Sunday, December 2, 2012

NCAA | What we learned from Washington’s win over Hawai’i

#5 Washington 3, #8 Hawai’i 2 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 27-25, 15-11)
  • next: #5 Washington @ #10 Nebraska | December 7 | 4PM (Pacific) | ESPN3

On the court, she’s her team’s shortest player.

Junior Jenna Orlandini may also be Washington’s most talkative player, even if fans could be forgiven for not hearing her above the din of an often frenetic Alaska Airlines crowd. 

But the Huskies’ 5-6 libero was a picture of calm in the raucous moments of the decisive fifth set against Hawai’i in the NCAA tournament second-round showdown between two top-ten teams.

No room for error: Jenna Orlandini serves against Hawai'i
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
With the sets at 2-2 and the score tied at 7, the Wahines’ defensive specialist Emily Maeda served out-of-bounds. In fifth sets, teams switch sides after one team reaches 8; at the opposite end, Orlandini stepped back to serve.

The match, however, was being televised. So a TV timeout was called, forcing Orlandini to hand the ball to a line judge and wait. Think of a football kicker, being iced as he contemplates a game-winning field goal attempt.

When play resumed, Orlandini served straight at Emily Hartong. The Hawai’i All-American had been a dominant offensive weapon most of the match. Hartong handled the serve, allowing Hawai’i to stay in system and launch an attack.

But Washington setter Jenni Nogueras made a huge dig, keeping the ball in play cleanly enough for a strong enough Huskies attack to keep Hawai’i out-of-system. The Rainbow Wahines’ other power outside hitter, Jane Croson, hit the ball into the net.

Washington's Jenni Nogueras (9) dives for a dig against Hawai'i
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
9-7 Washington. Time out Hawai’i. And another wait for Orlandini.

“I don’t really think about it like that,” said Orlandini. “I don’t think about, like, it’s a time out, and I gotta serve, it’s a time out and I gotta serve. You always prepare the same way for each serve. You go through your routine. It’s the same serve over and over again. The conditions don’t really change the way you look at a serve.”

The following point was a near-repeat of the previous one. Great serve. Another spectacular Nogueras dig. Another Hawai’i hitting error. Another Husky point.

One more serve yielded another rally and another sensational dig, this time by Orlandini herself. When Washington’s Cassie Strickland got the Huskies fourth consecutive point by tooling the block, it was now 11-7, and Hawai’i coach Dave Shoji called his final time out.

So Orlandini waited yet again.

“Awesome,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin of Orlandini’s steely resolve. “To me, that’s the definition of toughness. It’s not if you scream and yell. It’s hitting that good serve when you have to hit it. It’s being in the right place at the right time. It’s the ability to stay focused on the right things.”

Orlandini had been doing the right things throughout the entire match.

Her first big impact had come in the second set. Hawai’i had dominated the opening frame, as Hartong hit rocket shots at will. She finished the first set with 11 kills and no errors on 14 swings (.786), and started the second set by getting three of the Wahines’ first four points.

“I can’t say enough about Emily Hartong,” said Shoji. “She’s an athlete. She elevates, has a great arm, and never gets tired. For a girl that has never played outside in her life until this year, she’s had a remarkable year.”

But with the Huskies trailing 3-5 in that second set, it was Orlandini’s turn to serve. Hartong had rotated to the back row, and McLaughlin’s plan was to make Hartong touch the ball as much as possible. So he had Orlandini serve right at her.

“We just wanted to make her do something that she doesn’t want to do,” McLaughlin said.

“She definitely hasn’t been served that much,” said Hartong’s teammate, libero Ali Longo. “We knew it was going to happen.”

During Orlandini’s serve rotation, McLaughlin had Krista Vansant play middle back defense, and moved Orlandini to the line, looking for right-side slides or Croson’s cross-court bombs.

Hawai'i's Emily Hartong (17) swings on one of her
67 attacks against Washington
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“Kris (Vansant) and Jo (Orlandini) can put pressure on these guys,” said McLaughlin. By keeping the ball in play, he continued, “it frustrates the heck out of hitters, and then they try to do too much.”

Seven times Orlandini served. Seven times she went at Hartong. Seven times the Huskies won the point, despite a Hawai’i time out. Time and again, Washington’s back row trio played inspired defense, as Strickland deflected three left side kills off Hawai’i hands. By the time the run was over, Washington led 10-5, on the way to a second set victory.

Most important, Hartong cooled off a bit. After her torrid start (14 kills, 1 error) through the first six points of set two, she had 16 kills and 10 errors the rest of the way, including getting stuffed on several key occasions.

Maybe the biggest block of all, however, came toward the end of the fourth set.

Hawai’i had won set three handily, as UW’s passing was spotty and Croson pounded six kills. In the fourth, the Wahine fought off three set points, then—on the strength of two Hartong kills—pulled ahead to match point. On the ensuing point, setter Mita Uiato again chose Hartong, and the Hec Ed crowd held its breath.

This time, however, Kylin Muñoz and Amanda Gil were waiting. They roofed Hartong’s attempt, and Gil exploded in celebration.

“We had swing for the match”, said Shoji, “and got blocked.”

“The home crowd, they energized their team,” said Hawai’i head coach Dave Shoji. “It was about as loud as I’ve ever heard an arena, besides our own.”

For Huskies fans, this has been a season of white-knuckle matches. UW lost five-set heartbreakers against USC (in LA) and Stanford (in Seattle), in each case letting set points—even match points—slip away. They had also witnessed dramatic five-set home wins against both UCLA and Oregon. As set four wound down, the audience was on its feet.

