Monday, September 28, 2015

College | Washington volleyball’s Courtney Schwan continues to impress

Huskies remain undefeated, but still searching for “go-to two”
  • #5 Washington def. Colorado 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-22)
  • Fri | 8:00PM | #5 Washington @ #11 UCLA
  • Sun | 1:00PM | #5 Washington @ #2 USC

Washington's Crissy Jones goes up for a block during a 3-0 victory over Colorado
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
It takes at least two.

In modern college volleyball, teams that manage to reach the third round (Sweet 16) of the NCAA tournament almost always have at least two go-to pin hitters, on the outside and/or opposite.

For the past couple of seasons, Washington’s go-to-two were now-graduated All-Americans Krista Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson. One of the biggest questions for 2015 was whether anyone could fill their substantial shoes.

After two vastly different matches during the first week of conference play—a 3-2 barnburning win over Washington State in Pullman, and a powerful 3-0 sweep at home against Colorado—the Huskies can answer half their hitting question.

Sophomore Courtney Schwan has firmly established herself as a smart and intimidating outside hitter. Attacking with controlled fury, she rarely gets blocked and uses the entire court, making her one of the nation’s top-two outside hitters in the nation when measured by hitting percentage (Pittsburgh’s Amanda Orchard is the other.) In the Pac-12, USC’s Samantha Bricio is the league’s runaway top player so far, but Schwan is in the conversation for second-best outside hitter in the conference.

Washington's Cassie Strickland (L) and Courtney Schwan recover after a long rally against Colorado
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

But who is the Huskies’ number two?

Sophomore outside hitter Tia Scambray is a solid player, but not yet a break-out threat. She’s a good server, a consistent passer and a strong attacker, but at barely six feet tall, she is short for the Pac-12, and commits plenty of hitting errors, many of them blocks. Against Colorado, Scambray had just 5 kills and 4 errors on 17 swings (.059), and is hitting just .245 for the season, mostly against lesser opposition.

That said, Scambray was the OH2 last season, when UW went 31-3. Washington’s second-best pin hitter last year, Kaleigh Nelson, played opposite. And many top teams find their second go-to on the right side.

Sophomore Crissy Jones has all the tools to be the next Nelson, but her play has been inconsistent. Against Colorado, Jones had 5 kills and 0 errors on 10 swings (.500), a marked improvement from her 8-6-24 (.083) line Thursday night in Pullman.

Sophomore Carly DeHoog was Jones’ mirror opposite over the weekend, with a great game against WSU (8-0-19-.421) and a so-so match against the Buffaloes (6-3-15-.200). Washington coach Keegan Cook gave sophomore setter Bailey Tanner a few right-side rotations on the front row, something he says he might continue to do if Jones and DeHoog need extra incentive to up their production.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that Schwan, Scambray, Jones, DeHoog and Tanner share one important characteristic—they’re all sophomores. As each of them continues to grow, Washington’s four starting seniors—setter Katy Beals, libero Cassie Strickland, middle Melanie Wade and middle Lianna Sybeldon—are each at the top of their games.

Beals appears to have fully recovered from the knee injury that forced her to miss last season’s tournament. Strickland, quite simply, remains the Pac-12’s best libero, and may be tops in the nation. Against Colorado, Strickland had so many spectacular digs in one stretch that the crowd of 2,938 stood and chanted her name. Her powerful jump serve—good for 3 aces and 2 serving errors last night—is rivaled only by USC’s Bricio for its ability to rattle passers.

No D1 volleyball team in the land has a pair of middles like Wade and Sybeldon. Both are among the nation’s elite in hitting percentage and in blocks per set. Each is in peak physical condition—Sybeldon improved her strength and absolutely crushes the quick set while Wade is noticeably faster and more confident.

Great middle blockers, however, are only as good as their passers. Unless outside hitters can consistently deliver great passes to setters, middles won’t be an option. As the Pac-12 schedule ramps up considerably this week with matches against UCLA and unbeaten USC, keep an eye on the passing, especially when Bricio is serving.

And if it takes two to reach the Sweet 16, what does it take to win it all? Usually three go-to pin hitters. That’s been Penn State’s not-so-secret key the past decade, and that’s what teams like Washington ultimately hope to achieve.

Members of Washington's 2005 National Champion Team cheer on
the current team against Colorado. Top: Courtney Thompson, Tama Miyashiro
Bottom: Jessica Veris, Carolyn Farny
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
  • In Palo Alto last night, USC and Stanford were tied at 12 in the fifth set. The Trojans had blown a 6-1 early final set advantage, but knew they had Bricio on their side. Several long rallies later, Bricio hammered home the final three USC points for a crucial 3-2 win (26-24, 19-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-13). Bricio finished with 27 kills and 5 aces. It was the only meeting between the two teams this season, yet it drew just 3,492 fans to Maples Pavilion. By comparison, Washington packed 8,646 into Alaska Airlines Arena last season when #5 Washington beat previously-undefeated #1 Stanford 3-1.
  • Cassie Strickland wore strips of tape on her injured hamstring last night, but appeared to play with her regular abandon. The injury—sustained the previous week in Oklahoma—almost caused her to be scratched from Thursday’s lineup against Washington State.
  • At halftime of the Colorado match, the crowd acknowledged five members of the 2005 National Championship team: Carolyn Farny, Darla (Myhre) Van Winkle, Jessica Veris, Tama Miyashiro and Courtney Thompson. Among those who couldn’t attend because they are currently assistant coaches at other universities are Sanja Tomasevic (Miami), Stevie Mussie (Penn State) and Danka Danicic (UT-San Antonio). Add Brie (Haggerty) Brenner, head coach at Defiance (OH) College. [Thanks to alert reader David Maag].
  • Former Washington All-American Krista Vansant is on US National Team roster this week as the team attempts to qualify for an eventual 2016 Olympic berth. Yesterday, Vansant had two kills in limited action as USA rolled over Costa Rica 3-0. USA faces Canada later today and Cuba tomorrow afternoon. The top four teams at this   tournament in Mexico meet in January to try to grab the North American slot for the Rio Summer Olympic Games.
  • Five Pac-12 teams are among the top 11 in this week's AVCA Coaches' poll: #2 USC, #5 Washington, #6 Arizona State, #8 Stanford, and #11 UCLA. Arizona is #14 and Oregon fell to #22.


  1. Brie Hagerty Brenner is also coaching at Defiance College in Ohio.

  2. Will the dawgs ever abandon the 6-2? I assume we keep it now because Katy doesn't have the size to contend at the net. Curious as to when the last 6-2 won the NCAA's?

  3. Do we have any specifics on Courtney Schwan's injury?? When is she projected to return??

    Thank you!


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