Sunday, November 10, 2013

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

Huskies go back to basics as defense rules the day
  • #3 Washington def. Arizona State 3-1 (24-26, 25-22, 25-17, 25-17)
  • next: #3 Washington @ Arizona | 1PM |Pac-12 Networks

It had all the trappings of an upset.

Favored Washington was on the road, playing a rare Saturday morning match. Host Arizona State was on a three-match win streak, trying to salvage a once-promising season that included a nonconference sweep of defending national champion (and current #1-ranked team) Texas. The Huskies were coming off a series of emotional matches—all victories—building the third-best win/loss record (and a #3 ranking) in the nation.

Washington's Cassie Strickland
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
It started badly for Washington. Usually reliable serving and passing was weak, and occasionally dreadful, as the Huskies were rarely able to set a ball in system. Star Krista Vansant seemed sluggish, often running under the ball, or not retreating behind the 10-foot line in transition. Melanie Wade’s serving was alternately inspired and pedestrian.

Washington dropped the first set, despite ASU’s utterly unbalanced offense. Outside hitter Macey Gardner swings as the next three Sun Devils combined; for the match she would eventually record 74 of ASU’s attempts—50 more than the next in line, BreElle Bailey. Even so, Washington made enough mistakes to allow ASU to get to 24-21, then fought off 3 set points before falling 26-24.

In each of the next three sets, Washington built healthy leads. But in the second set, UW gave up 7 straight points to allow ASU to climb back to a 19-19 tie. Only then, it seemed, did the Huskies shake the cobwebs. In the end, it was the old standbys—passing and serving—plus Kaleigh Nelson that made the difference.

The Huskies won that second match because Jenni Nogueras served tough, then found Nelson time after time for big kills. The two remained in synch the rest of the way, as Nelson had another monster match, her third in a row. She recorded 16 kills, despite playing in only three rotations, and committed just 3 errors in four sets on 40 attempts (.325.)

The other big key was libero Jenna Orlandini. She was one of several Huskies who struggled in that first set, but recovered in a big way to record 31 digs—a career high. That and 18 team blocks—to just 4 for ASU—was enough to hold the Sun Devils to a mere .102 team hitting for the match, including a .000 percentage (18 kills, 18 errors) over the final two sets. Middles Wade and Lianna Sybeldon each recorded 6 block assists, while Sybeldon added an impressive 3 solo blocks.

The final ingredient was serving, led by Cassie Strickland. ASU struggled with her powerful jump serve throughout the match, getting aced by Strickland 3 times and rarely sending clean passes to their setter. Nogueras and fellow setter Katy Beals also had strong turns at the service line.

The Huskies now face Arizona in another mid-day match. It could be another tough match—the Wildcats handed USC its first conference loss in Tucson just a few weeks ago.

  • The Pac-12 Networks elected not to cover the Washington/Arizona State match, but ASU provided a live feed with its own broadcasters. The narrated feed was appreciated (Washington does not do the same for its non-Pac-12 Network home matches) but provided some unintended humor. The play-by-play man (never got his name) couldn’t handle all the Huskies’ first names that begin with “K” (Katy, Kaleigh, Kylin, Kristin, etc.) And so, viewers were treated to calls of “Katy Vansant,” “Katy Muñoz” and “Katy Nelson.”
[11/10/13, 5:00pm | CORRECTION: UW did in fact have Seattle Storm basketball announcer Dick Fein narrate the Utah @ Washington web feed, though the feed suffered some preliminary technical difficulties. We regret the error.]

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