Monday, October 13, 2014

National Team | Washington volleyball great Courtney Thompson part of historic USA gold

USA women win first major championship in 50 years
  • USA def. China 3-1 (27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 26-24)

Team USA members celebrate after the final point of their FIVB World Championship in Milan
-photo courtesy FIVB

If you haven’t yet heard, the USA National Team won the 2014 FIVB World Championship yesterday in Milan. The Americans beat China in the Finals, 3-1.

To win the title, USA had to win three tough final matches of the three-week tournament. They beat two-time defending champion Russia in the third round, then upset #1 Brazil in the semis, before dispatching perennial powerhouse China in the championship match.

There are three major international women’s tournaments each quadrennial: the World Championships, the World Cup and the Olympics. Hard to believe, but—until yesterday—USA had never won a single one of those titles, spanning several decades. Plenty of silver medals, but this was the very first gold. Amazing.

Only five players on yesterday’s roster were at the 2012 London Olympics: Courtney Thompson, Jordan Larson-Burbach, Foulke Akinradewo, Christa Harmotto Dietzen, and Nicole Davis. The first four played significant roles in the gold medal run, as did veterans Alicia Glass, Nicole Fawcett and Rachael Adams. The big news for the USA is the emergence of a core of newcomers, led by Kim Hill, Kelly Murphy, Kayla Banwarth, Kelsey Robinson and Tori Dixon. Unlike the Brazilians, who will host the next Olympic Games in 2016, USA Coach Karch Kiraly seems to have a great mix of experience and new blood.
USA setter Courtney Thompson serves in a semifinal victory over Brazil
-photo courtesy FIVB
Finally, Seattle’s own Courtney Thompson—the first woman athlete ever inducted into the Washington Husky Athletic Hall of Fame—more than proved her worth at setter. Used mostly as part of a mid-set double substitution in USA’s 5-1 offense, Thompson and opposite hitter Fawcett showed time and again the wisdom of that strategy. Throughout the tournament—and particularly in the final three matches—Thompson often led dramatic scoring runs … 6-2, 7-1 and even 8-1. Thompson was in charge for the final eight points of yesterday’s crucial second set, effectively dashing China’s comeback hopes. The point differential during her time on the court during these championships was significant, often as much as half the overall differential in the entire match. Her talent and leadership should make her a leading candidate for a spot on the roster in Rio.


  • The World Championship Finals began at the exact same moment as the Washington vs. Oregon Pac-12 match. We were on press row in Eugene, and watched both four-set matches simultaneously. Each had its gripping moments, and it was both stressful and exciting to divert attention back and forth between the two. After Washington beat Oregon to remain undefeated, several Huskies players immediately wanted to know the score of the USA/China match.
  • Eight players, coaches and officials on the World Championship team are featured in our recent documentary, Court & Spark.
College | On Kaleigh Nelson’s last Oregon trip, Washington volleyball beats the Ducks
A turning point after a time out keeps the Huskies undefeated
  • #3 Washington def. #11 Oregon 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-16)

Washington's Krista Vansant attacks past the Oregon block attempt in the Huskies' 3-1 victory Sunday morning
-photo courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography

EUGENE—Kaleigh Nelson awoke early Sunday just as she had so many other times in her life: in Oregon. Washington’s senior All-American went to high school near Salem, and with each return to her home state, there was always a contingent of family and friends in the stands. After four seasons—each more productive than the last—this would be her final college match in Oregon.

“I didn’t really think about it,” she said. “We had a lot of work to do, and I can’t really pay attention to what’s out there in the stands.”

When Nelson was growing up, the Ducks played in historic Mac Court. When the Huskies came to town, the arena’s wooden bleachers pounded like a thousand drums under the weight of sold-out crowds.
Washington players celebrate a point against Oregon
-photo courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography

But Oregon’s new home, Matt Court, with its sleek NBA-style exterior and subdued, cushioned interior, drew a Sunday morning crowd of just 1,631—a shame considering Washington came in undefeated, and Oregon’s only loss was to #1 Stanford.

Nelson and her Washington teammates played the first set like they had just barely rolled out of bed. There was little spark, and a ton of unforced errors, leading to a 25-21 Oregon win.

The Huskies roared back in the second set, however, as Washington’s hitters took better approaches in transition, and hit the ball with more authority. “We cleaned it up and quit making errors,” said Nelson. “We passed a lot better and were more on our assignments.”

The Huskies continue to roll early in the third, until the Ducks went on a tear. An 8-2 Oregon run forced Coach Jim McLaughlin to call a timeout. “I told them they had to have mental intensity,” he said. “If you lose it, it’s hard to get it back. You can’t let up ever up in this game.”

It proved to be the turning point. From the back row, Krista Vansant blasted a kill past the Oregon block. After a Tia Scambray ace, Vansant stuffed an Oregon attack, then followed with a cross-court kill to the very deepest corner of the court. The Ducks shook their heads, and Coach Jim Moore called a timeout.

