Monday, September 12, 2016

College | Huskies keep amazing nonconference streak alive with win in Hawai’i

UW has now won 77 nonconference matches in a row; Jones and Bajema honored as UW climbs in the polls

  • #6 Washington def. #14 Hawai’i 3-2 (25-23, 17-25, 28-26, 23-25, 15-13)
  • Sept 15 | 5PM | #5 Washington vs. Maryland @ USC
  • Sept 16 | 5PM | #5 Washington vs. Oklahoma @ USC

Washington's Tia Scambray jousts at the net during the Huskies' 3-2 win over Hawai'i in Honolulu
-photo by Hawai'i Athletic Department

There are plenty of reasons Washington has a hard time scheduling quality nonconference opponents. Last night offered another.

Despite playing on their home court in front of 6,856 fans, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine could not put away their Northwest nemesis, as Washington eked out the narrowest of victories, 3-2 (25-23, 17-25, 28-26, 23-25, 15-13). Watching the match on Hawai’i’s live stream, here’s what we saw:

  • The turning point came at the end of the third set, with the teams tied in sets at 1-1, and Hawai’i at the service line with a 24-20 lead. The Huskies won the point on a Crissy Jones kill, launching an 8-2 run that ended in a 28-26 UW set victory. The biggest star of the streak was outside hitter Tia Scambray, who landed three great serves—including deadly missiles down the line—to bring tie the score at 24. In all, Washington fought off 6 set points to win the third.

  • Jones was an enigma. The junior outside hitter recorded 22 kills with 4 errors on 60 swings (.300), earning tournament MVP and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. She plays all six rotations, and may be one of the Huskies’ best back row attackers in several seasons. And yet, an eye-opening number of Jones’ front row attempts were tips. On the one hand, Hawai’i was not great at covering short attacks (see Nikki Taylor, below). On the other hand, Jones seemed to pass up far too many attempts to pound the ball, something an elite opposite simply has to do, even when sets aren't perfect.

  • Scambray and fellow junior Courtney Schwan will likely continue to be the most under-publicized outside hitter tandem in the nation. They are both outstanding passers, a growing Washington outside hitter tradition. Scambray attacks with abandon, even after making a hitting error. Schwan seems to be overcoming last season’s tendency to tip when under pressure, and smartly uses the block. Against Hawai’i, Schwan had 19 kills and just 2 errors (.415) and Scambray added 16 kills with 8 errors (.186).

  • For the first time in many seasons, Washington is running a 5-1 (1 setter) offense, and junior setter Bailey Tanner has been outstanding. Against Hawai’i, she ran a quick tempo offense that, frankly, asked a little more of her pin hitters than they were able to deliver. That could turn out great, however, as Scambray, Schwan and Jones have a chance to get into better position in transition, knowing that smart, quick sets are on the way, often creating attacks against single blocks. Tanner, like Wisconsin All-American Lauren Carlini, is comfortable across the front line, setting strong blocks and attacking when needed.

  • Kudos to two freshmen: middle Kara Bajema and libero Shayne McPherson. Hawai’i servers drilled McPherson in the second set, eventually forcing coach Keegan Cook to employ a two-person serve receive (Scambray and Schwan) in certain rotations. But McPherson hung tough, and had just one awful pass the rest of the way. Bajema—the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week—was terrific throughout, aggressively slamming over-passes, confidently pressing her hands over the net when blocking and playing scramble defense like a back row player. Washington will benefit as Bajema gets more comfortable on quicks, especially as Cook burns multiple substitutions for his MB2 platoon, Destiny Julye (attacking) and Avie Niece (blocking.)

  • Hawai’i outside hitter Nikki Taylor had a career-high 29 kills, but her 70 attempts took a toll. By the fifth set, she appeared to be bothered by pain in both her elbow and knee. During the Huskies’ final push, Taylor was unable to pick up tips or chase shanked balls, and was often hidden on serve receive. In a razor-thin match, Washington’s comparatively balanced attack proved the difference.

The win in Honolulu extends some pretty amazing Washington streaks.
  • UW has now won 77 nonconference regular season matches in a row.
  • The Huskies’ last nonconference loss was 8 years ago, on September 13, 2008, in Honolulu, when Hawai’i prevailed 3-2 (20-25, 27-29, 26-24, 25-14, 16-14).
  • Washington also lost to Hawai’i in Honolulu on September 7, 2002, by a 3-1 score (26-30, 30-22, 30-27, 30-28), a match where the Wahine’s Kim Willoughby recorded 38 kills.
  • Between 2002 and 2008, UW had just one other nonconference loss, to Texas on August 26, 2006 in Madison, WI, by a score of 3-2 (30-24, 23-30, 30-27, 28-30, 15-13).
  • Overall, the Huskies are a jaw-dropping 148-3 in nonconference regular-season matches since the first weekend of 2001.

