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Creative lineup sparks late rally for Husky Volleyball

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Your setter is the quarterback of your offense. The Huskies ran volleyball's version of the Wildcat - successfully.

Washington Volleyball's Courtney Schwan (bottom-right) attempts to dig a ball in a match against Oregon State on 9/13/17.
Edward Strong

On Friday, #14 Washington won a wild 5-setter against #19 USC (25-19, 16-25, 22-25, 32-30, 15-12), fending off 5 Trojan match points during a marathon 4th set. A 7-0 run fueled by the serving of Crissy Jones and great team setting (see setterless rotation below) gave UW a 10-6 that the Huskies would not relinquish.

Then on Sunday, the Huskies swept #13 UCLA (25-21, 25-16, 25-23). The Huskies played decently in the first two sets, but it was primarily poor play by the Bruins in the first two sets allowed Washington to take a 2-0 lead. UCLA played much better in the third set and looked to be forcing at least one more set, but after trailing 18-14 fairly late in the set, the Huskies went on an 11-5 spurt without allowing back-to-back UCLA points to finish the match in three.

The emergence of a setterless rotation

It seemed very strange when I first noticed it, and it still doesn't quite seem right, but Coach Cook made an interesting move late in Friday's game that paid off big-time in set 5 against the Trojans, then continued on Sunday.

Jade Finau has been one of the best servers for UW this season, but she's hit a rut lately with a number of service errors. Earlier in the year, had Finau struggled with her serve, the change for UW would have been a fairly simple one. Prior to Bailey Tanner's hand injury four weeks ago during a loss at USC, Finau's primary role was as a service specialist. With Tanner acting as the setter in all 6 rotations, Finau's role as the backup setter was not one that was needed very often.

When Tanner broke her finger against the Trojans, she missed the next two weeks, during which the Huskies switched from a 5-1 offense (1 setter stays in for all 6 rotations, regardless of front/back) to a 6-2 (2 different setters play 3 rotations each, with neither setter playing in the front row). Both Finau and freshman Natalie Robinson saw extended time during the homestand against the mountain and Oregon schools. Although Tanner returned for the road trip to the Bay Area, her finger is still heavily taped, so the Huskies remained in a 6-2 to keep Tanner off the net, where her finger had been injured in the first place.

So when Finau's service touch left her against USC, Cook had a few options. The most logical ones seemed to be:

A) Live with it.

B) Swap in Natalie Robinson for Finau as the secondary setter.

Instead, Cook found a third option. Rather than immediately remove right-side hitter Crissy Jones upon her rotating to the back row to make room for Finau, Cook let Jones serve. The advantage, obviously, is you get an extra half-rotation for one of your best players, and you avoid some service issues.

The disadvantage? There's no setter! DeHoog has already entered for Tanner on the other side of the rotation, so if Finau doesn't enter at the same time, there's no setter on the floor.

During the decisive service run by Crissy Jones against USC, the Dawgs picked up 6 points while Jones was serving. One of those six came on a USC hitting error, but the other five came on UW kills with an assist. Libero Shayne McPherson, who became the de facto setter without a true setter on the floor, picked up two of those assists. OH Tia Scambray picked up an assist, as did Jones. Even middle blocker Marion Hazelwood got a nice set to Courtney Schwan for a kill.

Rankings & Standings

The Huskies rose three spots in this week's AVCA poll, up to eleventh, the 2nd-highest in the Pac-12 behind Stanford.

Standings (through 6 of 10 weeks)

1) #2 Stanford (12-0)

T-2) #11 Washington (8-4)

T-2) #15 Utah (8-4)

T-2) #17 USC (8-4)

T-5) #16 Oregon (7-5)

T-5) (RV) Colorado (7-5)

T-7) #18 UCLA (6-6)

T-7) (RV) Oregon State (6-6)

9) California (4-8)

T-10) Washington State (3-9)

T-10) Arizona (3-9)

12) Arizona State (0-12)

This Week

The 11th-ranked Huskies embark on their second-to-last road trip of the year as they prepare to play at high altitude:

Fri 11/3, 5 PM PT:

#11 Washington at (RV) Colorado - Pac-12 Network/WA/Mtn

Sat 11/4, 6 PM PT (yes, it will overlap significantly with the football game):

#11 Washington at #15 Utah - free live stream at pac-12.com/live/university-utah