Friday, November 13, 2015

College | Washington volleyball avenges defeat by beating Stanford at home

Huskies’ balanced attack frustrates short-handed Cardinal
  • #3 Washington def. #6 Stanford 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-15)

Washington outside hitter Tia Scambray had 11 kills in a 3-1 victory over Stanford
-Volleyblog Seattle file photo by Leslie Hamann

Stanford never caught a break.

With a workmanlike 3-1 victory last night at Alaska Airlines Arena, #3 Washington never offered #6 Stanford a chance to catch its breath. No matter what the rotation, the Huskies just kept pounding.

Actually, Stanford’s only real break was a bad one: likely National Freshman of the Year Haley Hodson was a last-minute scratch, removing a chunk of offense from a team already crippled by the loss of All-American Inky Ajanaku to a summertime injury. Stanford later reported that Hodson was injured in practice earlier in the week and is day-to-day.

Little-used sophomore Sidney Brown made up for 9 of the usual 15 kills Hodson averages in a four-set match. Oft-injured Jordan Burgess kicked in with 14 kills—6 above her average--all but closing the hole left by Hodson’s absence.

But if Stanford had hits, it had many more misses. And the Huskies were the reason.

Stanford’s serves were mediocre, allowing Washington to stay in system and make plenty of hay through the middle. Lianna Sybeldon—the nation’s leading hitter measured by percentage—hit .517 on 17 kills, 2 errors and 29 attempts. Melanie Wade played error-free until the very end, adding 11 kills and 2 errors on 15 swings (.600). When Washington passes well, there is no more fearsome middle duo in the nation.

On the pins, sophomore Courtney Schwan gave the Cardinal fits. Capable of hitting strong, especially cross-court, Schwan disguises her much-softer roll shots to the point of making opposing defenses look foolish. Time and again, Cardinal defenders were back on their heels, only to have a Schwan soft attack fall at their feet. Few of Schwan’s 8 kills had much mustard.

Tia Scambray started slowly, but continued to demonstrate how sheer guts (and good hops) can overcome a shorter stature. Unlike Schwan, Scambray seems loathe tips and easy free balls. Many of her 11 kills practically splintered the hardwood, and a powerful fourth set back row attack on a broken play all but sealed the match.

Even without Hodson and Ajanaku, Stanford has plenty of weapons. But over the final three sets, its hitters could never find a Washington weakness. Blocking was superb, leading to a 13-5 team block advantage. And, as usual, libero Cassie Strickland and the rest of the Huskies’ defense frustrated Stanford by keeping long rallies alive. Strickland had 20 digs, while four of her teammates were also in double figures.

It all adds up to a dilemma for Washington opponents. Sybeldon is a likely repeat All-American (First Team this year,) who might be neutralized with sufficiently tough serving. But Washington’s offense doesn’t play favorites: if one lane is blocked, setters Bailey Tanner and Katy Beals find another. If you shut down USC’s Samantha’s Bricio, the Trojans are vulnerable. If Stanford’s Hodson is scratched from the lineup, the Cardinal can be beat.

But the Huskies have no equivalent weakness. After avenging their only two losses of the season, Washington again demonstrated depth. And depth could take them deep into the tournament.

  • The Alaska Airlines Arena crowd of 3,697 was a disappointment. Last season, these same two teams drew in excess of 8,000, also on a weeknight. The 8PM start time on a school night—to accommodate a national ESPN broadcast--undoubtedly deserves some of the blame.
  • Stanford coach John Dunning expressed frustration to referees Louis Ventura and Robyn Filimaua about a few of Sybeldon’s attacks. The senior middle sometimes redirects with a sweeping motion, that can look like an extended push. All across volleyball, officials seem to allow slightly longer contact than the rules used to proscribe.
  • Yesterday was the start of the early National Letter of Intent signing period for high school seniors. Washington head coach Keegan Cook confirmed three incoming athletes, all from the state of Washington. 5-7 outside hitter Shayne McPherson comes from Kennedy Catholic. 6-1 outside hitter Kara Bajema attends Lynden Christian. 6-1 middle Avie Niece will graduate from Bellevue’s Newport High. A fourth 2016 recruit, a defensive specialist from San Diego, is expected to sign during the spring signing period.


  1. Great win! Hoping they can get another middle to fill the big shoes of our seniors.

  2. Very astute analysis - always enjoy your insights. Three questions: In the game at Stanford, the Huskies weren't blocking at the net against Hodson who ended up with 25 kills. What is the name and rationale for that strategy? The Huskies have had two exceptionally poor recruiting years in a row (Freshman Julye was ranked 79 on the Senior Aces list. The other top 9 Huskies, who get any significant playing time, were all ranked 50 or higher, with 7 ranked 22 or higher). How much would you attribute to the (1) departure of Coach McLaughlin, (2) a reputation-less 30-year-old head coach and (3) the exceptional strength of the sophomore class (likely limited playing time for freshmen in the next two years)? Among the 10 top Huskies, only Beals (TX) and Schwan (WA) aren't from California. If the Huskies can't compete for top CA talent, is it time for Huskies fans to hit the panic bottom?

    1. Sometimes, teams who get repeatedly tooled by an attacker (a hitter who deflects her attack off blockers), they try instead to fall back to try to dig her attacks instead. Against Hodson in Palo Alto, the strategy appeared to have more cost than benefit.
      The Senior Aces list is instructive, but it misses plenty of gems (see Kaleigh Nelson.) It's tough to judge a recruiting class too soon--Stanford's current seniors were projected by some to guarantee 2 or 3 national titles.
      We would think that an every-other-year big class (UW is mostly seniors and sophomores) has certain advantages. You can bet some recruits took a wait-and-see approach to UW's new coaching staff, but had to notice that they have so far exceeded most expectations.
      Finally, it isn't always how well you recruit, it's how well you teach and how well you and your rivals avoid injuries (see Stanford & ASU) or transfers (see USC.)

    2. Wasn't Julye recruited while still under McLaughlin's coaching tenure? I think Destiny has been a marvelous asset for the Huskies. I've seen her many time hit with decisive authority and put points up on the board. Also, besides the ranking on the Senior Aces list isn't there an intangible about how well a player is able to adapt to the Huskies system and play with the other players? I also think that Keegan is doing an incredible job in his first year. Although this team is somewhat still McGlaughlin's team of players, it will next year with the freshman player to see how Keegan can develop the new players into the Husky level of play.

  3. Thanks, as always, for the great write up. I agree that the crowd was really disappointing... not only in size but in enthusiasm! It was dead silent in there every time a timeout was called. I think the players feed off our energy from the stands sometimes and I think we let them down big time.

    1. You can thank Pac-12 networks I suspect for scheduling an 8PM Thursday game for low turnout not to mention the monsoon we were having that night. Still it looks from the TV coverage that we had more fans than you see at any other court in the Pac-12. Glad they won. Looking forward to the first rounds being in Seattle!

  4. So glad you're back, and hope your brother is doing well. Thank you for your astute analysis, as always.

  5. This is the best defensive team I've seen the Huskies put together.. may you ladies go deep in the tourney this year!

  6. The crowd was sleepy at the Cal game, too. At least twice I saw the Husky mascot urging those in the Dawg Pack to STAND UP.

  7. Jack: Any inside info on DeHoog? It appeared from the TV broadcast last night at OSU that she wasn't even with the team. She could be a big help in the tournament, but it's seeming less and less likely that she will play again this year.


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