Saturday, December 13, 2014

NCAA | As Washington volleyball’s season ends, reflecting on what we all saw

Win or lose, a volleyball match that matters is an unforgettable experience

#11 Nebraska def. #3 Washington 3-1 (20-25, 25-20, 25-22, 29-27)
#12 BYU def. #8 Florida State 3-1 (25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 26-24)
  • #12 BYU vs. #11 Nebraska | Sat, Dec. 13 | 8:30PM |Alaska Airlines Arena

Washington's Tia Scambray (20), Lianna Sybeldon (10) and Crissy Jones (28) block against Nebraska
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

There is nothing quite like the rhythm and flow of a meaningful volleyball match.

When the outcome is on the line, no one steps out of the batter’s box. There are no endless time-outs, no interminable video reviews. You can’t take a knee or run out the clock.

At the end of each point, a ball is quickly delivered to the next server, who has but a few seconds to put it back in play. There’s no time for taunting, no room for histrionics. Just rhythm and flow.

Friday night in Alaska Airlines Arena, 6,789 spectators were part of a pulse that rose to an emotional crescendo as Washington (31-3) and Nebraska (23-9) played yet another memorable match. Tied at one set apiece, the stage was set for a pair of down-to-the-wire final frames. Through it all, neither side folded. The outcome was always in doubt. And the setting was extraordinary.

As sets three and four each drew to a close, the din grew deafening whenever a server stepped to the line. No fireworks on the Jumbotron or artificial banners pleading for more noise. If the band was playing or a player substitution was announced, you wouldn’t know it. You couldn’t hear it.

And then, at the moment of server contact, a hush. Thousands of breaths were drawn as eyes fixed to the ball’s flight, anticipating a chessboard of possibilities ahead. Each time the ball passed across the net, crowd murmur returned: a collective inhale, an ooh, an ahh, a shared squeal of suspense. If the home team won the point, lungs erupted into a roar that—toward the end—would have strained one of those stadium decibel devices.

Players from Washington and Nebraska plead their case to the official
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Four officials worked the game, two at the net and two on the corners. Powerful swings required snap judgments, some of them undoubtedly wrong. Coaches were entitled to obligatory dissents, but in volleyball, no one climbs off the ladder and goes under a hood to watch the replay. It takes at least 75 points to win at least three sets of a match, and it’s rare when any one official’s error is decisive.

Washington's Melanie Wade and Tia Scambray joust
with Nebraska setter Mary Pollmiller

-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
A long season of sweat and repetition and progress can suddenly hang by the thinnest of threads. A gutsy serve just misses. A risky set falls flat. A muscular attack skips just past the boundary. In the unforgiving glare of packed arena kleig lights, young women barely beyond their teens take risks and expose themselves to failure in the chase for fleeting reward. How many of us could trade places with them? Our daughters, at long last, have an athletic arena where they are not in the shadow of our sons and are truly the center of attention for all the right reasons: strong, agile, competitive, smart.

25 points was not enough to hold set four, and as Washington fought off a string of elimination points, before one of those gutsy swings hit the wrong side of the line. But this much was true: either side could have won. Either side deserved to win. Until the final split second, narratives about who won and why could have gone either way.

In any postseason post-match press conference, the scene borders on bizarre. Adrenaline and endorphins still race. Throats are hoarse, hair is matted and jerseys are soaked with sweat just as a bank of cameras come to life. The room is small, stuffy and awkwardly silent. Reporters on deadline have little time for nuance. Exhausted coaches have been given no opportunity for reflection. Most everyone would rather be somewhere else, so clichés become the refuge.

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
When the players retreat to the locker room, none of us can ever follow. Literally. And figuratively. Years and decades from now, those athletes will stay connected in ways that few of us can comprehend. Only they know what each of them sacrificed. Only they understand the danger and intensity and casualties of the battle. Only they appreciate the inside jokes and sly references. Parents are part of the experience, but not of the group, and can never enter the circle. Even coaches—though central to all that happens—remain outside the lifelong bond. After players remove jerseys one final time, coaches will back at work the next day, ready to greet the next round of recruits.

Most who were in that arena will be either disappointed or elated by the result. But it’s only a result. Years from now, we won’t remember the score. Eventually, we’ll even forget who won.

But if you were there, you’ll always remember the rhythm and flow.

