Saturday, October 29, 2011

How did Washington beat Arizona State?

The 6/2 is 1-2.
Washington’s tumultuous mid-season switch to a two-setter offense (“6/2” refers to “6 hitters/2 setters”) has finally produced its first win after two ugly Bay Area losses. But the 3-2 victory over lowly Arizona State was no thing of beauty.
“I don’t necessarily think we played that well,” said Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin, “but we figured it out a way to win, which is good.”
Summer Ross attacks against Arizona State
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
It was the first time in the 2011 season the Huskies had played a five-set match. It’s the deepest a McLaughlin-coached team has ever gone into a season without playing a 5-setter (see: UW: Still no five-set matches), and we could not find another school in Division 1 (318 teams) that had not played five at least once this season.
In McLaughlin’s 10+ seasons at Washington, his teams win 80% of the time in matches lasting 3 or 4 sets. But his teams have a losing record (24-26) when matches go the limit.
“I’m a little disappointed it went five. But it did,” said McLaughlin. “We have one under our belt. And we pulled it off.”
Washington started set one with setter Jenni Nogueras; she had missed the Oregon matches while mourning the death of her father. By the third set, with the match tied 1-1, McLaughlin shifted the starting lineup, starting in rotation four with Evan Sanders.
“I flip-flopped the rotations,” McLaughlin explained, “because (rotations) 4, 5 & 6 were siding out at a much higher level. And Evan was doing a good job, so, we just kept in those rotations a little bit longer.”
It worked well in set three.
“We just sided out well,” said McLaughlin. “We were siding out at over 73%. We got our quicks going, we passed well, things were happening. And setters distributed the ball well.”
Washington setter Jenni Nogueras (9)
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
But as good as the Huskies looked in the third set, they looked awful in the fourth, and had to gut out the fifth for a razor-thin victory. Even so, McLaughlin says he’ll stick with the 6/2.
“I just think it’s a good way to go. I like the system. And if we can just stabilize our side out, the way we score points, we can win some big matches with this lineup. We just gotta get used to it. I should have done it earlier.”
How, then, did Washington beat Arizona State?
As they usually do, the Huskies’ servers targeted the opponent’s best hitter, hoping to limit her attacking option. It worked.
ASU’s best hitter is Ashley Kastl. She took 47 swings and connected for a match-high 17 kills. But her 10 hitting errors brought her average down to .149, many on blocks. Her serve receive was so inconsistent, ASU coach Jason Watson pulled Kastl during crucial stretches, despite her considerable back row attack prowess.
“A lot of tough serves,” said McLaughlin. “Game five, we were good. Game five, we had them all off the net, they couldn’t go quick. And we were stuffin’ ‘em. So, I thought we served pretty good.”
Washington libero Jenna Orlandini did not have her best match. Many of her digs went all the way to the net—sometimes even on free balls—often negating Washington’s quality serves.
In sets two and four (both ASU wins) and throughout set five, the Sun Devils’ hitters played with abandon, jumping high and hitting hard. By contrast, the Huskies were often tentative, launching ineffective tips or pushes instead of crushing the ball.
Washington's Gabbi Parker (11) prepares to block
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
“We gotta be able to bang the ball,” said McLaughlin. “When they don’t hit clean, we have to make them pay. And we didn’t do that tonight.”
The most effective combination was Nogueras-to-Bianca Rowland, both on quicks and slides. Rowland had 10 kills and no errors on 22 swings (.455).
“All throughout the week, we’ve been working on setting the ball with pace,” said Rowland. “And just getting the ball faster to the middles, and keeping it high. I just think that helped us out this week: we finally started to figure out what we needed to do to make the connection.”
Outside hitters Gabbi Parker and Kylin Muñoz had several hard shots early on, but tossed a lot of tips when Arizona State was streaking. McLaughlin wants more power throughout.
“We got a little tentative, and we can’t do that,” he said. “We gotta go for it all the time.”
“And have that attitude that I’m just gonna rip their hands off when we score points.”
In large part, Washington overcame its timid hitting with another solid blocking performance. The team tallied 21 blocks (to six for ASU), extending Washington’s lead as the top-blocking team in Division 1.
Fans tend to pay attention to kills and blocks, and there’s no question the Huskies’ two sensational freshmen—Summer Ross and Krista Vansant—have those skills.
But both can also serve tough. Both can also dig the ball. And the difference last night may have been their often-overlooked ability to receive serves.
Washington Huskies successfully scramble for loose ball against Arizona State
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
Time and again, ASU served at the freshmen, avoiding Orlandini. Ross, in particular, passed nails. She is so calm and focused that she turns what might be tough serve receives into butter. Time and again, Nogueras and Sanders found themselves in-system, thanks to a sweet Summer Ross pass.
With her sand volleyball experience, Ross doesn’t get flustered by broken plays, either. She sets tough balls when necessary, and is rarely surprised by opponents’ tips, roll shots or redirects during jousts. During long fifth-set rallies, both Ross and Vansant kept the ball in play, even when the action got sloppy. (Kudos, too, to Nogueras, who played her best defense of the season.)
In the end, it made the difference.


  1. At least from a fan's point of view, Washington OHs did not seem to take advantage of the mismatch when ASU setter is in the front row (blocking right side). Time and time again, they hit cross court to zone 5 or 6. Was it so, or was it just my perception?

  2. You bring up a good point.
    In the Pac-12, most setters are good blockers. Unlike some other conferences, it doesn't necessarily make sense to attack the front row setter's block.
    That said, blocking was not the ASU setter's strong suit, and I do agree that too many attacks seemed to head cross-court.
    In general, the Huskies probably need to step up their efforts to hit line. As coach McLaughlin says, it starts with doing a better job in transition, to insure they are jumping higher and not running under the ball.

  3. The last picture shows something I was wondering about: everyone is bunched up near the cross-court line, leaving the back court and especially corners wide open. That happened over and over, and there were points lost.

    Is this intentional or something else?

    And while the execution left something to be desired, it was nice to see the broadening of the playing time distribution.


  4. Jim McLaughlin uses a system known to insiders as "Gold Medal Squared" (after an ever-evolving set of strategies developed by Carl McGown and others.) In the GMS system, the libero always plays middle-middle (halfway between the back line and ten foot line, and halfway between the sidelines. Defensive coverage is angled from the corners, not parallel to the sidelines.
    In short, it means that the corners are sometimes vulnerable, but it usually takes an exceptional (or lucky) player to consistently find those tough-to-reach spots.
    ASU also uses GMS, and it looked as if a couple of its players had practiced hitting the corners.

  5. The main reason the OH cannot hit down the line is because the setter is not consistently pushing the ball out far enough to the antennae so they can turn the ball down the line.


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