“The home crowd, they energized their team,” said Shoji. “It was about as loud as I’ve ever heard an arena, besides our own. I think they just lifted them—when they were down 2-1—I thought the crowd just picked them up. That might have been the difference.”

Tied at 25, Hawai’i appeared to hit the ball into the net, but play continued (on the referee’s judgment that it had been deflected by a Washington block.) Croson launched a back row attack that sailed out of bounds; Hawai’i players immediately protested that the ball had clipped the fingers of a Huskies player.

“Our players thought there was, but I didn’t see a touch,” said Shoji.

Muñoz served an ace, and the match headed to a fifth set.

“I’ve never—in 31 years of coaching—I have never seen somebody block like she did,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin of Amanda Gil.

With a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line, Hawai’i decided to ride Hartong’s shoulders. She scored three of her team’s first five points, but was blocked by Gil and Muñoz to make it 5-5. On the next point, Gil had a solo block on Croson’s back row attack.

“I’ve never—in 31 years of coaching—I have never seen somebody block like she did,” said McLaughlin of Gil. “It was unbelievable. We just said, let her have the quick, and we’ll load outside.”

After Hartong rotated to the back, the teams exchanged points, setting up Orlandini’s final dramatic serving run. And, despite the chaos, the Huskies seemed the calmer team.

Washington's Kylin Muñoz attacks against the Hawai'i block
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“It’s a mindset,” McLaughlin said. “Are your thoughts tools? Do they serve you well? Your thoughts will get your body to do what you need to do.”

“There’s no question: they made plays,” said Shoji of the Huskies. “I thought the ball was down several times in game five, and they kept coming up with it.”

But trailing 8-13, Hawai’i didn’t quit. Croson got a cross-court kill, then dropped back to serve, rotating Hartong to the front. Despite more great digs, this time by Vansant and Muñoz, Hartong was twice able to come up with kills, and it was suddenly UW 13, UH 11.

“Our kids were playing at a really high level,” Shoji said. “But, in the end, Washington made the plays and we didn’t.”

Strickland served consecutive bullets, knocking Hawai’i out of system each time. The first led to a Muñoz kill down the left-side line—a shot that was rarely in her repertoire before this season. The second led to a tough set for Hartong, whose attempt was stuffed by Muñoz and Melanie Wade. Point. Set. Match.

“These guys didn’t quit,” said McLaughlin of his team,” they kept fighting. They counted on each other in the toughest situations, and lifted each other’s level of play. When it counted, they played well.

“It’s a huge win for our program.”

Krista Vansant’s ankle injury—incurred two weeks ago in the win over Oregon—did not seem to bother her much. She jumped well and hit with power. “I’m just getting better every day,” she said. “Today was a new day, and I felt good.”

see also: Dave Shoji: NCAA "disrespected" Hawai'i's athletes


  1. Excellent praise for the back row. Nothing happens [hardly nothing]until they receive and pass, which was handled very well vs Hawaii. Jenna was "on" and Amanda was awesome and stood out. Everyone played a role and a team win [with the help of the Dawg crowd] was sweet. The Hawaii TV crew was struggling to understand why the Rainbow's were coming up short so they decided to blame it on the band. Thankfully Coach Shoji was class and gave credit where credit was due.
    Corn Huskers are next and represent again a challenge to deal with to advance. I will be turning in and proud to watch the Dawg's give it everything they have to give.
    Go Dawgs!!

  2. “Kris (Vansant) and Jo (Orlandini) can put pressure on these guys,” said McLaughlin. By keeping the ball in play, he continued, “it frustrates the heck out of hitters, and then they try to do too much.”

    If I remember correctly, Jim also included Cassie Strickland in this statement. I will be the first to give credit where credit is due and Jo, Krista, Amanda and the rest of team all played amazingly well, but it seems there is some credit lacking your assessment of the match.

    Both Cassie and Kylin were stellar last night, if not for the fire and heart of strickland in the 2nd and 4th sets specifically, I do not see this match going to five. Kylin also brought it when she needed to and her blocking and consistency were incredible.

    I have read most of the articles and discussions about this match and it seems that everyone else agrees, as great of a night that Jo had, Cassie and Ky were right there with her. It is a bit sad that they only kills you mentioned from strickland were listed as "deflected off of the Hawaii block" because she went up there repeatedly and crushed some balls as if there was no one at the net and those types of plays are momentum changers. Not to mention a couple of huge stuff blocks she had at key points in the match.

    For as important as her kills and defense were, Kylin made blocks that on their own, lit a fire in the crowd and team that Hawaii tried but could not extinguish.

    Your blog is more often than not incredibly accurate and informative but I have sometimes seen key players not getting the credit they seem to deserve so I had to throw it out there at least once. No hard feelings I hope, keep up the great flow of information that you always do! Go DAWGS!

  3. Thanks for your blog. Is there a place or particular bar in Seattle that fans will to watch this Friday's game?

  4. Have to agree with you on Munoz and Strickland - their relentless attitude and overall contributions were just as important as Jo's calm and cool serving and Gil's blocking. Great win, but I really feel for Hawai'i - they deserved to be hosting, and if the NCAA is so broke they can't afford to send three teams to the Island when the Wahini's clearly deserved to host, then how can they afford to do all the pomp and circumstance around the BCS Bowls and NCAA BBall tourney? Totally disrespectful - I expected more out of Emmert...

  5. Great win, Huskies! And, love this blog, the comments are always spot on and bring another dimension the the match I have just seen. Thanks for emphasizing Jenna and Jenni's stellar defensive play

  6. Here it is on video

  7. Whole match


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