Monday, October 31, 2011

How did Washington beat Arizona?

It was the second set. Arizona led 14-10.
Washington’s Evan Sanders set Lauren Barfield on a quick. With a blocker in her face, Barfield jumped high enough—and made a decision fast enough—to blast the ball in a seam to the left of the blocker and just out of a defender’s reach. Point, Huskies.
Jenni Nogueras then stepped to the service line. After a roller-coaster month, including the high of being included in Washington’s newly-installed 6-2 offense—and the unimaginable low of losing her father to cancer—Nogueras knew this weekend was an important test of her ability to go forward.
Washington's Jenni Nogueras (9) cheers a point against Arizona
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
Her first serve was tough for the Wildcats to handle; the short rally ended with a Kylin Muñoz kill, off the block and down the line. Nogueras’ next serve led to a kill by Bianca Rowland, who is finding a rhythm with Nogueras that she hadn’t yet mastered with Sanders. The third serve ended with a fourth consecutive kill: a smart Muñoz tip. Time out Arizona, with the score tied at 14.
The Wildcats couldn’t handle Nogueras’ fourth serve; Rowland buried the overpass. Rowland and Summer Ross roofed the next Arizona attack, followed by another Muñoz dig to end a long rally. 17-14 Washington, and another UA time out.
During time outs, coaches order up a set play off the serve receive, and more times than not, the team calling the time out wins the next point. But that doesn’t work against a great serve, and Nogueras’ jump float was again too hot to handle: the point ended with another Ross/Rowland block. Seven straight points, and the set was effectively over.
The Huskies did a lot of things right on Sunday against a team that recently beat #1 UCLA and has given better teams fits.
So … How did Washington beat Arizona?
Krista Vansant (16) congratulates
Bianca Rowland (15)
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
Jim McLaughlin’s grand experiment to switch his offense in the middle of the season—with his team (at the time) ranked #2 with a 15-1 record—has raised more than a few eyebrows. But the insertion of Nogueras, and pairing her with Rowland, looked like it paid dividends against the Wildcats.
Rowland was unstoppable this weekend. In two matches against ASU and Arizona, she had a combined 15 kills and just one error on 37 attempts (.378). Rowland had a bounce in her step and exerted leadership not seen this season, especially in Friday’s fifth set.
“She was really good,” said Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin after the match.
“Confidence is an interesting thing,” he said, in reference to the team’s adjustment to the 6-2. “Winning helps, but it’s understanding what you need to do, and—through mindful repetition—believing we can do this.”
The most obvious advantage of the 6-2 is the ability to bring in a fourth hitter. Sophomore Gabbi Parker had an erratic night against ASU, but was the star of Sunday’s Arizona match. Parker had 11 kills and just one error on 21 attempts, and worked hard to vary her shots, both speed and location.
Gabbi Parker attacks
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
“If I see I have wide open line, I’m gonna take it,” Parker said. “If I have a tough shot, I’m just gonna hit high off the hands, and make it so they can’t dig it as easily. We talk about, it’s easy to dig a ball; it’s not easy to dig a ball off the block. So, we’re really trying to hit the ball hard off the hands.”
“Gabbi was big time,” McLaughlin said. “Best game so far as a Husky. I think that’s just the beginning; she can take off from here.”
Parker has been given opportunities before. What allowed her to click this time out?
“I have a big problem with being mentally focused,” Parker said. “And letting myself get down when I make mistakes. So I’ve been working really hard on not letting myself get down on mistakes. And on hitting my shots and hitting harder on the next ball and making ‘em pay for every ball.”
The Huskies are the nation’s best blocking team, averaging an astonishing 3.57 blocks per set. It bears mentioning that Parker stepped seamlessly into that role as well, helping the team to an eye-popping 14.5 team blocks in just three sets.
By contrast, Arizona employed a spread read, allowing the Huskies to run a combination at just one blocker. Both Parker and Krista Vansant (8 kills) were particularly effective when crossing in front or behind their middle blocker.
Washington has lost just once at home this season, its conference-opening match against USC. Against the Trojans, the Huskies kept it close in all three sets, but couldn’t finish the deal.
Since then, Washington has shown an uncanny ability to win close sets at home. On several occasions, they’ve trailed by 2 or 3 points when their opponent reaches 21 or more. Time and again, the Huskies coolly persevered, coming from behind, usually on the strength of great serving.
Washington's Krista Vansant (16) hits through the block on a combination play
[Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann]
Sunday was no exception. In the third set, Arizona went ahead 22-20 on an amazing service ace by Courtney Karst, whose rocket serve clipped Washington’s right sideline. The next rally was long, but the Wildcats were in the net.
Evan Sanders stepped to the service line and the Huskies won the next two points, on an Arizona hitting error and a Krista Vansant kill. Leading 23-22, Sanders served an ace. On the final play, Jenna Orlandini made an astonishing dig, and the Wildcats put their subsequent attack out of bounds for the final point.
After the match, Sanders sought out Karst. They were club teammates (for Colorado’s Front Range), and Sanders still considers Karst her BFF.
“She asked me, ‘couldn’t you just let us win one set?’” said Sanders.
The answer, of course, was no.

No comments:

Post a Comment

[It's okay to comment as "Anonymous," but please feel free to share your name and/or alias.]

Have your friends discovered Volleyblog Seattle? Number of unique visits: