Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pac 12 | What we learned from Washington’s win against USC

#5 Washington 3, #3 USC 0 (25-23, 26-24, 25-21)
next: Friday, October 5 | 7:30PM | #5 Washington @ Utah

The match had barely begun. Washington’s Krista Vansant connected on a kill off a USC block attempt, giving the Huskies an early 3-2 lead in the first set.

As Washington rotated with the side-out, hitter Kaleigh Nelson replaced setter Katy Beals. But—for the first time this season—setter Jenni Nogueras did not sub for hitter Kylin Muñoz.

As Southern Cal would soon find out, that decision was one of the lessons learned from the Huskies’ 3-0 Trojan sweep.

Washington's Kylin Munoz steps to the service line
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Serving matters.

It was Muñoz who stepped to the service line, with no setter on the Huskies’ side of the net.

That new and unusual twist continues coach Jim McLaughlin’s pattern of keeping his players focused and the opponents off balance.

“The best six servers are going to serve,” said McLaughlin. “I don’t care if it means we don’t have a setter.”

In the typical 6-2 offense, setters substitute for right side hitters. As setters rotate in, they head to the service line, and opposites like Muñoz and Nelson never serve. But McLaughlin tells his players that every last one of them has to practice serving every day.

“We do some battles in practice,” McLaughlin said. “And the girls compete against each other. And Ky was just awesome this week.”

Kylin Munoz serves
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“We actually—me and Jenni—had a serve-off,” Muñoz said. “And I’ve been practicing this whole season, working on my serve.”

Muñoz serves bullets: she takes a measured approach, releases a moderate toss, elevates only slightly, then sends a line drive that barely clears the net. Unlike a full-out jump serve, the ball has little spin; opposing passers are often fooled by its direction and velocity.

The Trojans had never seen Muñoz’s serve on this year’s scouting reports, and struggled with her first two serves. Out of system both times, USC setter Hayley Crone had few options, and Washington’s front line knew it. On both rallies, Washington delivered termination blocks.

Muñoz’s third serve was an ace. After her fourth serve, Vansant got her fourth kill of the first set, for a 7-2 lead, and USC’s first time out.

And all without a setter.

At the international level—and increasingly in college—teams will occasionally forgo a setter for one rotation to set up a block on the first return. But if the rally continues, it’s tough to keep it going with the libero or opposite setting. At one point (set 3, UW leading 11-9), libero Jenna Orlandini seemed to forget that she was the designated setter, and the ball dropped to the floor.

But for the most part, service rotations with Muñoz were money. She tallied five aces, a big total for a three-set match.

“That was super-fun,” said Muñoz.

For the match, both teams had 12 service errors. But Washington recorded 8 service aces to just one for SC. And Muñoz was not the only stellar server.

Beals often delivered vicious floats that drop at opposing passers’ feet. She had two aces, and was at the service line during a crucial 3-point run at the end of the first set, and a huge 5-point streak in the middle of set three.

“I was disappointed in my serve in the UCLA game,” said Beals.”And I really focused in practice to make sure I had my toss consistent. And in front of me, instead of behind. My pre-serve ritual was a lot more focused.”

And, for the second match in a row, Gabbi Parker showed growing maturity at the service line by mixing jump serve bombs with deceptive changeups as she brought the Huskies back from a USC set point in the second frame with four straight points and a 26-24 win.

Moving from right to middle.

As they have all season, the Huskies simply passed better than the opponent, giving their setters more options. And, on this night, those options included the middles.

Kelcey Dunaway (2) celebrates a block
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Washington’s 6-2 offense has worked largely because Muñoz and Nelson have been effective enough to keep opponents from putting all their focus on Vansant.

Last night, however, USC seemed determined to shut down Washington’s right side. In the first set, Muñoz and Nelson had a combined 2 kills and 3 errors. Nogueras and Beals responded by setting more balls than usual to middles Amanda Gil and Kelcey Dunaway.

“You gotta take what they give, said McLaughlin. “And they were going to try to take away our power on the right, and so we had to get some balls in the middle.”

Gil and Dunaway are primarily blockers—the Huskies are in the top 5 nationally in blocks per set—and Washington out-blocked the Trojans 11-4. When sets came their way, the connection was often awkward, spraying off-speed knucklers at SC’s flummoxed defense. But as confidence grew, UW began calling combo plays, leading to two solid Gil slides for kills, and a combined 11 kills out of the middle. Both setters—particularly Beals—stayed cool as hitters zig-zagged across the front line.

“Katy’s smart,” said Muñoz. “Coming in as a freshman, she just holds her head high, and she goes in there with confidence. It’s amazing how well—and just poised she is on the court.”

“Our setters did a good job of staying on the game plan,” said McLaughlin.

“You know, we grew up a lot,” he said. “We were talking about another opportunity to take another step forward. And it showed some maturity in this group. Beating the Bruins was an emotional win, and sometimes you can take a step back. But I challenged these guys not to. And they rose to the challenge, and really played well. And, still, screwed up at times, but recovered. That’s a sign of a good team, when you can recover.”

Washington fans offer hand-slaps as Huskies head to the locker room
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
  • Samantha Bricio, USC’s 17-year-old phenom, took a while to get untracked, but ended with 11 kills and 3 errors on 25 attempts (.320). The Huskies often served her way; she was aced four times. Even so, the freshman from Mexico shows amazing potential.
  • Mead High School’s Alexis Olgard had five kills in the first set … but got just one more attempt the rest of the way. USC runs most of its offense at the pins, and its big hitters had sub-par nights. Katie Fuller led the Trojans with 12 kills, but added 6 errors on 24 swings (.250) Sara Shaw was almost no factor: 8 kills, 7 errors on 25 swings (.040)
  • Washington hit just .129 the first set, but moved up to .286 in set two and .303 in the third. USC’s numbers were .216, .276 and .176. Coming into the match, the Huskies and Trojans were two of the top-hitting teams in the nation. UW is now hitting .309 for the year, one of a mere handful of teams hitting .300 or better.
  • It will be tough for the Pac-12 to choose someone other than Krista Vansant as conference Player of the Week. Against two teams in the national top 4, she had a combined 44 kills. She should also be on the short list for National Player of the Week.
  • Despite Friday night rush hour traffic, an early start (6PM) and construction detours on Montlake Blvd., Washington drew 4,083 fans. There’s a good argument they should be drawing more: no other team in Seattle is having this much success against such good competition. Expect the Huskies to once again lead the Pac-12 in home attendance.

WRITTEN BY Jack Hamann | PHOTOS BY Leslie Hamann


  1. Two masterful games plans against USC and UCLA. Jim is simply the best. This team is so much fun to watch. Each match produces a new star. These young women seize the opportunity. Love this team.

  2. Well said Frank & because of this weekend I will be making the trip to Eugene!

  3. Nice photo of Kylin Munoz serving. She is really stepping up and has become a true force her senior year. Objectively speaking, she has an incredible body, and is one of the hottest women in sports.


[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: