Monday, August 27, 2012

Pac-12 | What we learned from Washington’s first three matches

#12 Washington wins its 32nd, 33rd and 34th consecutive nonconference matches (a new team record); #7 Purdue is up next

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin had a grin on his face.

In three victories against three regional opponents (Boise State, Gonzaga and Portland State), every player on his roster saw action (except freshman middle blocker Melanie Wade, recovering from an ankle sprain.)

And McLaughlin readily admitted—with obvious glee—that his lineups are not yet set.

Washington's Krista Vansant
-Volleyblog Seattle photoby Leslie Hamann
“We’re competing. And it’s competition at a high level. As a coach, you want that,” McLaughlin said.

That competition, in McLaughlin’s mind, will make it impossible for any of his athletes to be complacent. Not incidentally, it will make the Huskies harder for opponents to scout.

“We have five more matches before the start of Pac-12s,” said McLaughlin, “and everything is still wide open.”

In truth, reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Krista Vansant has certainly locked up the OH1 position. Dominant hitters have to expect to handle plenty of serves and immediately get into position for a terminating attack. Over the weekend, Vansant showed improvement in both areas, and was particularly effective in quick transition.

Other positions up for grabs:
  • SETTER: Junior Jenni Nogueras and freshman Katy Beals saw equal action, sometimes in a single setter (5-1) offense, but more often in a two-setter (6-2) lineup. Each had her own advantages, and it seems likely McLaughlin will make the 6-2 a frequent choice.
  • OPPOSITE: Kylin Muñoz made the move from the left side to the right, and it seems to make sense. She attacked line with more consistency and success, and when she hit cross-court, she found opposing setters a more accommodating target than liberos. Muñoz is at her best when she gets a full approach and gets a few extra inches on her jump.
Muñoz may share time, however, with freshman fireplug Cassie Strickland. Strickland made a big splash in her debut, showing a fearless energy, despite her 5-8 frame. “We’ve got to get her to play within herself,” McLaughlin says, “but I love her enthusiasm. We want our players to go for it, and Cassie showed us something.”
  • OUTSIDE HITTER 2: Junior Gabbi Parker is another athlete who plays with passion; her challenge is to quickly shake off errors. When Parker is on—as she was against Boise State and Portland State—she’s hard to stop. When she’s off—as she was against Gonzaga—she struggles to get back into a groove. The physical tools are there; her mental game should be her focus.
Kaleigh Nelson can be so quiet she seems to disappear. But Nelson can pound the ball—straight-down-the-other-side-of-the-net pound. McLaughlin will be thrilled if Parker and Nelson battle hard for playing time all season.
  • MIDDLES: Senior middle blocker Amanda Gil saw her first college action in three seasons (sitting out 2010 after transferring from UCLA and losing 2011 to an injury.) Her presence seemed to buoy the team; she declared after the tournament that she intends to be a leader. As a sophomore, she was one of the nation’s dominant blockers. Over the weekend, she showed she can be an offensive threat, too.
Kylin Muñoz  (24) and Amanda Gil get a block
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Our companion blog, Volleyblog Seattle Photos, is sporting a new look. See photos from over the weekend, and send an email to nolittlethings[at] for information about purchasing copies.
Senior Kelcey Dunaway is also primarily a blocker; she had just two kills in three matches. She continues to be an effective server, and has vastly improved her defense, keeping several of her serving runs alive.
With freshman Melanie Wade nursing her injured ankle, fellow freshman Lianna Sybeldon saw plenty of playing time. She looked strong and enthusiastic; she’ll need more repetitions to get used to the pace of quick sets. But she definitely looked as if she belongs.
  • DEFENDERS: Jenna Orlandini wore the libero jersey for all but one set, but senior Kelly Holford made the most of her chances. These two may battle during practice every week of the season. Cassie Strickland’s ability to pass and to hit from the back row may make lineup decisions more interesting.

Overall, Washington defeated its three opponents at the most basic level: serve (more aces, fewer errors), serve receive (better passes, fewer errors) and blocking (25.5 to 8 over three matches.) When the Huskies face more talented teams—beginning this Friday against powerhouse Purdue—those same basics will decide the match.

Washington volleyball: combined first three matches

attack pct.
Krista Vansant
Kylin Muñoz
Gabbi Parker
Amanda Gil
Cassie Strickland
Kaleigh Nelson
Lianna Sybeldon
Kelcey Dunaway

  • With three victories, Washington has now won 34 consecutive nonconference matches, dating back to a razor-thin 2-3 loss to Hawai’i in Honolulu in 2008. That’s a new team record, surpassing a 33 match streak that ended with that Hawai’i loss. Overall, the Huskies have won 67 of their past 68 nonconference contests, and 105 of their previous 108.
  • Our companion blog, Volleyblog Seattle Photos, is sporting a new look. See photos from over the weekend, and send an email to nolittlethings[at] for information about purchasing copies.

WRITTEN BY: Jack Hamann | PHOTOGRAPHY: Leslie Hamann

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