Washington's Kaleigh Nelson (6), Krista Vansant (16) and Lianna Sybeldon (10)
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann


  1. Bravo! Beautifully written....thank you for your in-depth coverage this season.

  2. This one really hurts, it is the repeat of last year’s game with Penn State. Our team's scouting report must be so off, and our team was not well prepared. Jim is the best volleyball professor and scholar, but not necessary the best battler field commander. When the game was on the line you just simply can not back down.

    1. I agree that Jim is an excellent coach and teacher. We are very lucky to have him. He and the player of the year needed to make an adjustment in the 2 and 3 sets.

    2. Jim is a very good coach. But as anyone knows coaching is only as good as the talent you have. It do question his ability to recruit true athletes as opposed to good volleyball players. Just compare Washington's athletic ability to Texas, Penn State and a few others. Not even close.

  3. IMO, the loss of Katy Beals became apparent in Set 2 when Jade Finau had a tough time setting up the hitters in the most advantageous spots to spike. often the sets were too far from the net or too high. Out of system too often meant the whole team was out of sync. I fault the coach with leaving one of the most valuable players in the WSU match so late when the outcome was inevitable. It was like leaving in Russell Wilson to get injured in the 4th qtr of a meaningless game.. Losing Katy Beals was like the 2005 team playing without Courtney Thompson

    1. Think off the hundreds of matches you may have witnessed, how many acl tears have you seen? That's why there was not a substitution. And if you were going to sub, why the setter? Why not a starting hitter or a ds? Your observation is like picking the winning lottery numbers after the drawing.

    2. Several years ago in a match against UCLA at Maples, the Cardinal let their foot off the gas after leading 2-0 and the Bruins squeaked through to force a fourth, unnecessary set, during which one of their starting two middle blockers (Stephanie Browne) torn up her knee. The team didn't take that attitude of the original poster above... their point of view was that these things happen and that if the player had practiced safe landings (as they do, especially during fall camp) and was in good physical condition, it was just plain bad luck.

    3. Not only the loss of Katy Beals but UW got out-coached. But mainly UW was not playing their A game; plus, after watching Nebraska losing to BYU last night, I realized that Nebraska had played out of their minds the night before. UW got beat several times on those dink shots --- it as like they did not expect them. The UW women needed more intensity. Too bad --- especially for Kristy Vansant. Women's Volleyball better institute instant replay as the officials easily BLEW two calls that cost UW.

  4. Yes, I was there, and those were really bad calls at a very critical time by two different line judges. I do not understand how officials designated for an NCAA tournament can call a ball out that was in by at least 6 to 8 inches. They weren't even close. That could have turned around a very critical game 4. So, yes, official's calls do matter. Nebraska played like they were the better team but I hate leaving a game thinking that your team got screwed over. I was a high school official for both basketball and volleyball, so I do know something about officiating. I hope those two linesmen had a difficult time sleeping last night. (By the way, my name isn't Teresa. This is my wife's account, not mine.)

    1. The game 4 was a travesty to horrible line calls: The linesmen and ref have no business at teh D1 level. 2 (two) bad line calls cost teh Huskies game 4, period. It sold have ended 25-23. BUT due to 2 clearly poor line calls, UW loses game 4 28-27 and the match
      This should shave been a 5 game match.
      2 things: Demote these linesmen and the ref to DII or high school, immediately.
      2/ If ever there was a time for McLaughlin to go nuts with a hair on fire instance, this was it.
      game four of a 5 game match in the NCAA tournament. I do not back coaches rushing the ref, but in 60 years of following sport, THIS is the time for a coach to legitimately lose it. If he had, who knows how game 5 would have turned out but at least there would have been one.
      It was a sad, sad night for Husky volleyball.

  5. Thanks for not writing sour grapes. Yes the officiating was bad but the dawgs were not on last night. Had they played like they did in the Stanford match we would have won. My hope now is that stanford wins and that will be our consolation prize. Many years of great volleyball are ahead and that is something to look forward to!

  6. I have to agree with the above poster about the loss of Beals - when she went down I had a feeling it would catch up with the team eventually. Jade is a good player, but she hadn't played in a meaningful match all year, and you could tell the chemistry just wasn't the same after Katy went out. Playing like they did against Stanford required someone of equal skill setting the hitters, and that just wasn't happening. It was a shame, but that's sports - whether it's men's or women's - where one injury can alter a team just enough to make a difference. The team has a lot of talent coming back, so I fully expect them to be back in the hunt again next year...

