Tuesday, December 8, 2015

College | 48 down, 16 to go, including Washington volleyball

How do the Huskies stack up against the remaining contenders? 
  • Fri, Dec 11 | 4:30PM | #1 Washington vs. #14 Ohio State | ESPN 3 

Washington enters the Sweet 16 ranked #1 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association
-Volleyblog Seattle file photo by Leslie Hamann 

AVCA coaches rank Washington number one in the nation. NCAA tournament seeders say the Huskies are #5. The convoluted RPI has UW down at #9. 

So now that 64 have been pared to 16, how should the rest of us rank the Huskies against the remaining field? 

This season, your Volleyblog correspondents had a chance to watch 11 of the remaining 16 either in person or on the tube. We've only missed Hawai'i, Texas, Ohio State, Kansas and Creighton. With those glaring absences in mind, here's how the other 11 stack up: 

TOP CONTENDERS: Washington, USC, Minnesota, Wisconsin 

Every team that advances to the third round has talent. From here on, the margins are thin, and teams that prevail usually share one ingredient: players with grit. All four of these schools—two each from the Pac-12 and Big Ten—have refuse-to-lose athletes, players who find a way to win when the score is tied at 23. 

Each of the  four has what should be First Team All-Americans: Washington middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon, USC outside hitter Samantha Bricio (the likely Player of the Year,) Minnesota outside hitter Daly Santana and Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini. 

Of the four, Washington has the most balance. If Bricio or Santana have an off night, their teams can struggle. Carlini is sometimes far better than her hitters. But while Sybeldon is the nation's best middle, she is only one of many weapons for the Huskies, any of whom have shown they can pick up the slack when a teammate isn't clicking. Outside hitter Tia Scambray has been particularly impressive as matches wear on, rarely revealing disappointment when she makes an error. 

And although Washington libero Cassie Strickland gets overlooked when postseason awards are tallied, there are few athletes on the remaining 16 teams who can get to a ball better than she can. The Huskies have a knack for frustrating opposing hitters by keeping the ball in play for impossibly long stretches. 


Just like last postseason, Washington, BYU and Nebraska are all in the same regional, easily the toughest of the four. BYU has several players back from last season's national runner-up team, a group that defeated Nebraska on its way to the Final Four. 

Last season, BYU was coached by National Coach of the Year Shawn Olmstead, assisted by his sister, Heather Olmstead. Since then, Shawn has shifted over to coaching the BYU men, while Heather has guided the Cougars to another impressive season. BYU is disciplined and patient, and its ability to play with abandon was a big asset last season. But 6-7 All-American Jen Hamson has graduated, and that might be too big a hole to fill for another Final Four run. 

That said, Nebraska looks vulnerable. Although the team is loaded with talent, it tends to play tight when under duress. The Cornhuskers' passing is not as consistent as the elite teams, meaning Nebraska could have a tough time getting past BYU. With the Final Four in Omaha, the NCAA will not be disappointed if the Huskers find a way to advance. 

It's odd not to list Penn State as a favorite: The Nittany Lions are two-time defending champs and have won 6 of the past 8 titles. This year's team is young and has lost twice to Nebraska, and once each to Minnesota, Ohio State and *cough, cough* Northwestern. Not a bad season, especially with wins over Stanford, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but still below the Final Four lock of previous years. 

FINAL FOUR LONGSHOTS: Loyola-Marymount, Florida, Illinois 

LMU beat UCLA at the beginning of the season and Stanford last weekend. The Lions are quick and—here's that phrase again—play with abandon. Loyola could beat Kansas, but if they face USC, we doubt they'll make it 3-for-3 against Pac-12 powers. 

Florida has one impressive win: a 3-2 preseason upset against Texas in Austin. Otherwise, the Gators finished fourth in the SEC—a conference without any other teams still standing. Wisconsin defeat Florida easily. 

Kudos to Illinois for making it this far. The Illini beat ACC champ Louisville to start the season, and did it again this weekend, knocking the last of that conference's contenders out of the tournament. But Illinois lost 12 times this year, with no other notable wins. Head coach Kevin Hambly is a good friend (and former BYU teammate) of Minnesota's Hugh McCutcheon, but McCutcheon's Gophers should end Hambly's season. 

EDUCATED GUESSES: Hawai'i, Texas, Ohio State, Kansas and Creighton 

For the five teams we haven't seen, we assume Texas is a contender, especially since they'll play their regional at home. But the Longhorns play in the weak Big-12, so its record is always a poor predictor of postseason performance (which, of late, has been pretty solid.) That said, we'll guess Wisconsin beats the 'Horns in the Elite 8. 

Hawai'i has thumbed its nose at the RPI (and the tournament selection committee) by traveling to Texas (instead of Seattle, for once), and emerging with wins over TCU and Texas A&M. So much for that RPI of 26, not to mention vindication for to the AVCA poll ranking the Wahine at #7. Now the 'Bows face AVCA's #8, Penn State. And to tell the truth, a lot of folks will be rooting for Hawai'i.  

Kansas is the only Big-12 team other than Texas to advance, but the Jayhawks don't have any impressive wins despite just two losses, both to the Longhorns. Creighton got a surprise #16 seed, but didn't bid to host the first two rounds. It's season will end when it faces USC. 

And then there's Ohio State, Washington's next opponent. The Buckeyes have 9 losses this season, including Wyoming, Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. Wins against Florida State, Arizona, Wisconsin and Nebraska are notable, but OSU wa4-6 in its last 10 regular season matches. On paper, Washington should win. 

But, of course, they don't play on paper.  

  • 13 of AVCA's top 16 teams advanced to the third round. Only #6 Stanford, #13 Colorado State and #15 Texas A&M missed the cut. Likewise, only three of the NCAA's seeded teams were eliminated: #8 Stanford, #10 Texas A&M and #15 Louisville. The RPI overestimated four: #6 Texas A&M, #12 Stanford, #13 Western Kentucky and #16 Arkansas State, but was a poor predictor of Hawaii's success, pegging it as #26. 
  • Broadcasts for the first two rounds were disappointingly uneven. BYU-TV and several Big Ten Network matches had decent production values and competent announcers. But the Pac-12 Network passed on covering their teams, and many of the Pac-12 athletic department-produced online streams were downright awful. We reserve a special raspberry for Stanford, which offered the bare minimum in both video and announcing. Washington had one announcer but needed two, and its fans deserve a live score graphic throughout the match. 


  1. I'd love to see Hawaii and the Dawgs in the final, that would be the ultimate thumbs down to the RPI!

  2. Any way we could get word to the camera-people to get them to not follow the ball with their camera, but keep the shot on the whole court? We got dizzy having the livestream shots follow Cassie's serve toss up and then back down. They don't seem to have a conception of what the game of volleyball is about - it's about the full court action, watching how teams set up to defend and attack *as a whole,* not about a close-up of a volleyball as its tossed into the stratosphere. Help!

    1. Yeah the Kamera Kids weren't great on the Mich State game . . . the gal who called the feed did a great job with what she had to work with, calling the score before each serve and obviously new the game.

  3. "The Huskies have a knack for frustrating opposing hitters by keeping the ball in play for impossibly long stretches."

    The Huskies grind opponents with multiple long rallies that *they* think are fun, while opponents are stressing and wearing themselves out. By game 3 opponents' go-to hitters and blockers are half-gassed, while the much-deeper Huskies just keep rolling. Bailey playing front gives Keegan more subs, too. Trading kills isn't how they win. Grinding teams with serves, defense and difficult 'free balls' is how they do it. And its fun to watch.

  4. I sure hope the wahines can hang with penn state, it would be great for them to make the final four. Jack's last line had me thinking, all this analysis and postulation is great fun and interesting but the game isn't played on paper. I watched part of the ohio state vs american match last week and american had no answer for Campbell and Sandbothe, both pounded away seemingly at will. Sandbothe looked like a big 10 version of Liana. Both were all tournament and Sandbothe was all big ten this year, so all the teams are very good, and on any given night.....that's what makes it exciting, I'll be there.

  5. Kristen Muir’s mom scoffed at Ohio State beating American after MSU had just lost to the No. 1 Huskies, “American? Really!?” Sure, the mother of MSU’s libero was sore because MSU had to face the No. 1 team in consecutive years. MSU was knocked out of the NCAA tournament by No. 1 Stanford in 2014.

    Yes, OSU looked awesome in beating American. Their No. 1 (Campbell) and No. 3 (Mitchell) outside hitters had attack percentage of .542/24 and .412/17 and their No. 1 middle (Sandbothe) was .423/26. Only their No. 2 OH (Appold) was off her game .125/16. It also showed the OSU coaches were on top of the stats and directed their attack to the hot hands.

    Against better competition over the course of an entire season, Campbell was .240/1169; Appold .199/899 and Mitchell .225/559. Sandbothe was the most efficient at .371/779. The team hit .244 and held opponents to .176.

    Is Sandbothe the Big-10 version of Lianna? She is closer to the Big-10 version of Lillian Schonewise (Cal’s best hitter/middle) stat wise. More importantly, the Huskies have two of the best middles in the country. If OSU can shut down Lianna as Denver did, Melanie can step up. If the Huskies shut down Sandbothe, OSU is done.

    On paper, unless the Huskies go into the tank as they did against USC in Galen Center or the last two sets against Stanford in Maples, they should have an opportunity to avenge their loss against Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. With all due respect to Jade who did a marvelous job stepping in for Katy, I firmly believe the Huskies would have beaten Nebraska last year if the Huskies’ No. 1 setter had not been knocked out of the NCAA tournament due to injury.

    The Regional Awards are in and Keegan got recognition as the Pacific North Region Coach of the Year, as Jack predicted earlier. It is still puzzling that Courtney’s achievements continue to get ignored. She only “showed them” after the Pac-12 snub by hitting .615/26 against Denver and .381/21 against MSU with only 1 error in two games. She is now the only OH in the Pac-12 top ten in hitting percentage at .330/631. The other nine are all middle blockers. http://pac-12.com/content/womens-volleyball-statistics.

    “Your #4 is really good. She reminds me of Kadie Rolfzen (Nebraska’s No. 1 hitter) with her assortment of shots and the smarts to know when to use each.” Mrs. Muir voluntarily expressed her admiration of Courtney’s skills after the MSU defeat. Are the other head coaches really out to punish Courtney for embarrassing their teams with her roll shots as Stuart McDowall's earlier comment suggested? If Courtney needs any additional motivation to “show them” in the Kentucky Regional, she now has it via the latest snub.

  6. Wouldah, couldah been nice if you were rooting for Hawaii also. You're UCLA grads, correct? Is there by chance any carry-over from those earlier years between the Wahine and the Bruins? This would be my guess incidentally, and Merry Christmas!


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