Nov. 30, 2011
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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS FIRST & SECOND ROUNDS
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. SPORTS PAVILION
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2
Washington vs. Western Michigan 2:30 p.m. Pacific | Live Video Stream
(13) Minnesota vs. North Dakota State 5:30 p.m. Pacific
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3
Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 5:30 p.m. Pacific
THIS WEEK IN HUSKY VOLLEYBALL
December is volleyball player's favorite time of year as 64 teams enter the NCAA Championships, the gift that keeps on giving as long as teams keep on winning. The Washington Huskies are embarking on their 10th-straight tournament run, sledding off to Minneapolis for first and second round play, which starts this Friday, Dec. 2, with a match against Western Michigan.
The University of Minnesota is hosting the four-team gathering at the Sports Pavilion. Minnesota gets to host by virtue of being the No. 13 overall seed, and the Gophers will play North Dakota State following UW's match on Friday. UW and WMU get underway at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time. The winners of Friday's matches will go at it on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time for a spot in the round of 16. The goal of every team is to reach San Antonio for the 2011 Final Four on Dec. 15 and 17.
The Huskies finished the year at 23-7 overall, winning five of their final six matches to finish tied for fourth in the Pac-12 conference at 15-7. Washington was ranked 11th in the most recent coaches poll, but did not get awarded a top-16 seed so the Dawgs must take the pack on the road. The Huskies advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals a year ago, their sixth time to the Elite Eight or better in the past eight years.
NCAA.com will have a free live video stream of all matches from the Minnesota site this weekend. Gametracker will also be available and GoHuskies.com will offer a live chat on Friday.
HUSKIES IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
This marks the 16th appearance in the NCAA Championships for the Huskies, and the tenth in a row under head coach Jim McLaughlin, easily the greatest stretch in program history. Over the last nine years, Washington has won at least one match in the tournament every year, going 26-8 over the past nine years. The Huskies are the last Pac-12 team to win the NCAA title, doing so in 2005, when UW became the first team to sweep every match in the 64-team tournament era, doing it all on the road for good measure. That championship run ended in San Antonio, where the 2011 Final Four will be held. Washington also reached the Final Four in 2004 and 2006, and the Regional Final (Elite Eight) in 2003, 2008, and 2010. Last year the Huskies played four matches at home, defeating Michigan, then upsetting 15th-seeded Hawaii and second-seeded Nebraska before falling to eventual runner-up California in the Elite Eight. UW's first NCAA appearance came in 1986, and the Huskies got their first wins in 1988, when they advanced to their first ever Regional Final, defeating Stanford for the first time in the process. The next best run was in 1997 with current assistant Leslie (Tuiasosopo) Gabriel starring in the middle as UW reached the Round of 16.
LAST TIME OUT
The Huskies and Cougars waited until the last week of the season to face off, and the rivalry delivered two very different matches. In the first match in Seattle, the Huskies had a dominant offensive performance to sweep WSU, 25-14, 25-21, 25-14. Washington hit .506 for the night, the first time since 2005 that UW hit over .500 in a conference match. Krista Vansant rolled to 14 kills on a career-best .684 percentage. The middles also dominated, as Bianca Rowland hit .600 with seven kills and Lauren Barfield had six kills and hit .667. Washington also had a season-best 11 aces, with four from Jenna Orlandini. Three days later in the Pullman edition, things were much tougher as the Cougars came out firing with nothing to lose in their last match of the season. WSU took the first two sets on hot hitting of its own, and then held a pair of match points at 24-22 in the third. But the Huskies stormed back with four straight points to take that set, and then progressively pulled away for the 21-25, 23-25, 26-24, 25-19, 15-4 victory. It was the first time since 2007 that UW came back from an 0-2 deficit to win. Vansant posted a career-best 25 kills, hitting .388, and Kylin Muñoz had 16 kills while hitting .433. Barfield also added a career-best nine kills and hit .500. Jenni Nogueras kept the career-highs going with 34 assists, and Orlandini had 27 digs, her second-highest total of the year.
SCOUTING THE BRONCOS
Western Michigan is one of four Mid-American Conference teams in the tourney field. They have put together a 24-8 record this season, losing in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament to eventual champion Central Michigan, despite two regular season wins over CMU. The Broncos are not a stranger to NCAA competition, as this is their 11th appearance, but first since a round of 16 run in 2008. Junior middle blocker Jessica Brown, sophomore libero Lena Oliver, and freshman setter Terin Norris were all named to the All-MAC First Team, and Norris was named MAC Freshman of the Year. The Broncos run a lot of sets through their middles, as Brown's 2.99 kills per set leads the team, and senior middle blocker Ashley Turnage adds 2.74 kills per set. Sophomore Ali Gossen is the top attacking outside hitter, also with 2.74 kills per set. Norris averages 11.44 assists per set and attacks frequently for a setter, with 161 kills. The Broncos outhit opponents, .238-.187 this season, and defended well with 18.29 digs per set but they have not had a lot of aces, averaging 0.88 aces per set. Western Michigan went 7-5 against NCAA tourney teams, with wins against Liberty, Morehead State, Ball State, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette, and two over Central Michigan.
