Lianna Sybeldon has a big night, but, oh, that fourth set …
- #11 Stanford def. #4 Washington 3-2 (24-26, 25-19, 16-25, 25-20, 15-13)
- Fri, Oct 23 | 6:00PM | #4 Washington @ California
|Washington's Lianna Sybeldon, Crissy Jones and Tia Scambray|
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Lianna Sybeldon could not have done more.
Washington led Stanford 2 sets to 1 in Palo Alto. With UW ahead 17-15, Sybeldon blasted a quick through the middle for her 15th kill of the match. To that point, she had taken 18 swings and committed no errors. For the match she would hit .720, raising her season average to .492, the best in the NCAA. Sybeldon was on her way to a career-high 10 blocks. A third team AVCA All-American last season, Sybeldon was making another statement that she should be a first-teamer this year.
But Sybeldon couldn’t do it alone.
Leading 19-16, Stanford converted a quick by Merete Lutz. Freshman Hayley Hodson—who had carried the Cardinal on her young shoulders all night—stepped to the service line. Her first serve was an ace. The second rally ended when Sybeldon was stuffed by Lutz, her only hitting error of the match. During the third rally, Tia Scambray’s left side line shot was called long, even though everyone wearing purple thought they saw a Stanford touch. After a UW timeout, Hodson served another ace.
By that point, what looked like a sure victory deteriorated into what the Washington coaching staff will try to turn into a character-building loss. But both sides have room for improvement.
For much of the match, Hodson was largely on her own. Stanford lost its best player, Inky Ajanaku, to a season-ending knee injury over the summer. In last night’s first set, Hodson and Lutz were the only Cardinal to record kills, and outside hitter Brittany Howard (.190) was a complete non-factor until the very end. Jordan Burgess committed 8 errors to go with her 10 kills (.069), and setter Madi Bugg was erratic all night. That left it to Hodson, who looked average during the middle of the match, but was almost unstoppable in the deciding fifth. She finished with 25 kills and 10 errors on 56 swings, adding three aces during several long service runs.
For Washington, sophomore outside hitter Scambray had a strong match, deftly mixing line shots, crosses and smart tips on the way to 15 kills and 5 errors on 40 attempts. But Scambray had four service errors, almost as many as Cassie Strickland’s six errors.
|Washington's Lianna Sybeldon and Katy Beals|
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Strickland’s booming jump serve was a big liability all night. In the first set, she served into the net with UW ahead 23-22. In the second set, another net serve at 17-24. Same thing in the third at 24-15. And in the toughest spot of all, it was a net serve trailing 20-21 in the fourth. By the fifth set, coach Keegan Cook had seen enough, and substituted defensive specialist Justice Magraw to serve at 7-9 (her serve cleared the net, but Stanford won the point.)
Adding to her woes, Strickland struggled when Hodson served, shanking one serve and watching a couple others drop between her and Kim Condie. Even so, Strickland’s defense was solid, which helps explain why Washington’s setters were able to feed Sybeldon so often with so much success. Strickland is clearly the best libero in the Pac-12, and has the heart and drive to earn best in the nation honors. She won’t, however, want to repeat her overall Stanford performance the rest of the season.
When a match against two powerhouses is decided 15-13 in the fifth set, it’s the little things that tend to make the difference. Sophomore opposite Carly DeHoog—who had her best match of the season last week in a home win over Oregon—was unable to play, reportedly because of an ankle injury sustained during practice. Cook moved Courtney Schwan over to the right side (with Destiny Julye at outside), but Schwan was far too hesitant and ended with just 4 kills. Cook also tried Bailey Tanner on the right, rotating the sophomore setter to the front line when fellow setter Katy Beals came into serve. Tanner recorded 8 kills, but needs more game time repetitions to reach her hitting and blocking potential.
Stanford’s seniors have only lost twice on their home court, both times to USC. Washington knows it shoulda, coulda made it loss number three. But this road match can also offer valuable lessons for the NCAA Tournament, especially if UW reaches the regionals (round of 16) and gets sent to Austin, where they could face Texas. Down the stretch, UW lost its serving and passing edge.
When the edge is razor thin, those little things make all the difference.
- The last time these two teams met, it was an early midweek match during a dreary Seattle November rush hour. Nonetheless, more than 8,000 fans turned out, as UW handed the Cardinal its first loss of the season. That crowd was the second-largest in conference history. Last night, however, only 2,262 were in the mostly-empty stands of Stanford’s Maples Pavilion. Once again, most made-for-TV Pac-12 Wednesday matches draw miserably small crowds. But Stanford fans deserve a wag of the finger, too. They missed seeing terrific athletes playing an exciting match in person. Maybe they were watching TV.
- Washington used short serves to good effect, especially those directed at the feet of Jordan Burgess. The Huskies also seem willing to push free balls to deep corners rather than relying solely on shots within the ten-foot line. Both are welcome weapons, especially the free ball strategy, which Nebraska coach John Cook said his team exploited during Nebraska’s upset NCAA win over UW last season.
- Nebraska will host one of two big national matches this Friday. The Huskers will face surprise Minnesota, with the winner claiming sole possession first place in the Big Ten. In Austin, undefeated Kansas and Texas will battle for the top spot in the Big 12.