Tuesday, September 2, 2014

College | Kaleigh Nelson on fire as volleyball’s first week is in the books

Washington faces a tough task this week in Provo; Eastern stages comeback for the ages.

Washington's Kaleigh Nelson had 43 kills this weekend
-file photo courtesy Shutter Geeks
Washington senior opposite hitter Kaleigh Nelson is a joy to watch. While teammate Krista Vansant—reigning National Player of the Year—deservedly gets attention, Nelson should never be overlooked. She, too, is an All-American (third team) and is hugely important to Washington’s offense. In the Huskies’ three weekend wins against Portland State, Gonzaga and Boise State, Nelson had a combined 43 kills with just 5 errors on 74 swings, for an eye-popping .514 average. (Vansant was almost as lethal, hitting .434 with 42 kills and 6 errors on 83 attacks). In Washington’s two-setter offense, Nelson teamed with setter Katy Beals this weekend, hitting on the left side on her first rotation, and the right side thereafter.

Two things make Nelson especially exciting: she’s able to hit both line and cross from either the left or right side, and she hits hard on almost every attempt. In the see-saw five set battle with Gonzaga, Nelson became the go-to hitter in several crucial runs. Kudos to Beals for landing so many hittable backsets.

For the second preseason in a row, Washington dropped two sets to Gonzaga, before prevailing 3-2. Since 2003, the Huskies have gone 40-0 in preseason against Northwest Division 1 schools. During that nonconference run against teams from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, UW has won 120 of 124 sets—the only four set losses coming against the ‘Zags in 2013 and 2014. Although Washington won all three opening matches this week, voters moved Wisconsin ahead of the Huskies in this week’s AVCA coaches’ poll. Wisconsin swept both #24 Louisville and Notre Dame, jumping over both UW and USC in the polls to take the #4 spot. The Huskies dropped to #5. Later this season, Washington will have 11 matches against teams currently in the Top 25: one each against #2 Stanford, #4 Wisconsin and #10 BYU, plus home-and-home against #6 USC, #17 Arizona State, #22 Oregon and #23 Arizona.

On August 31, 2001, BYU swept Washington 3-0 at Hec Ed Pavilion in Jim McLaughlin’s first-ever match as Huskies’ head coach. On December 1, 2007, unranked BYU shocked #6 UW—again in Seattle—in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, winning 3-2 (30-28, 28-30, 25-20, 30-22, 15-13). That UW team featured three All-Americans: Christal Morrison, Tama Miyashiro and Jessica Swarbrick. In the loss, Washington’s Stevie Mussie had a career-best 35 kills, a UW postseason record.

This Thursday, Washington makes its first-ever visit to Provo under McLaughlin. Over the weekend, #10 BYU swept all three matches against West Virginia, IUPUI and Toledo. Last season, BYU finished 24-7, losing to USC in the Sweet 16 (USC went on to lose to UW in the Elite 8). In 2012, BYU’s 6-7 opposite hitter Jen Hamson was a first team All-American. Last season, she took a season away from volleyball to concentrate on basketball. On her first weekend back, Hamson led BYU with a combined 34 kills and 8 blocks.

Washington is 123-5 all-time in preseason under McLaughlin, including the last 51 in a row, dating to 2008. The BYU match will be the Huskies’ 415th coached by McLaughlin (327-87). During that time, Washington has played 105 different schools, and won at least once against 103. The only two McLaughlin’s team has never beaten? BYU (0-2) and Texas (0-2).

Seattle U knows first-hand about Texas—the Redhawks were crushed Saturday by the #3 Longhorns 3-0 (25-14, 25-12, 25-15). Seattle U also lost 3-0 to host New Mexico Friday afternoon, but defeated UTEP 3-0 later that night.

The Redhawks are home this week, with matches Thursday against Pacific, Friday against Lafayette and Saturday against Oregon State. Pacific (2-1) raised eyebrows Saturday with a narrow 3-2 loss to #6 USC. Oregon State (3-0) got wins against Saint Mary’s, Utah State and Idaho State. Lafayette (1-3) defeated St. Francis Brooklyn and lost to Quinnipiac, Hofstra and Santa Clara. Lafayette, a school in Easton, Pennsylvania, plays in the Patriot League. Its roster includes local products Danielle Towslee (Woodinville HS) and Tori Smith (Annie Wright School), plus student assistant coach Michelle Woodworth (Roosevelt HS). Oregon State’s roster features freshman Lanesha Reagan (Snohomish HS).

Seattle Pacific University is also home this week, hosting Chico State on Thursday, Cal Poly Pomona Friday afternoon, Cal State LA Friday night and Dixie State Saturday night.

Pac-12 teams went 32-3 on the season’s first week. The most notable win belonged to Stanford, as it pounded Nebraska 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-19) in the Cornhuskers’ sold-out (8500) arena. The Cardinal out-hit Nebraska .365-.131. Stanford also beat Iowa State 3-0; Nebraska also lost 3-0 to Florida State.

The second-biggest win belonged to Arizona State, sweeping Hawai’i in Honolulu, 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-23). The Sun Devils got 16 kills from Macey Gardner, the Pac-12 Player of the Week. In Eugene, Oregon clobbered Ohio State 3-0 (25-22, 25-12, 25-16). Arizona travelled to Green Bay, where it swept Kansas State (25-21, 25-18, 26-24).

On the flip side, Colorado surrendered several leads to lightly-regarded Northwestern, 3-2 (20-25, 23-25, 26-24, 25-17, 17-15). Washington State fell to surging Wyoming 3-0 (25-20, 29-27, 25-23). The Cowgirls have now won ten in a row, spanning two seasons.

The worst of the Pac-12’s three losses came in LA, where UCLA headed a few freeway exits south for a sweep at the hands of Loyola-Marymount (25-19, 25-22, 25-23). This week, the Bruins travel to Palo Alto to take on #1 Penn State and #9 Illinois.


In Wilmington, North Carolina, Eastern Washington dropped the first two sets to North Carolina State, and trailed 24-21 in the third set. But in volleyball, it’s never over until it’s over. Kelsey Julian, an opposite from Kennewick High, served the final four points of the set, the last coming on a kill by Newport High’s Kellen Barfield, sister of former Washington middle Lauren Barfield. In the fourth set, EWU was behind 23-19, but an 8-2 run—featuring a Julian ace and two Barfield blocks—produced a 27-25 win. The comeback was complete with a 15-11 fifth set win.

1 comment:

  1. It is refreshing to see Nelson really stepping it up this year, we were exposed last year with our focus on Krista. So is Cassie playing Libero this season? The loss of Jenna is going to prove interesting. It looks like there are 4 or 5 legit contenders for the PAC-12 title this year but sadly I'd be surprised if Stanford doesn't walk away with it...


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