Ignoring antics and smart serves are part of a recipe for success
One shot. That’s all two of the Pac-12’s most bitter rivals have at each other this season.
|Lianna Sybeldon (10) and Kylin Munoz (24)|
are part of Washington's increasingly varied attack
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
The Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule means that the Huskies and Ducks will square off only in Eugene this season, breaking a string of almost 40 years of Oregon visits to Hec Ed Pavilion. And there’s plenty at stake.
Washington is one of only six undefeated Division 1 teams (out of 328) remaining in the nation. It’s had only one significant challenge on the road, an impressive 3-1 win against Illinois. Oregon was last season’s national runner-up, and returns All-American setter Lauren Plum and a fabulous hitter in Liz Brenner. It lost at home this year to Ohio, and on the road to Michigan and Michigan State.
Last season, Oregon won the Eugene matchup for the third straight season, 3-1. The contest was marked by sometimes-bizarre officiating and a big-time performance from national Player of the Year Alaina Bergsma. The rematch in Seattle was one for the ages, as the Huskies fought off an injury to star hitter Krista Vansant and 10 Oregon match points for a staggering 3-2 victory. [the recap is worth a read].
And so, for seniors like Plum, Gabbi Parker, Kylin Muñoz, Jenni Nogueras and Jenna Orlandini, tonight is something of a rubber match to break a 3-3 Washington/Oregon tie over the past three seasons. What are the keys?
IGNORE JIM MOORE’S ANTICS
The Oregon coach is well known for the amount of time he spends conversing with officials. Last season in Eugene, he sucked the air out of a Huskies’ rally with a protracted discussion about the score. In the end, the officiating crew made an incorrect decision in the Ducks’ favor, an undeniable factor in Oregon’s 26-24 first set win. During the Seattle rematch, Washington coach Jim McLaughlin and his team completely ignored Moore’s further eruptions, and officials refused to let the Oregon coach get under their skin.
SPREAD THE OFFENSE
Last season, Oregon’s trademark was a keep-‘em-guessing offense. Exceptional libero Haley Jacob fed Plum a steady diet of great passes, allowing her to set any of 3 or 4 targets virtually every possession. This season, Haley and two of those targets—Bergsma and explosive OH2 Katherine Fisher—are gone, leaving much of the load on Brenner’s shoulders alone. By contrast, Washington’s passing game has greatly improved, and all if last season’s pin hitters are back. The Huskies’ real advantage may be their young middles—Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon—who bring an offensive threat that UW lacked at that position much of last year.
STICK WITH SMART SERVES
For much of the young season, Washington has led the nation in service aces per set. Surprisingly, only one regular server—Cassie Strickland—uses a powerful jump serve. Under new assistant coach Keegan Cook, the Huskies are crafting a deadly arsenal of hard, flat, float serves that keep opposing offenses out of system. Serving is the one skill completely in a player’s control, and when the adrenaline is pumping, there’s always a temptation to try to do too much. If Washington’s servers can approach the line with zen-like focus (something they failed to do in Wednesday’s win at Washington State), then they can help regain or maintain momentum.
We did not list the Oregon crowd as a factor. There will undoubtedly be a big audience at Matt Court, but that NBA-style facility is no Mac Court, the Ducks’ long-time old-school home. In the dark comfort of plush seats, Oregon fans don’t have nearly the influence they might. The Huskies have to hope the match referees feel the same.
- Washington announced that incoming freshman Jade Finau completed a required course and started classes on Wednesday. The 5-8 setter from Juanita began practice with the team earlier in the week. Neither of Washington's two other freshmen—hitter Carly DeHoog or hitter/setter Bailey Tanner have seen action so far this season; both are recovering from injuries.
- In a strange twist of scheduling fate, each of the six teams that won this week’s rivalry matches now faces another of the winners, and the six teams that lost do the equivalent. That means the weekend will end with three teams at 2-0, three teams at 0-2 and six teams at 1-1. The worst part: none of the teams that lose this weekend get a shot at revenge, since all of these matches are one-timers, thanks to the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule.
- Other than Washington vs. Oregon, the biggest match is Arizona State (12-1) at Stanford (8-2), tonight at 6PM. ASU swept both defending national champion Texas and a solid Arizona team. Its only loss was to Illinois on a controversial line call at match point. Win or lose, Stanford should thank its lucky stars it won’t have to play in Tempe this season.
Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography