Monday, September 23, 2013

Pac-12 |What we learned from Washington volleyball’s win against CS Northridge

Huskies’ sophomore middles add spark and big blocks
#3 Washington def. Cal State Northridge 3-1 (25-13, 21-25, 25-14, 25-21)
  • next: #2 Washington @ Washington State | September 25 | 7:30PM | Pac-12 Network

What a difference a year makes.

Melanie Wade (5) and Kylin Muñoz put up a block against Cal State Northridge
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
Last season, Washington led the nation in blocking, in large part on the shoulders of senior middle blocker Amanda Gil. Gil, fellow senior middle Kelcey Dunaway and junior opposite Kylin Muñoz were a defensive force, even if Gil and Dunaway didn’t contribute much offense.

This season’s middles—sophomores Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon—have made offense their forte, even as their blocking numbers are not in the same stratosphere as last season. In fact, on Friday night in Alaska Airlines Arena, Washington had no blocks at all in the first two sets against scrappy Cal State Northridge.

And that could have been a problem.

After being hammered by Washington in the first set, Northridge stormed back in the second, holding the Huskies to a mere .176 hitting percentage in that frame. Washington trailed 7-9 in the third set, giving up four consecutive right-side kills to CSUN’s 5-11 dynamo Mahina Haina. After a Matador service error, Sybeldon and Kaleigh Nelson were finally able to close for a block against weak-hitting substitute Sam Kaul. Several points later, it was Sybeldon and Muñoz blocking big hitter Cieana Stinson. And the party was on.

Jenna Orlandini (4) celebrates
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
Jenna Orlandini was at the service line, just one night after serving 19 in a row against Coppin State. This time, her streak was nine, including three more blocks—each involving Wade and either Krista Vansant or Muñoz. Whatever energy Northridge had built seemed all but drained.

“We’ve been working on our blocking,” said Sybeldon, who finished with 4 block assists and 13 kills, leading all hitters with a .435 percentage. “We knew we had to make adjustments.”

“At the break, (head coach) Jim (McLaughlin) told us we had to do better with our eyework,” said Wade. “Plus, we had to do a better job pressing over the net.” Wade also finished with 4 block assists and added 5 kills, all of them quicks.

In many ways, Orlandini is key to the middles’ different look this year. When she serves tough—she  had seven aces in the weekend’s two matches—opponents end up running predictable plays, allowing Washington’s blockers to anticipate who will be hitting and when. On offense, when Orlandini and other passers send the ball precisely to Jenni Nogueras and Katy Beals, the two setters able to run more plays through the middle, preferably on low, fast sets. As coaches love to say, everything starts with great serving and passing.

After another undefeated preseason—their fifth in a row—Washington faces potentially tough competition during the first two weeks of Pac-12 play. They travel first to Pullman, where the Cougars are a surprising 13-0 against mostly adequate competition. They then head to Eugene, where the Huskies haven’t won since 2009.

  • With the win, Washington has now won 48 consecutive nonconference matches.
  • Washington and Washington State are two of just seven undefeated teams remaining among Division 1’s 328 teams. The others are North Carolina, Ohio State, Missouri, Colorado State and DePaul.
  • Washington’s biggest nonconference win may have come against Illinois, but the Illini have now lost four in a row. Illinois played a tough schedule, however, with wins over ranked teams Florida State, Kentucky and Arizona State (albeit on a controversial call), and losses to ranked teams Washington, Texas, San Diego and North Carolina.
  • In a much-anticipated annual showdown, Texas outlasted Nebraska last night 3-2 in Austin.
  • Last week, Washington led the nation with 2.5 aces/set. With another 13 aces in 7 sets this weekend, UW is likely to hold onto that statistical lead.

Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography

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