Monday, November 2, 2015

College | High or low, Washington volleyball has a big weekend

Huskies seniors go undefeated at home in four years of playing SoCal rivals 
  • #5 Washington def. #8 UCLA 3-1 (25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 25-20) 

Washington's Lianna Sybeldon blocks in a 3-1 win over UCLA
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Sometimes you aim high. Sometimes, low. 

A hallmark of Coach Keegan Cook's inaugural Washington team has been encouraging his pin hitters to hit high off the hands of would-be blockers. It's a nervy skill, carrying the risk of looking foolish if an attack misses hands and sails far out-of-bounds. 

But for Melanie Wade and Lianna SybeldonWashington's dominant middle blockers, the mission is to hit down, not high. Their specialties are powerful quicks that all but dent hardwood. Of all their blasts, the most crowd-pleasing of all rattle the ten-foot line. Those kills are the volleyball equivalent of a slam dunk. 

"I gotta confess," said Sybeldon after Washington's 3-1 Sunday win over UCLA, "I'm not supposed to try to hit that line. But I like it when I do." 

Washington players react to an official's call, later overturned in UW's favor
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Sybeldon, arguably the nation's most effective collegiate middle blocker, had another big match, leading all UW hitters with 14 kills. The 6-1 senior owns the nation's best hitting percentage and is a skilled defender, helping Washington to an 11-7 blocking advantage over the Bruins. The road to her Sunday stats, however, was oddly uneven. To start, Sybeldon didn't have a single kill in the first frame. 

"In the first set," Sybeldon said, "(Setter) Bailey (Tanner) was looking to the pin hitters. I told her they (UCLA) were only putting one blocker against me. I was available. 

Both Tanner and fellow setter Katy Beals listened. In the second set, they made the middles their first option, as Sybeldon tallied 7 kills and no errors on 9 attempts. But in the third, she was again a nonfactor, recording a single kill. 

Washington's Katy Beals dives for a loose ball
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
"I looked at Lianna and told her we would step up our passing," said libero Cassie Strickland. Great passes offer setters a full complement of options, especially short, quick sets to the middles. In one torrential stretch of the fourth set, Sybeldon and Wade combined for an intimidating 7 kills, most landing at the feet of Bruin defenders. 

In knocking off both #8 UCLA and previously undefeated #1 USC this weekend, the Huskies' defense was key. Beals made several extraordinary saves, while Strickland racked up 23 digs, several that seemed sure to hit the court. In each match, the LA schools' big hitters seemed to grow discouraged, attempting too many tips and unreasonably difficult attacks. The Bruins hit just .156the Trojans an anemic .147. 

Sybeldon and Strickland, who should each earn consideration as First Team All-Americans, take special satisfaction beating LA schools. "I grew up near USC and UCLA," said Strickland, "and we never lost to USC or UCLA at home in my four years here." 

"When I told my friends I was signing with Washington," said Sybeldon, "they said, 'Washington plays volleyball?'" 

"Yeah," she smiled, "Washington plays volleyball." 

  • Washington's win over USC marked the second time in two seasons that an undefeated #1-ranked team has come into Alaska Airlines Arena and lost. Last season, Stanford fell to the Huskies in a similar late-season showdown. 
  • UW freshman Destiny Julye—normally an outside hitter—started the match at opposite for the injured Carly DeHoog. When Julye struggled, Cook took her out in favor of having Tanner play all around (setting from the back row and hitting in the front row.) In the third set, Julye replaced Tia Scambray, who was having an erratic afternoon. Back in familiar territory on the left, Julye responded with three consecutive kills, including two tools of the block. 
  • Thanks to those who have expressed concern for Leslie's brother, two-time Olympic volleyball gold medalist Craig Buck. Craig, critically injured in an October 5 bicycle accident near his Santa Barbara home, underwent a 13-hour procedure at UCLA Medical Center (during the USC @ Washington match.) Preliminary reports are encouraging, and your Volleyblog Seattle correspondents will be in LA assisting with his recovery. We'll do our best to bring you volleyball news as we can, and plan to report from the Final Four in Omaha. You can follow Craig's recovery at the Facebook page, "Craig Buck, Get Well Soon."


  1. Went to the Friday USC beat down, what a great game. To me they have as good of a shot at getting the finals as any of the prior years for these seniors. They are playing better team ball with more options for the setters rather than the majority of the balls going to Krista. Scambray is truely becoming that team leader we'll need when Cassie leaves. I'm a bit concerned about what our future Libero looks like.. but hey let's get to the big dance ladies!

    1. Oh and the Coaches poll comes out with little respect for the Dawgs as usual. We're #3 behind the team we obliterated and the ever present PSU. Oh well as long as we get the first round in Seattle I'll be happy. Looking forward to Stanford coming to town for their payback.


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