Building Blocks A Specialty For The Husky Front Line
Oct. 27, 2011
By Mollie Hanke
SEATTLE - While the Husky football team is holding a "black out" against Arizona on Saturday night, the Washington volleyball team will continue attempting to "block out" every team it faces. The work done by UW's imposing net defenders has been second to none this year, as Washington leads the NCAA in blocks per set by a wide margin, heading into this weekend's home matches against Arizona State and Arizona.
Led by senior middle blockers Bianca Rowland and Lauren Barfield, who, at 6'0 and 6'5, can jump up to 10'7' and 10'9.5 respectively, the Huskies are currently leading both the Pac-12 conference and the nation with 3.46 blocks per set, their highest average as a team since 1997.
Rowland (Lynnwood, Wash.) currently leads the Pac-12 conference and ranks fourth nationally in blocks per set and Barfield (Bellevue, Wash.) ranks third in the conference and ninth nationally. They have both made great improvements this season as Rowland improved from 1.13 to 1.57 blocks per set from last year and Barfield improved from 1.09 a year ago to 1.50 now.
Rowland also recently passed Lisa Underhill for fifth in UW history on the all-time blocks list with 427 blocks. She also ranks eighth in average career blocks per set with 1.09. Barfield is tied for sixth in school history on the same list with 1.15 career blocks per set. It hasn't all been the middles, however, as freshman Summer Ross is third on the team with a very strong 1.03 blocks per set, often matched up against the opposing team's best hitter. Evan Sanders has averaged 0.88 blocks per set, big numbers for a setter, and Kylin Muñoz has upped her average this year to 0.73 from 0.42 last season.
Blocks always provide big momentum boosts, and the Huskies have produced more than twice as many as their opponents (214.5 to 105.5). Along with putting the ball straight back in the opponent's face, blockers can be equally as effective with a controlled deflection that goes off their hands and back for an easy dig and offensive opportunity. Put it all together and it's a big reason why opponents are hitting just .133 against the Dawgs this year, second-best in the Pac-12.
Both Washington natives, Rowland and Barfield have also both been outside hitters at one time or another, making them better able to read the attacks coming from the other side of the net, making for more powerful blocks. Rowland trains as an outside hitter and a right side hitter in the offseason as well as playing the position in high school, but she always returns to the middle blocker position for the season. Barfield played outside in both high school and club but made the switch to middle blocker once starting at UW and has, for the most part, been at that position ever since.
Both Rowland and Barfield like to celebrate after getting a big block, though their teammates like to tease them for their forms of celebration. "I just get really excited," Barfield says. "I flex a little. I don't really try to. I just get really excited so I show off the muscles." Rowland laughs, "I have a one first pump. That's what I do, but it just happens, I don't plan it."
The extra time and effort put into blocking and the fact that Rowland and Barfield are now seniors and have had time to learn the system all plays into the reason that Washington is so far ahead of other schools in blocking, their next closest competitor on the current rankings being Stanford. "We just spend a lot of time practicing it. We probably spend an hour or more every practice working on our blocking, our eye work, our hand work," Rowland says. "[Head coach] Jim [McLaughlin] just makes it a big focus and I think that just helps us be that much better."
Barfield agrees, adding, "I think that we work really hard and warm up with it every day. It's just a big point of interest for our team." Recognizing the talent of Pac-12 players, she adds, "I also think we go up against good hitters so the better the hitters you go up against, the better your blocks are going to be."
Assistant coach Jose "Keno" Gandara, who drills the teams blockers on a daily basis, says that their student mentality when it comes to the game coupled with experience are the major factors that have made the two blockers so powerful. "They're seniors now so they understand our system and the movement, so they've just been able to perfect it over the years," he says. Or as Rowland stated it in "McLaughlin-isms", they have "learned how to learn."
Gandara continued, "This year it's all happening as a group, because we're there, we've got the right mechanics. They are great students of the game. They watch film and they see and understand what they're trying to fix, so they have been able to piece it together and right now it's working for them."