Monday, November 4, 2013

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

Huskies out-scrap Buffs to avenge only defeat in a 19-1 season
  • #3 Washington def. Colorado 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-19)
  • next: #3 Washington @ Arizona State | November 9 | 11AM (Pacific) | no TV
[11.06.13 | Correction: Utah, not Colorado, came into the match leading the Pac-12 in blocking]

It was the third set; Washington led Colorado 8-4. The Buffaloes’ star hitter, Taylor Simpson, connected for a kill on a back row attack to pull her team within 3. A few weeks ago in Boulder, Simpson’s offense had been key to Colorado’s upset of Washington, handing the Huskies their only loss of the season.
Kylin Munoz, (24) Melanie Wade (5) and Krista Vansant (16) put up a triple block
against Colorado Sunday afternoon
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography

Colorado served, launching one of the longest rallies of this or any other season in Alaska Airlines Arena. Back-and-forth, the ball went across the net, as attack after attack was dug by the Huskies, then the Buffs, then the Huskies. Blocks were covered, jousts were saved, tips were pancaked as the rally stretched on.

Many in the crowd of 2,880 came to cheer big kills. But they grew louder still as defense ruled the day. The applause grew to a roar.

“It’s about never giving up,” said senior Jenni Nogueras. “Our team is scrappy.”

So many balls came Krista Vansant’s way during the epic rally that her legs looked like rubber. On two occasions, she had neither the time nor the oxygen to jump. “I was completely winded,” she later admitted.

Finally, a Colorado free ball gave Katy Beals a chance to set Melanie Wade in the middle. Wade made a sweeping attack, just beyond the reach of both the Buffs’ blockers and the defenders behind them. Point, Huskies. Exhaustion, both teams.

“After that rally,” said Wade, “Krista and I just looked at each other and took a huge, deep breath. It was the look of, thank goodness, we won that rally. ‘Cause that was a really big point in the game; it really helped shift the momentum.”

Among the many reasons Washington is now 19-1 this season and in first place in the Pac-12, defense is often an overlooked key. Nogueras says it is a point of emphasis, dating back to a lesson from Gold Medal Squared founder Carl McGown last year.

“Carl told us that a championship mentality means you have to go for every ball,” said Nogueras. “And every ball is different. You go for this one, maybe it’s a bit too far, and maybe you won’t get it. But then you go for another one, and maybe you’ll get a paw on it. And then you go for another one and you’ll get an up.”
Washington's Jenna Orlandini (purple jersey) and Jenni Nogueras (9) celebrate a point against Colorado
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography

Some of the most spectacular digs came from Vansant, Jenna Orlandini and Cassie Strickland. But among the Huskies 44 digs in the match, were 4 from an unlikely source: Wade. Middle blockers don’t usually get to play back row defense, and opponents try to punish them when they do.

“If teams are smart,” Nogueras says, “they know when the middle is serving. They start tipping and hitting shots in her area of defense.”

But defense is a necessary skill when middles take their turn at the service line. For the second weekend in a row, Wade prolonged her service runs with great digging.

“I love playing defense, “said Wade. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, when I can go back and hit a good serve and then get a dig. ‘Cause I know a lot of teams are gonna try and hit the ball at me, ‘cause I usually don’t play back row. So, when I can get a dig, I’m like, don’t hit it at me. I’m gonna dig it.”

In both sets two (.080) and three (.079), Washington held Colorado to under .100. For the match, the Buffs hit just .118. UW averaged .299, committing just three hitting errors in the first two sets.

The Huskies completely shut down Simpson, their nemesis in Boulder, as she managed just 10 kills to go with 10 errors on 33 swings. Colorado was outblocked by Washington 9 to 4, with Lianna Sybeldon getting 7 block assists and Kylin Muñoz adding 5 more.

The Pac-12 today selected USC’s Samantha Bricio as its Offensive Player of the Week. The honor was well-deserved, but a strong argument could have been made for Washington opposite hitter Kaleigh Nelson, who led the Huskies with 13 kills against Colorado to go with 20 kills Friday night in the win over Utah. Time and again, Nogueras went to Nelson when UW needed to end a Colorado run.

“We have a lot of weapons,” said Nogueras, “and we need to use them.”

  • With few upsets this weekend, the polls and rankings had little movement. Washington is once again ranked #3 in the AVCA Coaches’ poll, and retains the fourth spot in the RPI rankings.
  • Washington All-American Courtney Thompson had her jersey retired between the second and third sets of the Colorado match. In an emotional ceremony, the crowd gave Thompson a prolonged standing ovation as she raced around the court, tossing headbands into the seats. Thompson—who wore a trademark white headband during her UW playing days (2003-06)—was the first female athlete in the history of Washington athletics to have her jersey retired and her number hanging from the Alaska Airlines Arena.

Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography


  1. Great dominating performance! I'm no expert but I don't understand why they have Wade serving rather than Munoz.. Kylin is a much better server, probably 2nd best on the team in terms of hard to handle jump serves. Wade had 3 service errors I think. We can't tolerate service errors on easy serves like she puts across.

    1. KR is correct ... in Washington's 6-2 (two setter) offense, the coaches' serving choice in that rotation is between Munoz and setter Jenni Nogueras. Only in exceptional cases would a coach not want a setter on the court. And, from where we sit, Wade's serves can be deceptively difficult to pass. She has a great flat floater, good for 10 serves in a row at a crucial moment in the match at USC.

    2. Thanks for the clarification and learning experience, you all obviously understand the details of the game much better than I do!

  2. Its not a choice between Munoz and Wade. With the 6-2, Munoz enters the match in the front row, opposite one of the setters. If she serves, then there is no setter on the court during that rotation or the setter plays front row for that rotation. I assume that they compared the serving stats between her and the setter and then looked at the trade off of having no setter or a front row setter and coach decided it was better to have the setter serve.

  3. Colorado was not leading the conference in blocks coming into the match. They are middle of the pack in blocking numbers. Utah was the much more dangerous block, numbers-wise.

    1. Thanks for catching this ... we mixed up Colorado and Utah. Correction now posted.


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