Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pac-12 | Washington volleyball takes nonconference matches seriously

Washington has lost just two nonconference matches in the past nine years. This season, nonconference matches matter more than ever.

On August 31, 2001, Jim McLaughlin’s inaugural Washington volleyball team took the court for the very first time … and lost, 3 sets to none. The winner was BYU, a team that would finish the season ranked #22 with a 20-9 record.

The very next day, also at Hec Ed Pavilion, the Huskies defeated Purdue in the afternoon, but lost its second match of the season that night, falling to perennial power Texas 1-3.

Washington freshman Lianna Sybeldon (L) faces the block of teammates Kaleigh Nelson and Amanda Gill
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

The McLaughlin era started 1-2. But from that humble launch, his teams went on to win 102 of its next 105 nonconference contests. That, folks, is a success rate better than 97%, as sure a lock as in any team in any sport.
  • Seven different times, Washington has gone undefeated in nonconference season (see chart.)
  • UW won 33 straight nonconference matches during the seasons spanning 2002-2006. During that run, the Huskies dropped just one set (a 3-1 victory over Ohio.)
  • UW’s current nonconference streak is 31. During this latest stretch, the Huskies have lost just one set (a 3-1 victory over Long Beach State last season.)
  • In its 108 nonconference matches since 2001, McLaughlin’s teams have won 315 sets, dropping just 22 (10 of those 22 on that very first weekend.)

Since that first weekend in 2001, Washington has lost just three nonconference matches:
  • September 7, 2002 (Honolulu): Hawai'i 3, UW 1 (26-30, 30-22, 30-27, 30-28); Hawai’i finished 34-2 and was NCAA runner-up (to Stanford); [Hawai’i’s only two losses that season were to Stanford]
  • August 26, 2006 (Madison, WI): Texas 3, UW 2 (24-30, 30-23, 27-30, 30-28, 13-15); Texas finished 24-7; ranked #7, lost in NCAA Elite 8 to Stanford
  • September 13, 2008 (Honolulu): Hawai'i 3, UW 2: (25-20, 29-27, 24-26, 14-25, 14-16); Hawai’i finished 31-4; lost in NCAA Elite 8 to Stanford
[Beating Washington in preseason has a price: you’re destined to lose to Stanford in the NCAA Tournament …]

Washington’s gaudy record is not a product of home-court advantage. Since 2001, the Huskies have played just 27 nonconference matches at home. 39 matches have been in the Central or Eastern time zones; 8 others in Honolulu.

Many of Washington’s nonconference matches are against regional D1 opponents like Portland, Portland State, Gonzaga and Boise State, none of whom have taken a single set from UW since Portland’s 1-3 loss in 2001. Many other opponents have been teams that—by season’s end—have failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Along the way, however, there have been some impressive victories:
  • 2002: In Denton, Texas, UW swept Texas A&M, a team which would finish 21-10, losing to USC in the NCAA second round.  In Stockton, the Huskies swept Pacific, which also reached the second round (losing to Stanford).
  • 2003: In Madison, UW swept Wisconsin, which finished 22-11, ranked #21, eventually losing in the second round to Texas A&M.
  • 2005: In Honolulu, UW swept Hawai’i … twice. Hawai’i ended that season 27-7 and ranked #9, losing in the second round to Missouri (UW won the National Championship).
  • 2006: In Madison, UW swept Ohio, a team that finished 28-5, ranked #25, losing in the first round to Kentucky.
  • 2007: In Long Beach, UW beat Long Beach State 3-1; the 49ers ended the season 27-6, ranked #23 and losing in the second round to USC.
  • 2009: In Tampa, UW swept Minnesota, a team that reached the Final Four (losing to Texas) and ranked #4. The next night, UW swept Florida in a season when the Gators went 25-6, ranked #15, and lost in the second round to eventual champion Penn State.
  • 2011: In Long Beach, UW beat Long Beach State 3-1; the 49ers finished 23-7, losing in the first round to San Diego.

You’ll notice that all those victories were on the road, often on the opponent’s home court. Top-level teams from other time zones are notoriously reluctant, however, to travel all the way to Seattle, unwilling to risk a loss against a high-powered opponent like Washington.

In professional sports, preseason contests border on meaningless. But in college sports, nonconference games can make all the difference once the playoffs roll around.

Starting last season, the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Selection Committee put greater weight on the difficulty of schedule when deciding which sixteen teams would host the first two rounds. That forced Washington, with a 22-7 record, to travel to Minnesota, with a 17-11 record. Minnesota, it seems, got bonus points for its preseason wins against Texas (twice) and Oregon, and for its close loss to USC.

This season, Washington tried to schedule tougher opponents, but again found resistance from teams unwilling to travel. It once again booked Long Beach State, and picked up a great August 31 match in Baton Rouge against powerhouse Purdue. But a road match against Penn State had to be cancelled when the Pac-12 rescheduled Washington’s conference opener with Washington State.

Of course, the whole RPI thing remains silly as can be, when teams like Washington play eight matches every season against the likes of Stanford, UCLA, USC and Cal. Compared to the march through the Pac-12, the preseason will always be a comparative cakewalk.


Aug 24
Gonzaga vs. Portland State

Boise State @ Washington
Aug 25
Portland State vs. Boise State

Gonzaga @ Washington

Boise State vs. Gonzaga

Portland State @ Washington
Aug 31
vs. Purdue
Baton Rouge, LA

Sep 1
vs. Rice
Sep 6
Seattle U @ Washington
Seattle (UW)
Sep 7
Long Beach State @ Washington
Sep 8
Long Beach State @ Seattle U
Seattle (SU)
Sep 11
@ Portland

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