But the damage had been done. Washington’s servers continued to keep Oregon out of system, allowing UW’s blockers to roof the Ducks time and time again. For the match, Washington outblocked Oregon 20-6. Lianna Sybeldon—the nation’s leading blocker—added another 11 block assists to her season total.

The Ducks, cowed by all the blocks, tried to tip their way to kills. But Huskies defenders were there time and again, picking up 57 digs for the match. “Once you have a good block,” said McLaughlin, “It’s human nature, you don’t want to get blocked and you start tipping. We knew it was coming.”

Late in the fourth set, with the Huskies firmly in control, the two teams had two stellar rallies, among the longest Washington has been part of this season. Both teams played furious defense, digging hard attacks, and flying far and wide to keep the ball in play. At one point, UW libero Cassie Strickland launched herself like a fullback leaping over an offensive line for a goal-line touchdown. In both rallies, Washington won the point.

McLaughlin smiled when asked about those two points. “Mike Normand, one of my mentors, always taught us that great teams win the long rallies. That’s something I’ve been preaching since I’ve been coaching.”

Nelson, too, grinned at the memory of those two long points. If she had been all business before the match, there was a hint of tears in her eyes once it was over. “Final college match here, in front of my loved ones. It was kinda cool.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014

College | Washington volleyball bounces all the way back to beat UCLA

In a thriller, Huskies win the final three sets behind Vansant, Sybeldon

#4 Washington def. #20 UCLA 3-2 (18-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-20, 15-10)
  • New Mexico St @ Seattle U | Sat, Oct 4 | 1PM
  • #4 Washington @ Oregon State | Fri, Oct 10 | 6PM | Pac-12 Networks
  • #4 Washington @ #11 Oregon | Sun, Oct 12 | 11AM | Pac-12 Networks

Thursday, October 2, 2014

College | Washington vs. USC was a volleyball mismatch

Trojans aren’t yet able to piece together their puzzle
#4 Washington def. #19 Southern Cal 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-19)
  • Texas-Pan Am @ Seattle U | Thu, Oct 2 | 6PM
  • #20 UCLA @ #4 Washington | Fri, Oct 3 | 7:00PM | [no TV]
  • New Mexico St @ Seattle U | Sat, Oct 4 | 1PM

Monday, September 29, 2014

College | Washington volleyball one of only five remaining undefeated teams

Stanford and Oregon also unbeaten; Scambray repeats as Freshman of the Week
  • #19 Southern Cal @ #4 Washington | Wed, Oct 1 | 7:30PM
  • Texas-Pan Am @ Seattle U | Thu, Oct 2 | 6PM
  • #20 UCLA @ #4 Washington | Fri, Oct 3 | 7:00PM
  • New Mexico St @ Seattle U | Sat, Oct 4 | 1PM

Thursday, September 25, 2014

College | Washington volleyball’s Sybeldon and Scambray jump high, hit hard

Power hitters key win in Pac-12 opener
#4 Washington def. Washington State 3-0 (25-21, 25-18, 25-15)
  • Western Washington @ Seattle Pacific | Thu, Sept. 25 | 7:30PM
  • #4 Washington @ California | Fri, Sept. 26 | 8PM | Pac-12 Networks
  • Simon Fraser @ Seattle Pacific | Sat, Sept. 27 | 7:30PM

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Team | Courtney Thompson leads Team USA to World Championships opening victory

Washington Hall of Fame setter serves nine straight points in turning point
  • USA def. Mexico 3-1 (19-25, 25-11, 25-20, 25-14)
  • USA vs. Kazakhstan | Wed, Sept. 24 | 1:30AM (Pacific) |
  • USA vs. Netherlands | Thu, Sept. 25 | 11AM (Pacific) |

Saturday, September 20, 2014

College | Washington volleyball’s amazing streaks continue

Five sets? No problem, as Huskies refuse to fold
#5 Washington def. #4 Wisconsin 3-2 (22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-16, 15-12)
  • Washington State @ #5 Washington | Wed, Sept. 24 | 7:30PM
  • #5 Washington @ California | Fri, Sept. 26 | 8:00PM

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

College | Volleyball stars align this week in Seattle

All-Americans and rising talent on display at UW and SPU
  • #10 USC vs. #4 Wisconsin @ Alaska Airlines Arena | Thursday, 9/18 | 5:30PM
  • Maryland @ #5 Washington | Thursday, 9/18 | 8PM
  • Western Oregon @ Seattle Pacific | Thursday, 9/18 | 7PM
  • #10 USC vs. Maryland @ Alaska Airlines Arena | Friday, 9/19 | 5:30PM
  • #4 Wisconsin @ #5 Washington | Friday, 9/19 | 8PM

Monday, September 15, 2014

College | Washington volleyball among dwindling list of undefeated

Several teams fall from the unbeaten ranks
  • #10 USC vs. #4 Wisconsin @ Alaska Airlines Arena | Thursday, 9/18 | 5:30PM
  • Maryland @ #5 Washington | Thursday, 9/18 | 8PM
  • #10 USC vs. Maryland @ Alaska Airlines Arena | Friday, 9/19 | 5:30PM
  • #4 Wisconsin @ #5 Washington | Friday, 9/19 | 8PM

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