Sunday, December 8, 2013

NCAA | What we learned from Washington volleyball’s win against LSU

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


  1. Gabbi Parker was working hard on the sidelines to pump them up. I think it made an important difference. You don't have to be a starter to be a leader.

  2. I keep hoping to see Kylin return to top form. Now is the time. She has been a fierce competitor since she arrived - not sure what happened this year. In the meantime everyone else has stepped up. Jenna has been amazing. Go Ky! Go Krista! Go Dawgs!

  3. Maybe the coaches voting in the AVCA poll know something after all, huh? Seven of eight Big Ten teams advance to the 3rd round, and Purdue, who you seemed to poo-poo earlier in the season for still being ranked, not only takes down your highly regarded Central Arkansas, but they eliminate the only undefeated team left standing.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see a Big Ten final on 12/21.

    1. Touché, my friend. Purdue has been mighty impressive, and Michigan State pulled an unexpected big one in Lexington, ice storm and all ...

    2. I note that all the seeded teams from both the pac and the b1g made it to regional. it's a big advantage to compete on your home court, and the b1g benefitted from the somewhat inexplicable ratings love, pointed out at this blog, to secure so many seeded teams. but good for msu and Purdue, although those 'upsets' were in the arguably weakest regional and/or were against the relatively untested acc and sec champs. still, premature for the amount of crowing I hear from the b1g fans.

    3. Your analysis about the seeded Pac-12/Big Ten teams advancing is a good one. It's reasonable to ask whether Illinois deserved a seed with a 16-14 record. Oregon was 19-11 and Arizona was 20-12, yet neither got to host. That might have changed things a bit.

    4. Another excellent point. BTW, Thank you for your blog analysis. I've learned a lot from it.
      Signed- still anonymous (again), but an avid, if recent, reader.

  4. Wow I couldn't believe the number of mistakes the Huskies made that evening, it was hard to watch at times. How many times did we set to Nelson who got stuffed almost every time early on? We still rely too much on Krista and not enough on our middles especially when Wade is in the game. Wade looked really off for most of the game but came back in after that time out and a good chewing from the coach and made clutch serves to finish. We can't play that kind of game any longer and make the final's! Dig deep ladies and make it back to the Key.. point huskies!

  5. I'm really surprised that neither Katy nor Jenni set Krista in the back row (with one exception). When Krista rotates in the back row, the Dawg's offense becomes very predictable (i.e., if it's a good serve receive - set the middle; if not, set Kaleigh on the weak side). As we saw with LSU, it became easy to block and mostly ineffective). Krista is just as effective in the back row as she is up front...and it expands the team's offensive options


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