Sunday, October 21, 2012

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

#5 Washington 3, California 0 (25-23, 25-15, 25-15)
next: #5 Washington @ #7 USC | October 26 | 6PM

Kaleigh Nelson had a decision to make.

It was the first set. California had stormed back from a big deficit to tie the score at 23. Her coach, Jim McLaughlin, called a timeout.

Washington's Kaleigh Nelson (6) and Amanda Gil put up a double block against California
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“The history of this team so far,” said McLaughlin,” is when we’ve been in tough situations, we respond. But, doggone it, we don’t have to make it tough on us. We had a big lead, and then we missed two passes, hit two balls out of bounds, got blocked. Now it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Nelson could have stayed silent.

After all, just two nights before, Washington was closing in on what would have been a 2-0 lead against #2 Stanford. But with the score tied at 25, Nelson attacked line … and hit it wide right, one of only two hitting errors she would make during that match.

As the timeout huddle broke against Cal, Nelson turned to setter Jenni Nogueras. “Jenni,” she said, “Set me.”

”You have to trust your teammates,” said Nelson after the match. “I trusted Jenni. Then I trusted my shot. You have to keep that composure that you’re gonna hit the ball in when you need to hit the ball in.”

Settling under a smooth pass, Nogueras launched a textbook backset. In an instant, Nelson saw where Cal’s blockers were stationed.

Washington's Jenni Nogueras sets
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

“They were blocking my angle,” she said. “So I thought, ‘you know what? They’re giving me line. Hit line.’”

Nelson powdered it. Down the line. For the kill. And this time, the Huskies went on to win the set. The Bears never threatened again.

“We put an emphasis on her (hitting line) in practice,” said McLaughlin. “And I think we got a return. She had only one bad swing all afternoon.”

For the weekend, Nelson had 26 kills and just 4 errors for a combined .458. (By comparison, Stanford’s Carly Wopat played two additional sets this weekend (including a 3-2 win at WSU), and tallied a combined 31 kills, 4 errors for a .421 average. Wopat may get conference Player of the Week, but Nelson may be more deserving.

Washington’s Melanie Wade deserves a long look for Freshman of the Week. McLaughlin waited until two huge matches against the Bay Area teams before giving her a start. Wade grew up in Northern California, and attended high school across the street from the Stanford campus.

“You know, it’s really cool, actually,” she said. “I am very honored to play against these teams. I’ve looked up to them my whole life.”

Wade admits to a being a bit nervous, “but that’s good,” she says. She had five block assists against the Cardinal, and led all blockers with 7 block assists against the Bears. She also showed some offense, getting 6 kills and no errors on 11 swings (.545).

“Melanie is just Steady Eddie,” said McLaughlin. “She’s a fighter. She keeps getting better and better. She deserved the start.”

Washington's Cassie Strickland (8) and Melanie Wade (5)
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

McLaughlin confessed concern about his own steadiness for the Cal match.

“Just worried,” he said, “because it was hard for me to get over the Stanford game. It has that residual effect. I was thinking about it. So, I was worried the girls would be thinking about it.”

“It was really hard,” Nelson agreed, before mixing metaphors. “I felt like we had it (the Stanford match) in the palm of our hands, and then we shot ourselves in the foot.”

“After every match,” said Wade, “we always want to let it go as soon as possible and move on to the next match. I think we did a pretty good job of that. Playing Stanford, it hurt a little bit. But we wanted to get right back in here and bring our best match against Cal.”

With the victory, Washington:
  • Ended a six-matching losing streak against California
  • Ended a two-match losing streak in Pac-12 play, its only two losses of the season
  • Finished the first half of conference play with an 8-2 record, in third place
  • Faces #7 USC this Friday, and #6 UCLA this Sunday
  • Faces Cal again in just 20 days in a nationally-televised Wednesday night match from Berkeley

McLaughlin admitted he’ll sleep better after the Cal win than he did after the Stanford loss.

“You gotta be able to bounce back,” said McLaughlin. “Very few teams ever go undefeated. You gotta deal with adversity. Sometimes you get very introspective; you can figure some stuff out. Losing is not always bad, as long as you learn the lessons from the thing.”

  • Washington—the nation’s best blocking team—continued its dominance, outblocking the Bears 12-5. “I think that’s a big deal,” said McLaughlin. “We can shut down some people.”
  • McLaughlin was also pleased with the Huskies’ improved digging—76 against Stanford (in 5 sets) and 49 against Cal. Libero Jenna Orlandini had a combined 33 for the weekend. “Way more improved,” said McLaughlin. “The dig and the block can put some pressure on people. We held a good team (Cal) to seven percent (.073). We dug 49 balls. We’re blocking a ton of balls. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna win the digging battle. But it was a good deal.”
  • After a quick scan of the box scores, Krista Vansant’s combined 34 kills may have been the most of any player in the Pac-12 this weekend. UCLA’s Tabi Love had 32 in 6 sets; Wopat, as we mentioned had 31 in 10 sets; Washington State’s Jaicee Harris had 30 in 8 sets; and Oregon’s Alaina Bergsma had 27 in 6 sets. We found five players with 26 combined kills: Nelson (in 8 sets); WSU’s Rachel Todorovich (8 sets); Arizona’s Madi Kingdon (7 sets); UCLA’s Rachael Kidder (6 sets); and ASU’s Erica Wilson (6 sets).

WRITTEN BY Jack Hamann | PHOTOS BY Leslie Hamann

1 comment:

  1. I am so happy and impressed with Kaleigh Nelson's improvements from last year. It was pretty clear that she has always had the live arm, but the biggest improvement, IMO, was her ability to see the blocks, hit away from them or wipe off them.

    Through the years, it seems that Washington has had trouble stopping a strong right side attack as well as the slide attack. I believe this was one of the main reasons Cal gave us trouble in the past 3 or more years. Today, I saw Washington with a lot more success stopping Cal's slides (particularly Correy Johnson)in sets 2 and 3.


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