Sunday, October 13, 2013

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

Big dig in front of big crowd helped ignite an important victory
  • #6 Washington def. Arizona 3-1 (25-10, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20)
  • next: #16 Arizona State @ #6 Washington | October 13 | 3PM

It was the end of the second set, and Arizona wouldn’t quit. After being blown out by Washington in the first set, the Wildcats had gained a measure of confidence and control. After a flawless start, the Huskies were piling up errors.

Still, Washington was leading when Arizona’s Jane Croson bounced an attack off the top of the UW block for what seemed to be a sure kill. As the ball sailed past the end line, Krista Vansant took off running.

“I saw it early,” Vansant said, “and I was just ‘Go! Go! Go!’ And, luckily, my teammates followed.”

Washington's Krista Vansant during post-match interview on Pac-12 Networks-Pac-12 Networks

With an athletic lunge, Vansant kept the ball from hitting the hardwood. Setter Jenni Nogueras was there to pop the second touch high enough for libero Jenna Orlandini to fire it all the way back to the Wildcats’ side.

“That’s just who she is,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin of Vansant’s spectacular save. “She’s a great digger. Great defensively. The kid can do it all. She just has to have the mental toughness to do it all the time.”

Vansant—who finished with 14 kills and just 2 hitting errors on 31 swings (.387) plus 4 block assists and 2 aces—showed enough toughness overall to lead Washington past a determined Arizona team. Here’s what we learned.

It’s every volleyball coach’s nightmare: overconfidence born of a too-easy win in the first set.

“We jumped on ‘em, and we played pretty flawless ball,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t hit a ball out of bounds and got blocked just once. We just played well.”

But the easy ride didn’t last. Arizona’s two stars—Croson and Madi Kingdon—both recovered from dismal starts, and middle Taylor Arizobal connected almost at will with cross-court slides. Although they were down 2-0 at the break, the ‘Cats came out for the third set on fire.

“They jumped on us and stayed on us,” said McLaughlin. “Our passing was bad. And then the hitters were rushing it. We were underneath the ball, and when you do that, you make errors.”

The Huskies were out-hit .306-.053 in that third set, in large part because Kingdon started to fire over the block of Washington’s Cassie Strickland. McLaughlin countered by occasionally flipping the block, something the Huskies have been working on in training.

“Madi’s a good player,” said McLaughlin. “She can do it all. We had to make sure she didn’t get hot on us.”

The fourth set was more of the same, as both teams started efficiently on offense. Arizona setter Penina Snuka played sensational defense—she finished with 14 digs—but was answered by a series of big-time saves from Orlandini. In the end, it came down to the second lesson we learned:

The fourth set went back-and-forth and until it was tied at 11. A Lianna Sybeldon kill brought Vansant to the service line. Three consecutive serves sped across the net, flat and true, keeping Arizona out-of-system, and putting the Huskies up by three. After a Wildcat point, Orlandini served three more points, including an ace, and Washington never looked back.

Like many before her, Vansant credited new assistant coach Keegan Cook. “That’s all Keegan,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been working on all spring, all summer. I’ve been in the gym, working on my serve.”

Washington leads the conference—and is second in the nation—in aces per set, and added 10 more against Arizona. Too often, however, Vansant’s serve has been the least intimidating of any on the team. “We have to have six good servers,” she said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the other team. I don’t tend to miss a lot. So, I’m trying to push it. So that way, maybe if I miss a little, I still get more reward.”


In a bold marketing move, those in the student section were given tshirts, sunglasses and VIP passes to Saturday morning’s ESPN Game Day event in Red Square. It paid off with a large and loud crowd of 4,589, most of them students.

“The crowd was just unbelievable,” said McLaughlin. “It gave me chills when I came out.”

“I didn’t think that many people were going to show up,” Vansant said. “And I run out and I think, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s packed!’ It’s so cool.”

Last season, a huge crowd likely tipped the balance in the Huskies’ biggest home win of that campaign, a dramatic 3-2 win against Oregon. The Huskies have good reason to hope that many newbies in the crowd will want to come back for more.


  1. I must say this segment is my favorite entry of the blog. It is fun to read more about what was good and not so good and can be improved

    1. Much thanks, Benjamin ... it's our favorite part of the blog, too.
      Blogs like ours always appreciate when folks like you suggest that other friends "like" our Facebook page ( so that they'll get notified each time we file a new post.


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