Huskies’ coach says his team won despite being “tapped out emotionally,” but will learn from the experience
- #3 Washington def. LSU 3-1 (17-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-19)
- next: #3 Washington vs. #14 Kansas | December 13 | 5:00PM
In the second set of the second round, LSU was on a roll.
One night earlier, the Tigers trailed Michigan 0-2, losing the second set 25-9. But—as they had done five times previously this season—LSU stormed back, using serving and defense to overwhelm the Wolverines and advance to Saturday’s showdown with host Washington.
Washington senior Jenni Nogueras sets against LSU
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
In the first set against UW, it was more of the same, as LSU closed out on a 7-2 run to win 25-17, out-blocking Washington 6-1, and holding the Huskies to a paltry .125 team hitting percentage. Late in the second set, LSU launched another 7-2 string, closing within 3, 19-16
“We were thinking, anything can happen,” said middle Desiree Elliott, the Tigers’ only senior. “We beat Michigan, who went to the Final Four last season, so anything can happen.”
“We had a lot of poise,” said setter Malorie Pardo. “You could tell we were very calm and collected.”
In particular, the Tigers were pulling the Huskies out of system with strong serves, especially short balls dropping right near UW’s 10-foot line. “That was the game plan,” said coach Fran Flory. “We felt watching film last night that we had some zones and that we could wreak some havoc in some reception patterns and take some of their players out.”
“They were putting them in good spots,” said Washington hitter Krista Vansant. “They got us in a little bit of trouble.”
So how did the Huskies pull out a 3-1 win and advance to the Sweet 16 Friday in Los Angeles against #14 Kansas? It started with setter Jenni Nogueras. Toward the end of set two, she distributed across the net, getting kills from Vansant, Cassie Strickland and Lianna Sybeldon. Sybeldon and Kaleigh Nelson combined for two stuff blocks to help complete a 6-2 run and a 25-18 second set win.
“We didn’t come out with a good attitude, maybe a little bit flat,” Nogueras said. “We needed an edge. This team wasn’t gonna give up and roll over.”
To start the third set, Nogueras knew much would fall on her shoulders. Her right-side hitter, Nelson—an All-Pac-12 first team opposite hitter—was hitting negative (-.043) after two sets. The other right-side hitter, Kylin Muñoz, who pairs with setter Katy Beals, was a nonfactor most of match, finishing with just 3 kills on 9 attempts, while adding 4 block assists. In fact, in two of the three rotations when Muñoz is on the floor, the Huskies scored just two points on their serve all night. So Nogueras would have to find a way.
The Huskies clung to a 20-19 lead in set three, when Nogueras re-entered to serve. Feeding sets to Vansant and Nelson, Washington closed out 5-2 for a crucial 25-21 third set win. In that set, Vansant had nine kills and just one error while libero Jenna Orlandini came up time and again with big digs. She would finish the match with 22 digs.
“The X-factor for them is Vansant,” said Flory. “And we don’t have an answer for her. In those three rotations (when Vansant is in the front row), that’s the part we could not contest well tonight.”
In the fourth set, Vansant stayed strong with six more kills and no errors. And Nelson found her groove, connecting with Nogueras on 5 kills with just one error. “Kaleigh was not good early,” McLaughlin said. “Then she was very good late.”
Washington also excelled at the service line toward the end, especially Melanie Wade, who slammed the door with a 5-serve run. For the match, the Huskies scored 41 points off their serve, 32 of those when Wade (10), Nogueras (11) or Orlandini (11) were at the line.
Despite the win, the Huskies’ post-match press conference was noticeably somber. Coach Jim McLaughlin twice mentioned that his players had “tapped out emotionally.”
“That’s how you grow,” he said. “When you’re forced to tap out emotionally, it’s really tough. You grow as a player, you grow as a team. You need those experiences, especially in the tournament.”
And so, McLaughlin said, his team is extremely motivated as it heads to Los Angeles.
“The amount of time these girls invest? I counted. It was 340 days that we’re doing something with volleyball. And so, the motivation is extremely high. When you invest at that level, are you kidding? You want to go to the Elite Eight, and then you want to win the thing.”
- Friday night’s first round attendance at Alaska Airlines Arena was 2,730; on Saturday it was 3,135, for a combined 5,865. Last season, the same two rounds drew a combined 7,297. Down at USC, the Trojans attracted a mere 1,232 for the first two nights in Galen Center. In Palo Alto, Stanford had a combined 2,017 fans for the first two rounds.
- In case you missed it, Washington, USC and Stanford are the only three of the nine Pac-12 teams to qualify for the Round of 16. By contrast, the Big Ten sends a record seven teams to that round, with Michigan the only team to lose so far (Friday night in Seattle to LSU).
- Five seeded teams failed to advance: ACC champ #16 Duke lost to American University 3-0. #15 Kentucky was beaten 3-1 by Michigan State. Big West co-champ #11 Hawai’i was swept at home by BYU. #5 Florida lost 3-2 to rival Florida State. And, perhaps the biggest upset, SEC champ Missouri went down 3-1 to Purdue. It was Missouri’s first loss of the season, and it means no SEC teams remain in the tournament.
Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography