Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pac-12 | What we learned from Washington’s win over Washington State

#5 Washington 3, Washington State 0 (25-20, 27-29, 25-14, 27-25)
next: Saturday, September 22 | #5 Washington @ Arizona

SEATTLE—Jenni Nogueras grew up in Puerto Rico, speaking Spanish. At the University of Washington, her major is English.

So what language does she speak at home?

“She speaks Spanish,” says teammate—and roommate—Kaleigh Nelson. “And I love how it sounds.”

Last night, however, it was Nogueras who loved how Nelson sounded. In Washington’s often-tense 3-1 victory over Washington State, it was the communication between roommates that made the difference.

Amanda Gil (1), Jenni Nogueras (9), Kaleigh Nelson (6) and teammates celebrate match point
-photo courtesy of Shutter Geeks Photography

Nelson finished the night with 16 kills and 4 errors on just 24 swings, a sizzling .500 average. Her big performance was never more evident than in the waning moments of the match.

With the fourth set score tied at 22, Washington’s star hitter Krista Vansant (16 kills/3 errors/45 attempts/.289) got a big kill, then moved off the front line and back to serve. On the ensuing rally, Gabbi Parker hit the ball long; on the next rally, Nelson did the same. Suddenly, the Cougars had set point.

After a nice pass by Vansant, Nogueras heard Nelson behind her, screaming for the ball. In a split-second, Nogueras decided she’d go back to her roommate.

“She was having a good game,” said Nogueras. “I knew she was going to kill it. We just had this connection.”

“Kaleigh’s got it in her,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin. “Offensively, she’s doing a hell of job.”

That, said McLaughlin, was not true for all the Huskies throughout much of the match.

“I don’t like the way we played in transition. We had lots of opportunities, and we hit a lot of balls down into the block, and hit some balls out of bounds.”

Although Washington outblocked WSU 15-9 (Amanda Gil led with 7 block assists,) the Cougars came into the match leading the nation in blocks per set. McLaughlin thought Parker and Vansant too often called for the ball when they weren’t in the best position to swing. Too often, that meant hitting into a big block, or pounding the ball when finesse would have been more effective.

“The hitters, I think, aren’t making the right calls all the time,” McLaughlin said. “And so, they’ve got to identify the situation and make the right call. Otherwise, the quarterback’s (the setter) gonna throw the wrong ball.”

But Nogueras rarely went wrong when she heard Nelson’s right-side calls. “Their blocker on their left side wasn’t really strong. We knew that was their weakness.

Kaleigh Nelson attacks against WSU's Stephanie Logan (3)
and Ver'Leea Hardaway (15)
-photo courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography
“I would have gone to Kaleigh the whole game if it wasn’t for even distribution.”

“It feels good that this girl (Nogueras) trusts me enough to keep setting me,” Nelson said. I just keep yelling for the ball, and she keeps putting it there.”

“She’s (Nelson) becoming a smart player,” McLaughlin said. Her—as we say—volleyball IQ is going up. She’s not getting hurt on tough swings, and she’s doing better with the ball. And she understands situations.”

With WSU reclaiming set point at 25-24, Nogueras again chose Nelson, and Nelson again tied the score. Normally, Katy Beals would have come in to set, and Kylin Muñoz would have taken the right side from Nelson. Low on substitutions, McLaughlin had a hunch, and let Nogueras rotate to the front row. That meant that—for the first time all season—Nelson would get to serve.

“My very, very first one,” said Nelson. “We worked on that in practice a lot. I bounce the ball three times, and then I go.”

The serve was a tough floater, and WSU couldn’t convert. Nogueras set Vansant back row for the kill.

“Krista made too many mistakes tonight, on off plays,” said McLaughlin. “And she’s the type of player that shouldn’t make those errors. But I sure like going to her when it’s on the line.”

Nelson had one more serve. Again, it floated, again it forced WSU out of system. The Cougars’ final attack was stuffed at the net by Gil.
“I like the way we battled,” said McLaughlin. “You know, in the Pac-12, the intensity goes up significantly.”

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