Monday, September 8, 2014

College | Pac-12 volleyball teams establish preseason dominance

Pac-12 teams are 63-5 after two weeks
  • Seattle University @ #5 Washington | 7PM | September 11


Washington middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon
-file photo courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography
The team with the worst record in the Pac-12 is ranked among the nation best. That same team lost this weekend, but one of its athletes won a conference honor. Yes, indeed, even the team at the very bottom of the Pac-12 is off to a rip-roaring start.

UCLA (3-2) picked up enough votes in the AVCA weekly coaches’ poll to take the #25 spot. Bruin senior Karsta Lowe was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. And that’s after the Bruins were swept by defending national champion Penn State.

But UCLA’s accolades only underscore an impressive start by the entire Pac-12 after just two weeks of preseason play:
  • #1 Stanford (4-0) snapped #3 Penn State’s 23-match winning streak, dating to last September (vs. Michigan State). Stanford also beat #12 Illinois; both matches went five sets, both were in Palo Alto.
  • #5 Washington (6-0) beat #9 BYU 3-2 in Provo. The Huskies have won 54 preseason matches in a row, dating to 2008, and are now 126-5 in preseason under Coach Jim McLaughlin.
  • #6 USC (6-0) beat #16 Kentucky 3-0 in Lexington. The Trojans also beat Creighton 3-1, a team ranked #23 before season’s start.
  • #15 Arizona State (6-0) beat Iowa 3-0 in Tempe. The Sun Devils, frankly, should be ranked higher; they play Louisville (ranked #24 last week) this Friday.
  • #18 Oregon (6-0) beat #22 Hawai’i 3-2 in Honolulu. The Ducks host #23 Michigan State and Michigan this weekend.
  • #21 Arizona (6-0) beat previously undefeated Cal State Northridge 3-0 in Tempe. Northridge reached the NCAA second round last season, before losing to USC.
  • #25 UCLA (3-2) beat #12 Illinois 3-0 in Palo Alto, and lost 0-3 to #3 Penn State.
  • Oregon State is 6-0, but unranked. Utah is 5-0, also unranked. One of the Utes’ matches this week is in Nashville vs Lipscomb (5-1), a team that has already defeated Kansas and Missouri. Last season, Missouri went 35-0 before losing to Purdue in the NCAA second round.
  • Colorado’s (5-1) only loss was to Northwestern. California (5-1) was beaten by 2013 Big South Conference champ Radford (Virginia). Washington State (5-1) started the preseason with a loss to Wyoming, but defeated Notre Dame over the weekend.

When Washington defeated Nebraska to win the 2005 National Championships, it was the Pac-10’s fifth title in a row. Since then, only UCLA (2011) has finished on top, with 5 titles for Penn State and one each for Texas and Nebraska.

It’s still early, but this season the twelve schools in the Pac-12 are 63-5 overall, including 6-2 against the 14 schools in the Big Ten. Stanford beat Nebraska, Penn State and Illinois; UCLA beat Illinois, Arizona State beat Iowa and Oregon beat Ohio State. The only two losses were Penn State over UCLA and Northwestern over Colorado. There are nine more Pac-12/Big Ten preseason matches to come: Wisconsin and Maryland face Washington and USC in Seattle, Michigan and Michigan State play at Oregon and Oregon State, and Washington State travels to Illinois.

Middle blocker continues to be a strong suit for Washington, and this weekend was Lianna Sybeldon’s turn to shine. The 6-1 junior was a force against BYU, connecting with power on the quick sets en route to 11 kills on 19 attacks with just one error (.526). Sybeldon also led all players with 10 blocks. Although BYU is noted for its blocking, the Huskies won the overall block battle 14.5 to 13.

SPU rarely begins its season at home, but playing its first four in Royal Brougham Pavilion paid off, as the Falcons went 3-1 on their first weekend of the Division II preseason. SPU scored victories against Chico State, Cal State LA and Dixie State, losing only to Cal Poly Pomona. For the weekend, senior outside hitter Madi Cavell had 55 kills to lead all hitters. “She’s just really excelled,” Falcon coach Chris Johnson told Volleyblog Seattle. Johnson moved Cavell from the middle to the pins when she improved her passing and serving. “She’s just a learner. She can really apply what we’re coaching.”

Setter Sara Biondi also excelled, tempting Johnson to consider sticking with a 5-1 offense. Johnson says Biondi has learned to be more dynamic, getting up in the air when she sets. Although SPU’s passing looks much improved, Biondi does a good job getting balls passed too tight to the net. “Sara has learned a lot,” Johnson says, “She is making good choices.”

This week, Seattle Pacific heads to San Rafael, California to face Academy of Art, Chaminade, Dominican and Fresno Pacific. GNAC conference play begins September 16, at home against St. Martin’s.

Coaches in the Western Athletic Conference peg Seattle University to finish second this season, though the Redhawks’ 2-4 nonconference record might raise some eyebrows. But look a little deeper: SU has wins against UTEP and Lafayette, with losses against #2 Texas, New Mexico, Pacific and Oregon State. The Pac-12’s Oregon State is undefeated; Pacific’s only losses were a 5-setter against #6 USC and Oregon State. New Mexico’s losses came against #2 Texas, #18 Oregon, #22 Hawai’i and 5-2 St. John’s (only losses: Oregon and Hawai’i). Not an easy foe in the bunch.

SU won’t get a break Thursday, as it travels to Montlake for its annual match against #5 Washington. But keep an eye on junior middle blocker Martina Samadan (1.68 blocks/set) and sophomore outside hitter Matea Mamic (3.11 kills/set).

  • Washington’s victory over BYU marked the first time in 13 tries the Huskies had ever beaten the Cougars. In the 14 seasons Jim McLaughlin has been UW coach, his teams have played 105 different schools, getting one or more wins against all but one: #2 Texas.
  • Junior Katy Beals had another solid setting performance against BYU, but her serving may have won the match. Trailing 13-17 in the first set, Beals served 11 consecutive points. Virtually every serve was a tough-to-handle rope to the deep right corner, first to Cougars’ outside hitter Hannah Robison, then to Robison’s sub, Tambre Nobles. Beals recorded two service aces during the run, and caused countless bad passes that forced BYU out of system.

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