And so … if you were an opposing coach of a top-tier team, how eager might you be to schedule a match in the far reaches of the Northwest against a team that almost never loses? Even in a year with no true seniors, playing on the road in front of a huge audience, the Washington Huskies find a way to win nonconference matches.

Washington is now #5 in the AVCA Coaches Poll and #4 in the FloVolleyball Poll. In both polls, Nebraska, Texas and Minnesota are #1, #2 & #3. Kansas is #4 in AVCA and #7 in FloVolleyball.

With UCLA’s loss to San Diego and Wisconsin’s loss to North Carolina, Washington (8-0) is one of only five remaining undefeated teams in the AVCA Top 25. #1 Nebraska is 6-0, #4 Kansas is 9-0, #9 BYU is 9-0 and #17 Santa Clara is 9-0.

Washington State is 8-1 in nonconference play. It’s only loss was to Purdue, a 7-1 team that beat Stanford this weekend. The Cougars beat UC Irvine, a team that swept USC 3-0.

The Cougars are hitting .307, seventh best among all Division 1 schools (Washington is #24 at .281). WSU is holding opponents to .116, #5 in the nation (UW is #52 at .162). Washington State ranks #7 in blocks per set, with 3.23 (the Huskies are #45 with 2.55.)

Washington starts Pac-12 play in 9 days, when it hosts WSU. But before and immediately after, UW makes two trips to USC’s Galen Center.

This Thursday and Friday, the Huskies play Maryland and Oklahoma, the third year of a four-year deal where the Terrapins and Sooners meet the Huskies and Trojans on rotating home courts.

USC’s Mick Haley is not a fan of the series—Wisconsin backed out after the first year of the series when the Badgers lost to both Southern Cal and Washington in Seattle. Haley hints that SC and UW are working on a new deal with higher-ranked opponents starting in 2018.

The strangeness of this week’s contests are that both Haley and Keegan Cook will be able to scout each other’s team just days before UW again travels to Galen to meet USC on September 23. Although Washington and Southern Cal tied for the 2015 Pac-12 title (both were 18-2), the conference’s ridiculous unbalanced schedule means that this will be the only UW/USC meeting of the season. Likewise, Washington will only see UCLA once, at home the night before Thanksgiving.

Sorry, Pac-12, that’s just wrong.

Monday, August 22, 2016

College | Great opening weekend … in Oregon

As the college season’s nonconference matches begin, the action is in Eugene and Palo Alto

Biggest west coast draws of Week One:
  • Fri | Aug 26 | 4:00PM | Eugene | #1 Nebraska vs. #10 Florida
  • Sat | Aug 26 | 3:30PM | Eugene | #1 Nebraska vs. #2 Texas
  • Sun | Aug 27 | 1:00PM | Palo Alto | #3 Minnesota @ #11 Stanford

This weekend, fans in Oregon's Matt Court will see the most-anticipated inter-conference matchups this side of the NCAA Tournament.
-photo by Leslie Hamann
If you’re a fan of women’s college volleyball, you’ve got to get yourself to Eugene this weekend.

In most years, the Pacific Northwest—if not the entire West Coast—is a nonconference wasteland. The Pac-12’s elite—Washington, Stanford, UCLA and USC—rarely wrangle top teams from the power conferences into their home gyms during August and September. Two seasons ago, Wisconsin came to Seattle and got waxed, prompting Badgers’ coach Kelly Sheffield to back out of a four-year deal with the Huskies and USC.

Nebraska, Texas, Florida ...
and Oregon's irrepressible Jim Moore
-photo by Leslie Hamann
But this weekend is different. #1 Nebraska and #2 Texas—the two teams that squared off in last December’s title match (the Huskers won) face off Saturday afternoon in Eugene, followed by #10 Florida vs. Oregon. The night before, Nebraska faces Florida and Texas takes on the Ducks. That’s some good volleyball, folks.

Down in Palo Alto, #11 Stanford, #3 Minnesota and San Diego play a round-robin. Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas were all in last season’s Final Four (Kansas was the other), and all three are among the favorites to return, along with Stanford, Washington, #4 Wisconsin, Florida and #12 UCLA.

