Saturday, September 22, 2012

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

#5 Washington 3, Arizona 1 (25-16, 25-23, 18-25, 25-23)
Washington, Oregon and BYU are the only three remaining undefeated D1 teams

Playing time is earned, not presumed.

That’s Washington coach Jim McLaughlin’s mantra, and today it had to be ringing in Gabbi Parker’s and Cassie Strickland’s ears.

Parker, a junior, has been Washington’s primary OH2 this season. But this afternoon in Tucson, McLaughlin started Strickland, a freshman.

Cassie Strickland
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Both players are emotional, both on the court and off. Against the Wildcats, each rode that emotional roller-coaster throughout a tense Washington victory.

Strickland started the match with a service error, the first of many. Her powerful jump serve is an all-or-nothing weapon, and today she fired mostly blanks behind the service line.

Parker stayed on the bench until the Huskies had a comfortable 19-11 first set lead. Huskies hitters—including Strickland—had been on fire, committing just two errors and hitting .464 for the set (to just .103 for Arizona). Parker responded with two kills of her own, including the set winner.

In the second set, Strickland again got the nod, delivering two early kills. Parker finally entered with UW trailing 15-16, just before freshman setter Katy Beals served three consecutive aces to put the Huskies ahead 20-19. After a relative quiet first set, Kylin Muñoz erupted, connecting on  6 kills. Krista Vansant, who had three kills in the first set, also added six in the second.

After the break, Strickland was still the starter, recording a block, a kill and another service error, before giving way to Parker with Washington trailing 11-15. With Arizona’s Taylor Arizobal connecting at will, Parker’s one kill and one error contributed to Washington’s anemic .156 average for the set, and an 18-25 loss—only the second time the Huskies dropped a set all season.

Finally, McLaughlin started Parker in the fourth. And if McLaughlin had hoped to light a fire, it seemed to work.

Parker’s first kill made it 2-3, her second tied the score at 4. Back-to-back kills pulled the Huskies ahead 12-11. Her fifth kill made the score 20-18, then she teamed with Amanda Gil for a double block to make it 21-18.

Then the wheels almost fell off.

After two consecutive Parker attack errors, McLaughlin called time out. But back on the court, Parker made it three errors in a row.

McLaughlin did not, however, bring out the hook. Parker stayed in as the teams exchanged side outs until Washington held a 23-22 advantage. Only then did McLaughlin decide to give Strickland another chance to serve. The Huskies won the rally, but at match point: Strickland’s final service error, her fifth of the contest. It took Muñoz to send the Huskies home happy with the match winner, her 14th kill (.370).

Vansant led all hitters with 15 kills on just 3 errors and 39 swings (.308); Kaleigh Nelson had another stellar match with 8 kills and 1 error on 21 attempts (.333). Despite her service errors (and one ace), Strickland had five kills and no errors.

As McLaughlin gets ready for UCLA this Wednesday and USC on Friday, you can be sure that every player will realize they have a shot at starting … or at sitting on the bench. Other coaches may prefer lineup stability, but McLaughlin believes competition brings out the best in his players, both as athletes and as students.

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