Thursday, November 27, 2014

College | Washington volleyball has plenty to be thankful for in win over Stanford

Huskies “on cloud nine” after knocking off #1 Cardinal before 8,646
#5 Washington def. #1 Stanford 3-1 (25-18, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20)
  • #5 Washington @ Washington State | Fri, Nov 28 | 5PM
  • NCAA Selection Show | Sun, Nov 30 | 5:30PM | ESPNU

Your Volleyblog Seattle correspondents were on assignment this week for Volleyball Magazine, where we are regular contributors. Please see our full report—and more photos—here on the Volleyball Magazine website. And be sure to let all your Facebook friends know they can check for new posts by friending the Volleyblog Seattle Facebook page.

Washington players celebrate a point during their 3-1 victory over previously-undefeated Stanford
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Items not included in the Volleyball Magazine report …

It was a weeknight. During rush hour. On a drizzly night. At a venue surrounded by construction. Where parking is expensive. On the night before Thanksgiving.

Every ingredient for an attendance disaster.

8,646 fans filled Alaska Airlines Arena on Thanksgiving Eve, the nation's largest volleyball crowd this season
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

But as we sat on press row with our colleague Terry Wood, we marveled as Alaska Airlines Arena filled to the rafters. “There might be 5,000 people here tonight,” we said about 15 minutes before the match. “Hey, it could be 7,000,” we said after the National Anthem. Officially, the crowd was 8,646, making it:
  • The largest attendance of any NCAA match so far this season (8,585 saw Penn State @ Nebraska on October 3, 2014 in Devany Center)
  • The second-biggest attendance in Pac-12/10 regular-season history (9,141 saw Stanford @ Arizona on October 11, 2002 in McKale Center)
  • The best attendance in Alaska Airlines Arena/Hec Ed Pavilion history (7,809 saw UCLA @ Washington on October 16, 2009)

The Washington student section was full despite the Thanksgiving holiday
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

All that despite the match being utterly ignored by most media, or buried deep beneath stories about the Seahawks, Huskies football and Sounders. Look for more on that topic in an upcoming post.

After the match, every coach and every player from both teams agreed: Washington’s serving and passing made the difference.

“It’s always serve and pass,” said Stanford coach John Dunning. “They won the serve and pass game. From the very first play.”

Washington's Bailey Tanner (13) sets as Courtney Schwan (4) gets ready
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Stanford outside hitter Jordan Burgess lamented that serving and passing are “one of the first things to go when you get in tough environments.” “They’re a great serving team,” she said, “especially when they’re at home.”

The very first serve of the match was a Tia Scambray ace, right at the feet of Cardinal libero Kyle Gilbert. Three rotations later, Krista Vansant clipped the tape for an ace. The next Washington server, Cassie Strickland, boomed an ace off Gilbert. And when Scambray rotated back to the line, she fired yet another ace, giving the Huskies a 10-6 lead and forcing Stanford’s first timeout.

For the match, Washington tallied 9 aces, led by 4 from Strickland. Stanford connected on just four aces, two apiece from Brittany Howard and Madi Bugg.

Serving, however, is more than aces. Washington’s servers consistently drove Stanford’s passers deep, often handcuffing them with flat line drives. By comparison, Vansant, Strickland and Scambray delivered clean passes to setters Katy Beals and Bailey Tanner, allowing them to distribute to all their hitters, especially the middles.

“Our setters were reading Stanford’s block and adjusting,” said middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon. “Our tempo was better.” That, she said, allowed her to be patient in that split-second when she had to decide how to get past 6-3 All-American Inky Ajanaku or 6-8 freshman Merete Lutz. “If we make good turns, then no matter what, a good hitter can always beat a good blocker.”

“Stanford has girls (Ajanaku and Lutz) who are gnarly up there,” said Tanner. “Our middles did a super-good job of hitting high and deep. They hit the corners and made their back row touch balls. Stanford just couldn’t keep up with the speed.”

Dunning may have had the quote of the night when he told Terry Wood and Volleyblog Seattle, “They just out-offensed us tonight.”

Washington's Kaleigh Nelson (6) attacks against Stanford's Merete Lutz (17) and Jordan Burgess (23)
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Coming into the match, Stanford led the nation with a .317 hitting percentage. Washington was second at .313. But last night, the Huskies outhit the Cardinal .331 to .265, including .457 to .343 in the fourth set.

