Saturday, November 22, 2014

College | Tia Scambray is passing fancy in Washington volleyball win

Arizona targets freshman outside hitter to no avail
#5 Washington def. #13 Arizona 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-19)
  • #22 Arizona State @ #5 Washington | Sun, Nov 23 | 11AM
  • #1 Stanford @ #5 Washington | Wed, Nov 26 | 5PM

Washington's Tia Scambray (20) with one of her dozens of passes during a 3-0 win against Arizona
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Arizona won the toss and elected to serve. The whistle blew, and Wildcat setter Penina Snuka sent the first serve directly at Washington’s Tia Scambray. On Arizona’s next rotation, Elizabeth Inch also served at Scambray. When it was Taylor Arizobal’s turn, Scambray was again the target.

Washington's Tia Scambray, Lianna Sybeldon and
Courtney Schwan celebrate a point against Arizona
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
The match lasted three sets, a 3-0 Washington win. For the night, Arizona players served 58 times. Each time, they three primary options: serve to libero Cassie Strickland, to outside hitter Krista Vansant or to Scambray, a freshman outside hitter. Almost every time, Wildcat head coach Dave Rubio directed his team to aim for Scambray.

“We serve Tia every day in practice,” said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin. “She can weather that pressure.”

And, make no mistake: there was plenty of pressure. Most teams, including Washington, tend to serve at the opponents’ top hitter, hoping to disrupt her approach and eventually wear her down. For Washington’s opponents, the target is usually Vansant. But last night, Scambray was squarely in the Wildcats’ crosshairs.

For UW to bounce back after its first two losses of the season, passing would be key. Against both Colorado and Utah, UW’s offense was unbalanced, with Vansant taking 65 swings against the Buffalos and 76 against the Utes. This week, said McLaughlin, the Huskies changed their practice sessions to focus on getting more balls to the middles, Lianna Sybeldon and Melanie Wade. For that to happen, setters Katy Beals and Bailey Tanner would need to receive quality passes. Arizona’s strategy, then, was to relentlessly pick on Scambray, hoping to get into her head and degrade her passing.

It didn’t work.

“Tia is one of the toughest people I’ve ever been around,” said McLaughlin. “She’s not afraid to be on the edge of her ability or to feel discomfort.”

Washington's Courtney Schwan (4) points to setter Bailey Tanner (13) after Tanner's assist on a Schwan kill
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

There was unrelated discomfort last night, as the Huskies played without starting opposite hitter Crissy Jones. In early warmups, about four hours before the match, Jones stepped on a teammate’s foot, twisting her left ankle. McLaughlin turned to Jones’ fellow freshman, Courtney Schwan.

“I was definitely anxious,” said Schwan. “But coach always says it’s good to feel nervous before you play.”

Both of Schwan’s parents are in law enforcement. She texted her mom at work, who told her not to worry and to “just go out and play ball.” Teammates Scambray and Strickland pulled her aside and advised her to play just as she does in practice. All that support helped her focus.

“She’s a really level, even-keeled kid,” McLaughlin said. “There’s no ebb and flow.”

Washington's Crissy Jones wears a protective boot on her injured left ankle during a timeout
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Schwan was, in fact, almost all flow. She finished with 9 kills and no errors on 15 swings, for a team leading .600 hitting percentage. In the second set, Schwan, Vansant, Sybeldon and Kaleigh Nelson had a combined 13 kills and no errors on 18 swings (.722).

“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Schwann said. “I was very excited to get in. But I wasn’t happy about the way it happened.”

  • McLaughlin says Jones’ injury may not be serious. “It was not a high sprain,” he said. Trainers will evaluate her recovery day-to-day, and there’s a chance she could be ready in time for Wednesday's Stanford match.
  • With Washington leading 10-8 in the first set, Arizona’s talented setter Penina Snuka slammed into the scorer’s table while trying to save a ball. She received treatment for a knee injury and never returned to the match. Snuka, this week’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, was replaced by junior transfer (from Weber State) Whitney Hunt, who did an admirable job running the Wildcat offense.

Arizona players surround teammate Penina Snuka after she injured her knee in the first set
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
  • Announced attendance for the Arizona match was 3,369. That’s almost precisely the Huskies’ average for its 8 home conference matches so far this season. Interesting to note that, over the past decade, Washington volleyball trails only football and men’s basketball among all the school’s sports attendance. Last season, for example, UW women’s basketball drew an average of 1,795 despite continuing to attract far more mainstream media attention than volleyball.
  • Stanford defeated Utah 3-0 last night to remain undefeated. Washington is 15-2 in Pac-12 play, solidly in second place. With Oregon’s 3-0 victory over UCLA and Colorado’s sweep of California, there is a three-way tie for third, at 10-7, between Arizona, Oregon and Colorado.
  • USC, which came within a whisker of last season’s Final Four (losing at home in 5 to Washington), is in real danger of missing this year’s tournament. After losing 3-1 to Oregon State, the Trojans are now 15-14, with three road matches remaining: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. Teams with a sub-.500 record are not eligible for postseason.
  • If you follow Volleyblog Seattle, you know we have a soft spot for the Sugar Bears of Central Arkansas. After losing 5 of last season’s starters to graduation, and 2 of this year’s starters to injury, coach David McFatrich’s team started the season 3-6, losing to, among others, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State. This morning, Central Arkansas defeated Texas A&M Corpus Christi to qualify for Sunday’s championship match of the Southland Conference tournament. The Sugar Bears, now 20-11, will play Northwestern State, with the winner getting the conference’s automatic NCAA bid.


  1. After that match, no one will ever under-estimate Tia Scambray, if they're smart.

  2. UW's middles had about 5% less attacks last night than their season average, or about 5 less swings. Getting them more swings sure releaves the pressure on the pin hitters and, when working effectively, gets everyone easier kills. Let's hope they can up their middle attacks for the next few games.

  3. Thanks for the information on Crissy's injury, and the analysis of the Colorado and Utah matches. Your blog is a GREAT read.


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