Sunday, November 10, 2013

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

Huskies’ Kaleigh Nelson on a tear as UW now 21-1
  • #3 Washington def. Arizona 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-18)
  • next: UCLA @ #3 Washington | November 13 | 6PM | Pac-12 Networks

Sunday afternoon against Arizona, television announcers mistakenly called her “Kylee.” A day earlier against Arizona State, a different broadcast team called her “Katy.” But if there’s any justice, everyone will soon be calling her the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.
Washington's Kaleigh Nelson
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography

For the fourth match in a row, Washington’s Kaleigh Nelson put on a huge performance as the Huskies swept Arizona 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-18) in Tucson. Once again, Nelson led the way, tallying 17 kills and just 4 errors on 38 swings (.342). That means that—in just over 24 hours—the junior opposite hitter had a combined 33 kills and 7 errors on 78 attempts (.333). Those would be big numbers for a six-rotation outside hitter, but Nelson plays only three rotations in UW’s 6-2 (two-setter) offense. That, as Washington coach Jim McLaughlin might say, is big time.

In a match often marked by sloppy play, UW managed to put together several strong runs, particularly behind the smart serving of Nelson’s setting partner, Jenni Nogueras (who also suffered from broadcast mispronunciations throughout the weekend.) Washington’s outside hitters were largely ineffective—Krista Vansant had 8 kills and 4 errors (.133); Cassie Strickland had 2 kills and 3 errors (-.111)—and the setters’ connections with middles Lianna Sybeldon (6 kills) and Melanie Wade (2 kills) was often uncharacteristically poor.

So it was up to Nogueras to feed Nelson. Few teams have as much confidence as the Huskies do in their opposite attack, so their opponents’ block on that side is often late or poorly positioned. When attacking on the right side, Nelson usually faced an ineffective block from Arizona’s Jane Croson. Nelson makes an effective approach, and times her jump so well that she can wait until the last possible second to decide whether to hit line or cross-court. Over the past two weeks, she’s rarely tipped, keeping the defense back on its heels. She has looked, at times, unstoppable … and her setter, Nogueras, has no qualms about going her way as much as possible.

For both matches in the Arizona desert, Washington’s defense was superb. After holding ASU to a meager .102 hitting percentage, it did even better in Tucson, suffocating UA to an overall .067 percentage. UW blocked the Wildcats 11 times (after getting 18 against the Sun Devils), led by 8 block assists from Wade. Star Arizona hitter Madi Kingdon had 11 errors en route to hitting just .091, one day after Arizona State standout Macey Gardner suffered 10 errors and hit merely .108.

All season, the Huskies have frustrated opponents by using good passing to allow its setters to spread the attack all across the net. When Arizona focused too much of its energy on stopping Vansant, Nelson made them pay. It’s a good bet that—even if others get it wrong—the Wildcat players and coaching staff can correctly say her name.

  • Washington, now 13-1 in Pac-12 play, has just 6 conference matches remaining. Three of those six are on Wednesdays, starting this week at home against UCLA. They then play a Friday match against USC, giving them a staggering 4 matches in 7 days. The following week, UW travels to Stanford on Wednesday and Cal on Friday, before returning home for a Wednesday match against Oregon State and a Friday date with Washington State.
  • USC swept the Oregon schools, to stay in second place in Pac-12 at 12-2. Stanford won at both Colorado and Utah, good for third place at 11-3. Cal also beat both Rocky Mountain schools to move to 9-5, alone in fourth place. No other Pac-12 teams are currently above .500 in conference play.
  • CORRECTION: In a blog note posted earlier today, we reported that Washington did not offer a narrated feed for its recent home match against Utah, a game not picked up by the Pac-12 Networks. We’ve since been informed that UW did in fact have Seattle Storm basketball announcer Dick Fein narrate that web feed, though the feed suffered some preliminary technical difficulties. We regret the error.

Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography

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