  7. Officiating was horrible and all the bad calls went against the Huskies; and I'm not a Husky fan. Two blatantly wrong line calls and maybe one more; a back row attacker the refs missed and refused to reverse even after the Husky coach pointed it out. There was also 1-2 reaching over the net plays against Nebraska that were not called; and a net call against the Huskies that should have been against Nebraska.

    The ref cost Washington the 4th set. Bet he isn't sleeping well.

  8. I disagree with Jack and agree with the posters tonight. I’m a little disappointed in Jack’s column as I usually enjoy and appreciate his insight and knowledge. But this column sounds a lot like Jack trying to put the balm of gilead in a very sore wound. Almost has a “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose its how you play the game” ring to the story. But it does matter.

    I agree with Teresa and the other posters that two bad calls can affect the outcome of a match. As all the readers know this game is very much a game of momentum. One can only speculate the outcome if we had won the fourth match. But Jack’s assertion sounds a lot like “over a season the good and bad calls even out”, well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t in the regular season. In the regular season, losing a match back in September due to a bad call is not memorable. However, in this short “second” season, you are one loss from being out, two bad calls do matter.

    I also agree with the endodontist, that Jim may be everyone’s idea of a vb guru but as I sit and watch the elite eight games today and see over and over again how many times Stanford, Penn State, Texas have been the to dance, I think the endodontist is on to the something. Not withstanding the great win in San Antonio versus Nebraska, in 2005, which I feel in hindsight was a result of Courtney and Crystal leading the team, there have been a plethora of examples to support the endodontist’s theory. We can start with last year which should still be fresh on everybody’s mind, and then go back every year all the way back to 2003, where the huskies played the best match I’ve every seen them play to beat Stanford 3-2 in the elite eight match at home. Only to watch them get eviscerated by the Golden Gophers in Long Beach the next weekend, not even the same team and the golden gophers were just ok. I’m just saying I’m in with the endodontist.

    We have such great fan support here, last years attendance was phenomenal, this years was fantastic, only to see the team fall apart time and again at the critical junctures. I’m with the endodontist Jack, you know its not the players fault, they are just young women, our daughters as your asserted. I need more balm Jack.

    Oh and by the way, I really like your column, please don’t stop, I will contribute money.

    1. It's too soon to expect the authors to want to write about a tough loss. I bet they'll be ready to post something about it in several weeks.

  9. I love your writing. But I'm sorry, it doesn't make me feel any better. BYU has no business in the Final 4. Washington should be there. Admittedly the UW-Nebraska match should not have been so close and that has to be because the Huskies weren't at their best. But it was the refs who kept us from getting a chance to prove ourselves in set 5. And that will always be an asterisk on the season.

  10. The officiating was especially bad in game 4, but the Huskies lost this one in games 2/3.

  11. Jack and Leslie: Thanks for your great work all season long. It's great that we have a website that covers volleyball and offers a lot of updates, insight and great photos. Really appreciate being able to log onto Volleyblog Seattle and get details you don't find in the local papers. In fact, I'd suggest this blog is helping to nudge the local papers,even UW Daily, to start to do a better job of at least some limited coverage of volleyball. I hope you're able to reach more readers and figure out a way to get advertisers to better support this and perhaps do even more great coverage.

    Now, to this bubbling notion that there's some problem with McLaughlin: People, get real.

    When McLaughlin started at UW there were no season-tickets or reserved seats. You could walk into Hec Ed five minutes before a Stanford/UW match, buy a General Admission ticket as the National Anthem is being played and find just about any seat you want in the front row. I know. I did it. There were no national championships; no regular regional appearances; often no tournament appearances.

    Now, you have a team that is in the tournament every year like clockwork. Good luck getting a good seat when Stanford comes to town if you don't have season tickets. In fact, good luck getting any lower bowl good seat for any match if you don't have season tickets or you're a student.

    The team is ranked in the AVCA coaches poll every week year after year after year.

    Now making the tournament is just taken for granted. Hosting a sub-regional is a given. Hosting a regional comes around almost every two years. Because of McLaughlin, Seattle got to host a national championship.

    This year, great programs like Cal and Minnesota didn't even make the tournament. Stanford, for all their advantages in recruiting and their history and tradition has finally gotten back to the FF after struggling in recent years. When was their last title?

    If McLaughlin announced tomorrow that he wanted to move on to another gig, there are probably only about four Athletic Directors in the country that would not be salivating at the thought of making him a handsome offer. And even those four AD's would probably let it linger in their cranium a moment or two.

    Every year 63 teams in the tournament don't win the title. 60 don't get to the Final Four.

    It's hard...and requires a certain amount of good fortune in the brackets and good bounces in the games (and good calls by the refs).

    Ironically, one thing McLaughlin has done is given some fans this sense of entitlement and expectations about winning the whole thing. There's a reason Krista Vansant came to UW. And it's not Seattle weather.

    Thanks again, Jack and Leslie, for all the great coverage!

    1. Well said! Seattleites should be proud of, and thankful, for the amazing program Coach McLaughlin has built since his arrival. I know I am.

      And as always, I am thankful for the insightful, artfully-written prose by Jack and Leslie in their coverage of Washington volleyball. Such a breath of fresh air in sports journalism! Intelligent, educational, and at the same time, written in an almost poetic style. Always a good read.

      My proposal for a future article? I'd love to see Jack and Leslie analyze the UW vs Nebraska game comparing it with the BYU vs Nebraska game. What was the difference in the playing by UW and BYU that made it possible for BYU to defeat Nebraska, while UW did not? One thing I noticed was Nebraska continually being able to tool the UW block, much the way Colorado and Utah were able to do on their home courts and defeat UW in doing so...Obviously, Nebraska scouted UW well and certainly must have studied those games. The announcer covering the BYU Nebraska game even discussed the fact Nebraska was also trying to tool BYU's block and was even taking her own stats (10 and counting at one point early in the game.) But what did BYU do so well to counter this, and why couldn't UW adjust and figure out a way to stop all the tooling of their block, after those difficult losses in the Mountains? Perhaps a crucial, though difficult lesson hopefully learned for next season for UW...? Husky fans can only hope...

    2. I, too, am grateful for the excellent insight from Jack and Leslie. I really enjoy it.

      I support the proposal.

    3. I, too, appreciate the excellent analysis by Jack and Leslie. I enjoy reading it, and learn a lot.

      I support the GREAT proposal.

  12. Watched the NEB vs BYU game. Its obvious that UW's Achilles heal was its passing. Fix that.

  13. In my opinion, the issue is not Jim McLaughlin's coaching that should be the issue, it's his behavior. Refusing to shake the opponent's hand after the match is poor sportsmanship. However, I suppose it is an improvement from the last time the two teams played in Seattle when McLaughlin was following Cook as he heading to the locker room trying to start a fist fight. That type of behavior shouldn't be tolerated and is very much against the spirit of the game as described in this article.

  14. Part 1 of 2 coments:
    I am a relatively new Husky volleyball fan I have attended almost al the homegames during the past 2 seasons.

    Here are my impressions;
    I came to volleyball from the perspective of a being a tennis fan and appreciating the elite athleticism of those tennis players like Petra Kvitova, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal,
    Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray, etc.

    My first impression when I first started attending live matches, was how all the players came together in-support of one another right after losing a point. Wow,
    how supportive and positive a thing to do for each other.

    I miss Gabby Parker, Jenna, Jenny and Kylin and read their twitter pages. Although they seem to have a special code they write in. Jenny's tweets are very funny. Glad Gabby can read up a storm.

    I love getting to a match a bit ahead of time to quiet down from the work day and watch the pre-game drills.
    I will miss Kim Condie and Krista drill practice hitting and pancaking just 15 feet in front of me and rarely missing a ball.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Reni and Tia singling along with the P.A. system pop music to a song during pre-game vs Arizona State.

    I am totally blown away the more I read and research about Pac-12 volleyball and what Jim McLaughlin has created here.

    Melanie (one of my favorite players) Wade, and her improved spiking ability from 2013 to 2014. Good things happen when Mel is serving too.

    I am sorry that Cal Bear's Michelle Neumayr retired from volleyball. I loved Lillian Schonewise's spirit during her match's either on Pac-12 network televised games or playing against the Huskies.