SCOUTING THE GOLDEN GOPHERS
Minnesota gets to host the Huskies after Washington played host to Minnesota in the NCAA tournament one year ago. Last year the Gophers advanced to the Seattle Regional, falling to California in the round of 16. The Gophers have advanced to the NCAA Regional eight times since 1999, and has made three Final Fours this decade, in 2003, 2004, and 2009. Minnesota earned its first Final Four in 2003 by defeating the upstart Huskies in five sets in the Regional final. The teams met again in 2009, when UW swept Minnesota on a neutral court in Florida. The Gophers won their last three matches to finish 18-11 on the year, and were 11-9 in Big Ten play to finish fifth. They went 8-4 on their home courts, but three of those came in five sets to top-10 teams Illinois, Penn State, and Nebraska. The Gophers have played a whopping 10 five-set matches, going 5-5. Minnesota hit .231 on the year and held opponents to .202. They average 1.12 aces per set and allow 0.80. One area of difficulty was blocking, where UM averaged 1.95 blocks per set but gave up 2.59. Sophomore Ashley Wittman carries a big load, averaging 4.52 kills per set to rank second in the Big Ten, and hitting .242. Sophomore middle blocker Tori Dixon adds 2.81 kills per set while leading the team with a .361 percentage as well as a team-best 35 aces. Wittman and Dixon were both named All-Big Ten performers. Junior Mia Tabberson sets the table with 11.94 assists per set, and senior Jessica Granquist leads the defense with 4.58 digs per set.
SCOUTING THE BISON
North Dakota State won the Summit League title for the second straight season, winning the tourney after posting a 16-2 league record. They have won 10 straight and 12 of 13 entering the tourney. It is the third NCAA appearance in the past four years for the Bison, who moved up to Division I in 2004. NDSU was 0-5 against NCAA tournament qualifiers this year, but took Northern Iowa and Iowa State, both seeded teams, to five sets. Senior Jennifer Lopez was named both Player of the Year and Setter of the Year in the Summit League awards. Junior middle blocker Megan Lambertson was also named to the First Team. Lambertson ranks sixth in the NCAA in attack percentage, hitting .409. Junior Brynn Joki leads the team with 3.21 kills per set. As a team, the Bison have outhit opponents, .247-.150. Kari Thompson is in her first season as head coach after serving as an assistant at NDSU since 2006.
HUSKIES IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS
The American Volleyball Coaches Association did not release a new poll this week, with the last one coming previous to the final week of the regular season. In that last poll, the Huskies were ranked 11th. They are 12th in the Volleyball Magazine poll out on Nov. 29. The Huskies have been ranked as high as No. 2 this year after a 15-1 start to the year. That was UW's highest ranking since November of 2006. Prior to this season, the only time the Huskies have been higher was in 2004 and 2005, when they were the top-ranked team in the country at least once each year. With UW at 11th last week the Pac-12 had six teams in the top-15 with Arizona and Oregon State both receiving votes. The Dawgs began the season ranked seventh nationally in both the AVCA and Volleyball Magazine polls. That was down one spot from where UW finished the 2010 season. In the NCAA's official RPI rankings, the Huskies come in at No. 35 entering the tournament. The RPI measures a team's record, its opponent's record, and the record of the opponent's opponents, but is not doing much for the Pac-12 as a whole.
The Dawgs are a young squad but there are a few numbers to keep an eye on this season. The first milestone came from Coach McLaughlin, as he reached the 250 wins mark at Washington with the victory at Gonzaga on Sept. 3. McLaughlin is already the winningest coach in program history, raising the bar with each subsequent win. Senior Bianca Rowland just became the eighth Husky to play in 400 career sets, now having apeared in 428. Rowland is also making her way up the charts in career blocks, as she just moved past Darla Myhre for fourth in UW history with 478 total blocks. Her 453 block assists is also now third in school history, having just passed Myhre and Jessica Swarbrick. Rowland also has tied for ninth on the single season list, currently owning 147 this year. She also recently passed the 1,000 career points plateau, the eighth Husky to do so since points began being tracked in 2000. Fellow senior Lauren Barfield may not have seen as many sets as Rowland, but her career average continues to climb. At 1.12 career blocks per set, Barfield and Rowland are both tied for eighth in school history. Rowland and Barfield are also second and seventh, respectively, on the career attack percentage list. Evan Sanders, while spending her first three years at Colorado State, just passed the three thousand career assist mark on Nov. 11 against Stanford. She currently has 3,109.
A look at the current stats finds the Huskies near the top of the NCAA in a number of categories. Washington continues to lead the NCAA with a rate of 3.18 blocks per set, which would be their highest as a team in rally scoring and highest overall since 1997. Bianca Rowland (1.50) ranks second in the Pac-12 and sixth nationally, and Lauren Barfield (1.29) is fifth in the conference and 30th nationally in blocks per set. Both are well ahead of their previous season-best paces, as Rowland's best was 1.13 blocks last year and Barfield averaged 1.09 a year ago. Freshman Summer Ross is also ninth in the Pac-12 with 1.10 blocks per set, as the only outside hitter and only freshman in the top-10. The Huskies also lead the Pac-12 with 1.56 aces per set. They've only been out-aced by an opponent four times. Washington has done the service work collectively, as eight Huskies have double figure aces and four have more than twenty. Summer Ross leads the way with 25 aces and Krista Vansant is right behind with 24. Washington in 16-0 when hitting above .250 and also has a 17-0 mark when holding its opponent under .200.
Should the Huskies advance, they would be back in Minnesota next week for the Regional semifinals and finals. The round of 16 would be played on Friday, Dec. 9, and the quarterfinals on Saturday, Dec. 10.