The Huskies head to the Beltway this weekend for a Saturday match at James Madison and a Sunday game against American University. As usual, Washington’s nonconference schedule is light on teams with imposing RPIs … their own real marquee date is September 11 at Hawai’i.

Sadly, volleyball gets buried in the saturation of college football coverage, and it’s tough to draw crowds before classes begin in late September. Some schools in the Midwest pay opponents to come to their gyms for nonconference volleyball matches. Many power schools are loathe to schedule tough competition for fear of upsetting the RPI ratings used to seed the NCAA Tournament. And more than a few schools are likely scared away by Washington’s nonconference record: since the first weekend in 2001, the Huskies have only lost four nonconference matches: twice to Texas and twice to Hawai’i. They are 141-4 since, likely to be riding a 78-match nonconference win streak when they arrive in Honolulu.

If you can’t get to those Midwestern sites each December for the Final Four (Columbus in 2016, Kansas City in 2017), you could do worse than making a trip to Eugene this weekend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Olympic Games | Which USA Olympians had the most collegiate success?

Two-time Olympians Akinradewo and Thompson telegraphed their later success
Court & Spark now available on Amazon and iTunes

Courtney Thompson (3) sets Foluke Akinradewo during a 2014 World Championships victory over Russia
-photo courtesy FIVB

Is there a correlation between success in college volleyball and future Olympic glory?

We took a look at collegiate national honors for all 12 members of USA’s Rio Olympics women’s volleyball roster. We tallied four categories: The Honda Sports Player of the Year (awarded to the nation’s best volleyball player across all collegiate divisions and organizations), the AVCA Player of the Year (for NCAA Division 1, where all the Olympians played), AVCA First-Team All-Americans and NCAA D1 National Championships. What did we find?

  • Two players—Stanford’s Foluke Akinradewo and Washington’s Courtney Thompson—took home more collegiate awards than any other current Olympians. Both were Honda Players of the Year, both were 3-time AVCA First Team All-Americans. Akinradewo was the AVCA Player of the Year, but never won an NCAA championship. Thompson’s Huskies won the 2005 title.
  • On the other extreme, Kayla Banwarth never won any of these four honors while at Nebraska. Liberos are crucial to the modern game, but still don’t get much respect.
  • Megan (Hodge) Easy of Penn State was easily the most honored player of her generation: 2009 Honda Player of the Year, 2009 AVCA Player of the Year, four time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-09) and three time NCAA Champion (2007-2009). Hodge was a member of the 2012 London Olympic roster, but battled injuries late in the Rio quad and was not selected for 2016.
  • Nicole Fawcett, also of Penn State, was just a hair behind Easy in national collegiate awards. She was the 2008 Honda and AVCA Player of the Year, a three time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-08) and two time NCAA Champion (2007-2008). Fawcett, an opposite, has been a key member of the National Team for the past two quads. She just missed making either the London or Rio rosters.
  • When it’s time to look forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the players with the most national collegiate honors of the next generation of National Team members are Washington’s Krista Vansant, Penn State’s Micha Hancock, Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini and USC’s Natalie Hagglund.
  • So who were the other recent Players of the Year not on the Olympic roster?
    2005: Christiana Houghtelling, Nebraska (AVCA)
    2006: Sarah Pavan, Nebraska (AVCA & Honda) [Pavan is Canadian]
    2010: Blair Brown, Penn State (Honda)
    2011: Alex Jupiter, USC (AVCA & Honda) [Jupiter is French]
    2012: Alaina Bergsma, Oregon (AVCA & Honda)
    2013: Krista Vansant, Washington (AVCA & Honda)
    2014: Krista Vansant, Washington (Honda) & Micha Hancock, Penn St (AVCA)
  • Who is the most honored collegian of all time? Stanford’s Logan Tom, a four-time Olympian (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) was Honda POY and AVCA POY in both 2001 and 2002, and a four-time First Team All-American (1999-2002). Stanford won the NCAA title in 2001, and was runner-up in 1999 and 2002.


We’re happy to report that Court & Spark, the one-hour documentary Courtney Thompson, and featuring many of her teammates and coaches, is now available for rent or purchase on both iTunes and Amazon. All proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball, a nonprofit umbrella for female and male youth, adult, indoor, sand and sitting volleyball. A great gift idea for players who have just completed summer volleyball camp!

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