    I love volleyball not only as a great sport but as a sports entertainment. The Huskies at Hec Ed have put together a highly-entertaining fan experience with great ushers, fun pop music, the cams; fan-dance-kiss-cam, posters, hand-outs and fantastic ticket prices. I think you get more for your money in terms of best-of-the-best in sports athleticism and game thrills than any other sport.

    Pre-game. I love Krista's and Jade fancy slap-five, slap-arm, slap elbow, hip-bump dance-like routines, very enjoyable. Those players have deep bonds.

    I will greatly miss Krista and Kaleigh for their womping ability and spirit.

    I'll never forget Gabby Parker coming in to save the Huskies from losing in game 5 vs Cal Bears last season.

    Kudo's to Tia, Chrissy, Bailey, Courtney and Jade so doing exceptionally well as Freshmen players.

    I can't imagine the kind of pressure that Jade had going into NCAA finals with poor Katy's injury sidelining her.

    I loved Katy's sideline support of Jade during matches and her quiet-cool-composure.

    I am very, very thankful for the patient fans I have sat next to who have explained how things work in a volleyball match and have immeasurably added to my understanding of the game. Volleyball is a complicated game. When I first started attending games, 30% of the time I wondered how I missed that point call (into the net, lift, 4 hits, etc).

    Husky's defeating the Cardinal was especially satisfying but I have tremendous respect for:
    Madi Bugg (she has a Pixar movie title for a name), Inky Ajanaku, ( I loved reading Kyle Gilbert's blog about how crazy-funny Inky is), Brittany Howard, Jordan Burgess and Merete Lutz ( she's so down to earth for being so sky high).

    Sitting behind Pac-12 announcer's Anne Marie Anderson and Al Scates I was very impressed with how professional they are in that narrow area they work in. I also give kudos to all the tv camera workers, and assistants, during the games. I not only go to see live games but record them and watch them later. Whoever is in charge of the live Husky games does a tremendous job of putting those matches on!

  15. Continued my impressions of Husky volleyball
    Part 2 of 2
    The volleyball players are some of the best athletes and as people they measure very high in my book..

    Cassie leaping outwards, horizontal in mid-air and digging a ball. Totally blows me away.

    One of Samantha Brecio's hard-hitting serves was returned in such a manner that it came straight down on top of the net umpires head.

    I think one of the many facets of Jim McLaughlin's amazing capability is his researching and getting his new recruits. It's a complex puzzle but he seems to get a highly-effective group of people and get fantastic results from them.

    Last season when the Husky's hosted the Canadian National Team,
    I sat close enough to observe Gabby Parker, on-court, turn look towards Jim McLaughlin and say, "Jim" (like what play do you want to run or what assignment or some tip) and I thought what a down-to-earth relationship he must have with his players for them to be able to talk to him like that.

    This Husky volleyball team is an exceptional team in every respect,
    hey are just straightforward, neat people, and I see that in their body-language, their camaraderie, their intention and in their spirit on the floor and I truly appreciate each and every member of the team, coaches, assistants who put on those great matches.
    Thank you.

    1. These are great comments in both posts. In other sports there are professional writers and TV producers who compile these memories in a polished way, but somehow it all seems more genuine coming from a real fan.

    2. I agree. Wonderful, heartfelt post! What a great reminder to appreciate the good things in our lives. So smart too, as gratitude is a key ingredient in the recipe for living a happier life. I know I too am grateful for the opportunity to experience such high level volleyball with amazing players and coaching staff in our area. Krista and Kaleigh, you will be truly missed. Your fans will look forward to following your professional careers.

  16. Great post above. I too started going to the games 2 years ago. The whole family attends. I will miss seeing the Huskies for the next few months. Then there will be sand volleyball, summer, and then a great anticipation for the 2015 season.

  17. I have yet to see any post-match commentary from Coach McLaughlin. Did he do a post-game w/the media?

  18. With Katy Beals we go to the FF and likely win it. When I saw her get hurt I knew we were probably done. Jade looks to have a bright future as a Husky, but that was an impossible task for her and the team. You don't always need luck to win, but bad luck is a killer, and Katy going down was terribly bad luck. So thank you Huskies for another great year and all the memories! I'll never forget being at that Stanford match! And the people questioning our great coach are ... wrong, to be nice about it. Can't wait for next year! Go Dawgs!


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