In its previous 28 matches this season—all victories—the best any opponent had managed against Stanford was Arizona’s .259 on October 10. That’s 72 points below what the Huskies hit last night. For the season, Stanford opponents to hit an average of just .173, a percentage UW nearly doubled.

We should note that, over the previous three matches (Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford,) Melanie Wade has a combined 20 kills and zero errors on 28 swings (.714). During that same span, Krista Vansant has averaged 5.3 kills per set.

Washington's Krista Vansant attacks against Madi Bugg (22) and Inky Ajanaku (12)
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Cassie Strickland just gets better by the week. Many of her 16 digs reminded fans of a wide receiver or a center fielder laying out for a ball no one else can reach.

But it’s Strickland’s serving that most fans come to see. As the only jump server among the Huskies’ regulars, her high-risk/high-reward serves make for high drama.

The key, she says, it getting the toss both high enough and far enough in front of her, preferably several feet into the court. “It’s mental,” she says.

This week, Strickland texted Olympian and legendary Washington All-American Courtney Thompson for advice on that mental issue. Thompson, whose club team, Volero Zurich, is in Russia for a Champions League match, was happy to help. “Courtney said, just have the same thoughts in games that you have in practice. Get into a routine.”

And did it help? “I tightened up my thoughts in the game,” Strickland said. “Courtney helped me a lot just to focus.”
Washington's Cassie Strickland (foreground) with one of her 16 digs
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Long after the match, excited fans mingled with players on the court. Even as the main lights were being dimmed, and ushers were asking people to head home, Strickland and other teammates hung on the court with family and friends. “Right now,” Strickland admitted, “everyone’s on cloud nine.”

So what are the team’s Thanksgiving plans?

“Film at 9AM, then we fly out to Pullman,” Strickland said.

What about Thanksgiving dinner?

“Subway sandwiches. Yep, that’s right. No kidding. I already placed my order.”


  1. Great articles, Jack and Leslie. This match deserved some great reporting and you certainly delivered. There's no reason UW Volleyball can't attract this kind of crowd for many of its matches with great teams, as Nebraska and other teams already do. But the local media need to take it seriously. You probably won't say it, but I will: there's a tremendous amount of sexism in Seattle Times, PI and local TV sports editorial decision making. They need to be called out on it, and Seattle, of all places, should not be willing to meekly tolerate it.

    1. First off thank you Jack and Leslie for providing the media coverage this team deserves! As for the rest of the media, you are missing out on another great season by a team that will be good for many seasons to come. Please show some respect. As for the game that was so fun to be in that crowd and FEEL the noise and the energy the ladies put into it. Go Dawgs, take it to the house >> WOOF!

    2. Thank-you, Jack and Leslie, for your EXCELLENT coverage of the only consistently nationally ranked team in Washington!

    3. I agree that the sports media shows systemic sexism and that even accounting for the bias towards covering higher revenue sports under represents the accomplishments of female athletes. When a current National Player of the Year like Krista Vansant in a sport with the popularity of women's volleyball gets the miniscule coverage she's received this year, you gotta say something's fishy.
      So many girls come to the matches and it does my heart good to see how inspired they are by Krista, Cassie, Lianna and the rest of the team. What message are these girls getting when they don't see these great female athletes in the local media? I pray they don't conclude that the accomplishments of women don't matter or aren't important. In fact, covering the way that Krista and the rest of the Huskies are role models and a source of inspiration to these girls would be a nice step in the right direction.
      On another note, you wrote in this story that "Coming into the match, Stanford led the nation with a .317 hitting percentage. Washington was second at .313." While they were first and second in the Pac-12, I believe this was how things stood nationally:

      Hitting Percentage
      Team Pct.
      1 Penn St. 0.356
      2 Florida 0.317
      3 Stanford 0.317
      4 Washington 0.313
      5 UCF 0.290

      Thanks so much for all the great reporting you do about volleyball and the Dawgs!

    4. I see this morning the Seattle Times has two stories about local women's teams on the front page of its web site. I believe this might be the first time this has happened in a very long time, maybe ever. I wonder if they are listening.

  2. Here the local media coverage of the Huskies. Another mediocre football season with numerous articles and not a single one on this great team.


  3. Don't think it's sexism. It's lack of respect for volleyball because the newspapers thing women's basketball is a bigger deal -- even when the fans disagree!


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