next: #2 Washington @ Colorado | Sunday, October 7 | 2:00PM (Pacific)
- Pac-12 Network (Chris Marlowe, Al Scates)
When a team dominates the first two sets, the locker room break between sets two and three is not always its friend.
Washington (14-0) remained the only undefeated Division 1 volleyball in the nation by beating Utah 3-1. But it was a tale that unfolded in three acts.
Act One was a Washington clinic: during the first two sets, the Huskies could do no wrong. In set one, UW had 17 kills and just one error on 29 swings (.552). The Utes managed to string two serves together only once.
“Game one, we were off the chart,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin. “We sided out at, like, 93 percent.”
And then came the break, and the start of Act Two.
“We lost it a little bit,” said McLaughlin. “Whenever you lose your edge or your focus, it’s hard to get it back.”
In set three, the Huskies’ serving and passing were both suspect. Utah came into the match averaging 3.17 blocks per set, second-best (to Texas) in the nation. In the third frame, Utah’s Bailey Bateman and Tjasa Kotnik finally got a chance to get some roofs, especially against 5-8 Cassie Strickland, who played front and back row at OH2 most of the match.
“We took a couple of bad swings,” said McLaughlin, who thought the transition game grew sloppy in the third set.
Utah kept the third set close, and overcame a 22-23 deficit on a Strickland service error (she had four for the match) and two service aces by Morgan Odale.
“Those guys (Utah) are good,” said McLaughlin. “They’re gonna beat some teams at home.”
But that set the stage for Act Three, and the Huskies stepped into the spotlight.
Krista Vansant had been Washington’s brightest spot in set three, and the reigning national Player of the Week finished with a match-high 17 kills on 4 errors and 37 swings (.351). But when Utah decided to commit its blockers to Vansant in the fourth set, Huskies’ setters Jenni Nogueras and Katy Beals made them pay.
“They gave us the 2-gap (middle),” said McLaughlin, “and the setters took advantage of it. They did a nice job setting the quick.”
Middle Amanda Gil came alive, pounding three kills in the final frame, many with mustard. Middle Kelcey Dunaway flummoxed the Utes with pushes and tips. Gil finished the match with 7 kills/1 error/13 attempts (.462); Dunaway added 4 kills/0 errors/5 attacks (.800). Both middles had 7 block assists each, as the Huskies out-blocked Utah for the match, 14.5-10.
Washington’s leading blocker, however, was right-side hitter Kylin Muñoz. Her 10 block assists were huge, often shutting down Utah’s outside attack. And—as they have all season—Nogueras and Beals took advantage of good passing to feed plenty of balls to both Muñoz and Kaleigh Nelson on the right. Muñoz had 9 kills/2 errors/22 attempts (.318), while Nelson soared with 15 kills/2 errors/23 attempts (.565) Both right-siders hit strong during their one rotation on the left, and both sprayed the court with cross and line shots, with an effective mix of tools off the block.
“In the last set, we played well from start to finish,” said McLaughlin.
And if you’re going to play in three Acts, it helps if the final scenes are boffo.
- This is the final season Utah will play in history—but small—Crimson Court. A paltry crowd of only 696 was in the gym, which had a history of intimidating opponents before Utah joined the Pac-12. Next season, the Utes will move into the spacious Huntsman arena.
- Washington’s servers had 5 aces (2 by Vansant) and 13 errors (Strickland, Muñoz and Jenna Orlandini had a combined 2 aces and 10 errors). Freshman setter Katy Beals continues to be the most consistent Washington server: her floats keep passers flat-footed, and regularly keep opponents out of system.
- McLaughlin talks a lot about weighing costs and benefits, and nowhere must that be more of a challenge than allocating time between Strickland and junior Gabbi Parker. Strickland had 11 kills, many of them strong line shots or smart tools, but had 7 errors, many of them blocks. She has an uncanny ability, however, to pick up loose balls, often keeping rallies alive. In Parker’s brief appearance, she got a smart dig off a block, and was aggressive enough to power it right back for a kill.
- The Pac-12 Network team of Paul Sunderland and Amy Gant were not at the top of their game. They frequently mispronounced names (Nogueras, Muñoz) and never once noticed that Washington plays without a setter when Muñoz serves. Gant talked about Washington’s swing block as if it were something new and untested; Jim McLaughlin’s teams have been using that system for more than a decade.
- And, speaking of the Pac-12 Network, it would be nice if its website requested some photos of this year’s team. The main page much of yesterday featured an image of Bianca Rowland (now graduated) and Summer Ross (transferred to Pepperdine.)
- While we’re at it, it’s time to re-edit that commercial that brags about the Pac-12 Network’s statistics site. It prominently features a mock-up schedule of Washington Men’s Volleyball playing in the fall. Washington doesn’t have a men’s volleyball team. And the men’s sport is played in the spring.