance. Stanford's John Dunning is here for the eleventh time. Texas' Jerritt Elliott is up to number seven. 

BYU Head Coach Shawn Olmstead laughs about his playoff mustache during Media Day in Oklahoma City
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Olmstead seems determined to keep his players loose by keeping the mood light. The BYU coach prompted plenty of grins when he answered a question about, well, his facial grooming. He considered growing the kind of full-fledged "playoff beard" popular in MLB and the NHL, he said, but thought it might look too straggly. He settled instead for a tournament mustache. 

"(We) started taking selfies with the girls and celebrating," Olmstead recalled. "They said it's creepy, but hilarious. So, we went for it. 

"I'm the first to say it's horrendous. But, it's fun. Let's do it." 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

NCAA | As Washington volleyball’s season ends, reflecting on what we all saw

Win or lose, a volleyball match that matters is an unforgettable experience

#11 Nebraska def. #3 Washington 3-1 (20-25, 25-20, 25-22, 29-27)
#12 BYU def. #8 Florida State 3-1 (25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 26-24)
  • #12 BYU vs. #11 Nebraska | Sat, Dec. 13 | 8:30PM |Alaska Airlines Arena

Friday, December 12, 2014

NCAA | Nebraska outlines strategy for facing Washington volleyball’s Krista Vansant

John Cook calls tonight’s Washington match “the ultimate test”
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

Thursday, December 11, 2014

NCAA | Nebraska vs Washington is a big time volleyball rivalry

Five things to know about the Huskers as they arrive in Seattle
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
see also: Sweet 16 ticket update and more Vansant news
see also: Impressive pedigrees for four volleyball teams headed to Seattle

Nebraska coach John Cook
-Nebraska Athletics

The Seahawks have the 49ers. The Mariners have the Yankees. The Sounders have the Galaxy. Washington football has Oregon. And Washington volleyball has Stanford.

Every team has a bitter league rival, a team they play every year, the one team they’d like to beat above all others. But few teams reach the playoffs regularly enough to also have a bitter playoff rival, a team it usually sees only in the postseason, an opponent that always seems to stand in the way of a championship.

Washington volleyball has Nebraska.

For the fifth time since 2005, when the Huskies upset the Huskers 3-0 to win the National Championship, the two teams will play a match Friday that will end one season and propel another to the Elite 8. Again.

The last time they met—a 2012 Nebraska Sweet 16 sweep in Omaha—the Huskers were a radically different team. Only one current Nebraska player, junior middle blocker Meghan Haggerty, saw action in that match. By contrast, five current Huskies—senior Krista Vansant, senior Kaleigh Nelson, junior Melanie Wade, junior Cassie Strickland and junior Katy Beals—played in all three sets (Beals will miss the rest of the 2014 Tournament with a knee injury).

So, who is this 2014 Huskers team that will once again square off against Washington in a loser-goes-home match? Here are five things you should know.

Nebraska setter Mary Pollmiller (16) attacks against Utah last Saturday
-Nebraska Athletics

SETTER MARY POLLMILLER LOVES TO DUMP
Mary Pollmiller is the only senior on Nebraska’s roster (Washington has two seniors, Nelson and Vansant.) But the 5-10 Colorado native has only been in Lincoln for two seasons.

As a high school sophomore, Pollmiller attended an epic match: UCLA beat Nebraska before a record regular-season crowd of nearly 14,000. Nebraska coach John Cook’s daughter, Lauren Cook, was the Bruins’ setter—she would later transfer to the Huskers. After that UCLA match, Pollmiller declined to commit to Nebraska, and waited until she was a high school senior to sign instead with Tennessee.

But two seasons in Knoxville were enough. The Vols granted Pollmiller a release, opening the door for Cook to give her another chance. It all worked out. In a conference featuring stellar setters like Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini and Penn State’s Micha Hancock, Pollmiller still made the All-Big Ten team, earning Honorable Mention this year.

Nebraska runs a 5-1 (one setter) offense, and Pollmiller makes the most of her three rotations on the front row. In 31 matches, she’s attacked 286 times for 111 kills and just 22 errors; most of her attacks are setter dumps on the second ball. In last Saturday’s Round 2 win against Utah, Pollmiller tallied a career-best ten kills, including the first and last kills of the decisive fifth set.


FIEN ON FIRE
Despite having a big arm, junior outside hitter Kelsey Fien had trouble with being blocked. Early in the season, she sat on the bench, but worked in training to develop a wider range of shots. Halfway through the season, she earned a spot in the lineup, and has been a force ever since, even earning a place on the All-Big Ten First Team. Like Pollmiller, she had the best night of her career just last weekend, with 19 kills on 50 swings in the 3-2 win against Utah.


TWINS WITH A TWIST
Kadie and Amber Rolfzen are twins. They’re both 6-3 sophomores; Kadie usually serves right after Amber in the rotation. But in many ways, the two are quite different. Amber hits on the right side, and makes her biggest impact as a blocker (.093 blocks/set). Kadie is an outside hitter, and leads the team with 3.56 kills/set. Kadie plays all six rotations, and is the favorite target of most opposing servers.

Nebraska's Kadie Rolfzen
-Nebraska Athletics

Nebraska’s most glaring weakness, however, may be its passing, which has kept the Huskers out-of-system at key points of close matches. Servers try to stay away from libero Justine Wong-Orantes, and can sometimes rattle Kadie or sophomore outside hitter Annika Albrecht.


THE RECORD MAY BE DECEIVING
Nebraska went 14-6 in the Big Ten, and is 22-9 overall. Not since 1981—33 seasons ago—have the Huskers lost 8 or more matches in a season.

But consider the losses: 3-0 to Stanford (the NCAA Tournament’s #1 seed), 3-2 to Texas (the #2 seed), 3-0 Wisconsin (#4 seed), 3-0 to Penn State (#5 seed), 3-1 to Florida State (#8 seed), 3-1 and 3-2 to Illinois (#9 seed). They lost 3-2 to Ohio State, a team currently in the Sweet 16. Their only “bad” loss may have been 3-0 to Michigan, which did not make the tournament this season.

On the flip side, Nebraska had a 3-1 victory against Penn State, and beat tournament team Michigan State twice.


CALIFORNIAN COACH COOK
Nebraska coach John Cook
-Nebraska Athletics
John Cook has been in the Midwest so long, it may surprise some to learn that he’s a California guy. Growing up in San Diego, football was his first love. “I started coaching football,” he told Volleyblog Seattle in a 2012 interview. “That’s all I wanted to do, is coach football.”

I had no exposure to volleyball until I moved down to Mission Beach,” Cook remembered. “Every day after 3 o’clock, I saw two retired teachers down there playing sand volleyball. So, I asked them, What are you guys doing? What is this game?

Cook was drawn to the sport, particularly the fact that—unlike football—every player had to master every skill. The woman he would later marry, Wendy, was a two-time All-American setter at San Diego State, which all but sealed his love of volleyball. But his first volleyball coaching experience was rocky.

“I started coaching girls’ volleyball at Francis Parker High School. This was in 1982, and girls had just started playing volleyball. They cried every day. I was a football coach, so I didn’t know anything different. It was not a good match. But we were winning.”

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin also grew up in Southern California (Santa Monica), and also traded football for volleyball. Both Cook and McLaughlin spent time early in their coaching careers with the US Men’s National Team. In 1999, Cook was a Nebraska assistant when Kansas State—a team that had never beaten the Huskers—came to Lincoln. Nebraska lost. The head coach of that Kansas State team? Jim McLaughlin.

As opposing head coaches, the two have met four times, with each winning twice. McLaughlin’s Huskies won in 2005 (in the national championship match) and in 2010 (the Sweet 16). Cook’s Huskers won in 2008 (Elite 8) and 2012 (Sweet 16).

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NCAA | Sweet 16 volleyball ticket update and more Vansant news


Will we see a record crowd for a Seattle third round match?
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
see also: Impressive pedigrees for four volleyball teams headed to Seattle

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

NCAA | Impressive tournament pedigrees for four volleyball teams headed to Seattle

Seattle Region foursome boasts consistent postseason success and recently-honored athletes
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

Monday, December 8, 2014

NCAA | Can Seattle stake a claim as college volleyball’s epicenter?

Mounting wins and big crowds put Washington in elite company
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
see also: Jade Finau fits in as Washington volleyball returns to the Sweet 16

Sunday, December 7, 2014

NCAA | Jade Finau fits in as Washington volleyball returns to the Sweet 16

Jim McLaughlin’s subtle shift one ingredient in a win against Hawai’i
#3 Washington def. #23 Hawai’i 3-1 (25-20, 19-25, 25-16, 25-14)
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

Saturday, December 6, 2014

NCAA | Hawai’i rematch is next as Washington volleyball rolls

Jade Finau fills in at setter and does just fine
#23 Hawai’i def. #21 Duke 3-0 (25-15, 25-19, 25-17)
#3 Washington def. New Hampshire 3-0 (25-9, 25-6, 25-18)
  • #23 Hawai’i @ #3 Washington| Sat, Dec 6 | 7:30PM

Friday, December 5, 2014

NCAA | How do stats match up for volleyball’s Seattle sub-regional?

Terry Wood compares numbers for Washington, New Hampshire, Duke & Hawai’i
  • #21 Duke vs. #23 Hawai’i | Fri, Dec 5 | 5PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • New Hampshire @ #3 Washington | Fri, Dec 5 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • NCAA Second Round | Sat, Dec 6 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

NCAA | Jim McLaughlin on Krista Vansant: “She has the heart of a lion”

"I love to dig. It’s like my favorite thing ever." -- Krista Vansant
  • #21 Duke vs. #23 Hawai’i | Fri, Dec 5 | 5PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • New Hampshire @ #3 Washington | Fri, Dec 5 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • NCAA Second Round | Sat, Dec 6 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

NCAA | December Delirium—2014 volleyball tournament underway

Pac-12 teams are 3-0 on first day; Beals injury identified
  • #21 Duke vs. #23 Hawai’i | Fri, Dec 5 | 5PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • New Hampshire @ #3 Washington | Fri, Dec 5 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • NCAA Second Round | Sat, Dec 6 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NCAA | Ticket sales climbing for volleyball tournament’s first 4 rounds

Is Seattle the best of the 16 subregionals? Consider coaches, rankings, rivalries and geography
  • #21 Duke vs. #23 Hawai’i | Fri, Dec 5 | 5PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • New Hampshire @ #3 Washington | Fri, Dec 5 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • NCAA Second Round | Sat, Dec 6 | 7PM | Alaska Airlines Arena

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