Monday, October 28, 2013

Pac-12 | What we learned from Washington volleyball’s victory against USC

Sybeldon, Wade and Vansant rise to the occasion to lead Huskies to first place
  • #3 Washington def. #4 USC 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-19, 25-22)
  • next: Utah @ #3 Washington | November 1 | 7PM | [no television]

It looked like the match for first place would go five sets.

Both Washington and USC came into the final match of the first half of the Pac-12 schedule with 7-1 conference records, both ranked among the nation’s top 5. Sunday night, each team had overcome deficits to edge the other in sets one and two, 25-23 Huskies in the first and 25-23 Trojans in the second. UW had won in the third set going away, but USC built a commanding 10-4 advantage in the fourth on a kill from middle Alexis Olgard. It was Olgard’s third kill of the set, and 12th of the match.

It would also be her last.

Washington celebrates the final point of its 3-1 victory over USC at Galen Center in Los Angeles
-Pac-12 Networks

Washington setter Jenni Nogueras found Kaleigh Nelson on the right side, cutting the deficit to 10-5, and sending middle blocker Melanie Wade to the service line. During the ensuing rally, Wade’s fellow sophomore middle Lianna Sybeldon won a joust at the net with Olgard. After a Krista Vansant kill, it was Sybeldon stuffing an Olgard attack, forcing a USC timeout.

Olgard, a senior from Spokane’s Mead High School, has had another good season for the Trojans. She had been especially impressive in USC’s October 4 sweep against Stanford, hitting .643 against the Cardinal’s big duo of Carly Wopat and Inky Ajanaku. During the first three sets against Washington, she had success on broken plays, but had been noticeably late on blocks, eventually committing 4 blocking errors while getting just one solo block  and one assist.

Sybeldon has been gaining confidence all season, and particularly of late, scoring six kills and no errors against Stanford, 12 kills and 2 errors against UCLA and, to this point, 12 kills and 2 errors against USC. But she wasn’t finished.

On the first rally out of USC’s timeout, Sybeldon teamed with Nelson to block USC’s Samantha Bricio. After two more Trojan hitting errors and a kill by Washington’s Gabbi Parker, Olgard got tangled in the net as Sybeldon blew a quick off her hands. After USC called its second timeout, UW completed a 10-0 run with another Nelson kill.

You don’t get ten points in a row on the home court of one of the nation’s top teams without great serving, and Wade did exactly that. While she never recorded an ace, her serves were flat floaters that invariably found Bricio and forced USC setter Alice Pizzasegola to chase the second ball. Wade’s performance was all the more impressive because—during her serving rotation—UW libero Jenna Orlandini was rotated out of the lineup. That means Wade also had to play a ton of back row defense, which she did without slowing the Huskies’ attack.

Lianna Sybeldon attacks against USC
-Pac-12 Networks

After USC finally ended UW’s run, Sybeldon was right back with a quick past Olgard on a Nogueras set. Sybeldon soon added a tip for a kill, ending the night with 15 kills and 3 errors on just 26 swings, a big-time .462 percentage. Against the two LA schools, she connected a combined 27 times for .431 average.

Both Washington and Southern Cal run 2-setter offenses, and both managed to spread their sets among several different hitters. In the end, however, Washington won because it’s star, Vansant, outperformed USC’s star, Bricio. Despite a higher-than-usual number of errors (8, including 2 late in the fourth set), Vansant tallied 22 kills, connecting from all three front-row positions and from back row attacks. Bricio also had 8 errors, but six fewer kills as she seemed to lose confidence in the stretch.

Beyond the attack numbers, Vansant simply out-passed and out-dug Bricio, giving Washington’s setters many more options that USC’s setters. If the conference season ended today—exactly halfway through the schedule, Vansant would be Player of the Year, ahead of Bricio and Stanford’s Wopat.

But, of course, there is still another half to go …

  • Vansant, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, will be among the favorites when this week’s Offensive Player of the Week is announced. On the road against UCLA and USC, she had a combined 38 kills.
  • Entering the match, USC had won 16 straight in Galen Center, and had not lost to the Huskies at home since 2008—the last time Washington beat both UCLA and USC on the road. It was also Washington’s first road win against a team ranked in the top ten since it beat the #6 Bruins in 2009. The Huskies are one of only four teams—Stanford, UCLA and Hawai’i are the others—to have won at least twice at Galen Center.
  • Washington outblocked USC 8-6. Sybeldon had 4 block assists and a solo block to lead both teams in that category. Wade added 3 block assists.
  • The Huskies had just 4 service aces, the lowest total of the season, including 2 from Katy Beals. That said, the team served tough—particularly in the final two sets—keeping USC out-of-system during long stretches of play.
  • Large swaths of the Galen Center crowd were wearing purple, indicative of how many current Huskies come from California. Attendance was 2,192—good by USC standards, but probably less than half of what UW would draw in a match between two top-5 teams. The Huskies lead the conference in average home attendance.
  • After playing the Sunday evening match, USC now travels to Palo Alto for a Wednesday night match against Stanford. Although that match will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks, Washington’s Friday home contest against Utah will not. During the Huskies’ last home stand, the Pac-12 didn’t send a crew for the California match, electing to have announcers call the game while watching a video feed from a San Francisco studio.
  • Sunday’s 3PM match against Colorado will be on the Pac-12 Networks’ Washington channel, but will not be the featured match on the Networks’ main channel (that will be UCLA @ Cal). The Huskies’ only loss of the season came against the Buffs in Boulder. Sunday’s match will also feature the official retirement of Washington All-American Courtney Thompson’s jersey—the first time a woman athlete has been given that honor in the entire history of Washington Athletics. The question is: will the Network do this one from the studio, too?


  1. 2013 PAC-12 women volleyball champion - Washington Huskies

  2. If you watch the recap Pac-12 video (which is on the Husky website) watch at the end. Jo Orlandini jumps into the arms of Ky Munoz in pure joy. A testament of what sports is all about.


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