Friday, December 11, 2015

College | Washington volleyball seniors lead the way to the Elite 8

Sybeldon, Wade, Strickland and Beals book another dance with Nebraska 
  • #1 Washington def. #14 Ohio State 3-2 (23-25, 25-20, 25-18, 12-25, 15-8) 
  • Dec 12 | 1PM (Pacific) | #1 Washington vs. #5 Nebraska | ESPNU 

Washington will get another crack at Nebraska after defeating Ohio State 3-2
-Volleyblog Seattle file photo by Leslie Hamann

It didn't end the way it started. 

Playing in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season, Washington started flat. Serves were too easy. Passing was suspect. Sets were too low. UW senior middle Lianna Sybeldon, the best percentage hitter in the nation, ended the first set with no kills and 3 errors on 6 attempts. On the set's final play, the All-American was stuffed at the net. 

"Our timing was off," said Washington coach Keegan Cook. "The set's to Lianna were a little low. And she wasn't seeing the block very well." 

As a team, UW hit .025 in that opening set. And on a night when favored Wisconsin lost to Florida, favored Penn State lost to Hawai'i and favored Texas struggled to beat UCLA, the Huskies looked ripe for the tournament dustbin. 

And then the seniors stepped up. Middle Melanie Wade (thanks, in big part, to passing and defense by sophomores Tia Scambray and Courtney Schwan) connected for kills and served strong. Setter Katy Beals disguised her dishes and played exceptional defense. Sybeldon waited on the ball another split second, blasting past what Cook called one of the best blocking teams the Huskies have seen this season. 

And then, there was Cassie Strickland. The senior libero made two plays for this or any other season's highlight reel. The first was a sprint for the sidelines, laying out to save an errant pass with a dive that would make any NFL wide receiver proud. The second was a kick save worthy of an NHL goalie, helping keep a crucial rally alive. 

"Our team was so amazed (by the out-of-bounds dive)," said Cook, "that they just stood and watched. It was just the way I want Cassie to play." 

The second and third sets were both won by Washington, largely on the strength of its balanced attack and its typically strong serve receive. Over a long stretch, UW's passes and digs went consistently to the ten-foot line, allowing Beals and fellow setter Bailey Tanner to vary their attack, often allowing hitters to face just one blocker. 

During more than one timeout, one of Ohio State's best players, outside hitter Taylor Sandbothe, walked over to a courtside trashcan and vomited. Despite her illness, neither she nor her teammates rolled over, absolutely demolishing the Huskies in the fourth set. As in the first set, nothing seemed to work for UW, especially from the service line. Washington managed just 12 points in the fourth. 

But in the final frame, the Huskies took back control. Great passing led to great sets led to an unstoppable attack from Wade and Sybeldon in the middle. The two seniors finished with a combined 24 kills and 11 block assists between them. 

"Our seniors are unreal," said Cook. "so steady." 

Next up is an old nemesis, Nebraska. Former Washington coach Jim McLaughlin had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Huskers' coach John Cook, and his team played tight in several tournament losses to Nebraska, including last season. 

This time, however, it's Cook vs. Cook. And Keegan has no bones to pick with John. 

"Mel (Wade) pulled me aside and said, no big deal. Just another team." 

"And frankly, that's just how we feel."


graphic courtesy Terry Wood


  1. That list skips over the 2010 Regional Semifinal that the UW won 3-1. That was the one with the altercation between the coaches afterward.

    1. KOMO video here: Cook was whining about a liner called in. Jim told him, "Shut up, bitch, pack your cows back into their cattle car and go freeze your ass off back in Hooterville." Or something like that.

      It's fun watching coaches' faces when Lianna 'power tips' or whatever that is. I like it . . . as long as our team is getting away with it.

  2. Whew, what a win! Jack had described the victory against Oregon on 11/20 as ugly. In that case, this 5-set win against OSU was uglier. The nation’s best hitting team at .316 managed only a .154 attack percentage and .025 in set 1 as OSU shocked the Huskies with its blocking and defense. The Huskies’ own strong blocking and defense held OSU to .179 and was the key to victory. Melanie was the only efficient hitter for the Huskies at .409 and her leadership was invaluable.

    The Huskies overcame their own history this season to gain this hard-fought victory. The only other time they hit below .200 resulted in a 4-set loss to USC on 10/4. When the Huskies got blown out in set 4 by 13 points (no double-digit lost set previously), after they had dominated set 3, déjà vu images of their last loss to Stanford in 5 sets came to mind. The Husky ladies’ grit and confidence allowed them to right the ship in set 5 and cruised to victory. Ugly start but beautiful finish.

    Too many “Cooks” in the kitchen? There can only be one Cook in the Final 4. Expect our Cook to oust theirs tomorrow afternoon.

  3. What a gruesome match . . . I know we win by grinding teams, but sausage-making can be gross sometimes. More feedlot VB in store tomorrow with the Cornhuskers, although I'll take two Rolfzens over dealing with OSU's fever-crazed Sandbothe and Buckeye D. Hope our young 'uns can loosen up...Mama Mel had to save their butts today.

    Speaking of about the Rainbow Wahine? Whoa did they look whoopass. Again, stupid NCAA seedings...this team has to beat PSU and MINN just to get to the final four? Really?

    Looking forward to some sweet revenge tomorrow....NEB can 'host' the finals by setting up chairs for us.

  4. Yes it was ugly, but I loved it anyway. I think I bit my nails to the quick. I have a lot of admiration for Sandbothe, whose face appeared to be green through much of the match. Now that is real grit, to play so well when you feel like you want to just die. If there was ever a good reason to have a consolation round, this is it.

  5. Sitting in the second row made it very hard to watch at times. I think Keegan still had his timeouts in the 4th set and he chose not use them, save their energy for the 5th set. I just wanted to get into one of the huddles and say 'hey, this no different than most pac 12 matches" yes, all of these teams are good, nebraska is very good, they play solid defense and have good hitters, but they are not great like the days of Sarah Pavan. byu was also very solid they needed one more good middle, but we play matches against these caliber of teams week in and week out in the pac 12. So, it must be a mind game, yes the teams play style may be different, the blocking patterns may be different than we may see in the pac 12 or the timing of the other hitters is slightly different, but adjust, because we are surely as good as any team I've seen play so far. Going down to the memorial coliseum in an hour, wishing the team plays the best game they have all season, like the win against USC.

    1. If you are sitting in row 2 and can't vocally let our ladies hear your support and they don’t prevail over their nemesis to get an unwelcome Cook into the Huskers’ Lincoln kitchen next week, it’s on you.

  6. Oh man the pressure! It's not for lack of trying. We are exhausted at the end of the match��


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