Women's Volleyball Match of the Week preview: No. 2 Washington at Oregon State

Washington Athletics / Oregon State Athletics

Who: No. 2 Washington at Oregon State

When: Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Washington, with Rich Burk and Tammy Blackburn on the call.

For the last Pac-12 Networks Women's Volleyball Match of the Week, the Dawgs continue their pursuit of USC and the top spot in the Pac-12 with their trip to Corvallis to take on a Beavers team looking to get out of the conference cellar.

The story so far: No. 2 Washington (24-2, 14-2 Pac-12)

If I had a vote for Pac-12 Women’s Volleyball Coach of the Year (I don’t), it’d go to Washington’s Keegan Cook. Here’s a guy who had to fill in the shoes left behind by Jim McLaughlin, who turned the Huskies into the national power they are in his 14 years and won the program’s only national title back in 2005. He also had to figure out how to replace Krista Vansant, who is only the all-time kills leader in program history. He also had to deal with mid-season injuries, namely having to go to the bench to replace kills-per-set leader Courtney Schwan for a few matches while she was out with an injury. While the cupboard is never bare in Seattle, getting any team to go 14-2 in Pac-12 play with the only losses coming to No. 1 USC in four sets (a match that could have very easily gone five) and at No. 7 Stanford in five sets is quite the achievement.

The only thing that would make this regular season better is a Pac-12 title and the top seed in the NCAA tournament. Trailing the Trojans by a match in the standings, Washington needs USC to lose at least once to have a shot at getting a share of the Pac-12 title (USC and UW split the season series). The Dawgs are in a great position to go 18-2 in league play, as they finish the season with the Oregon schools, Utah and Washington State, all teams that are below .500 in conference play. USC has a more difficult slate, heading to the Arizona schools (likely NCAA tournament teams) this weekend before hosting UCLA and Cal. The Arizonas and UCLA have a shot at giving the Trojans a battle at the very least, so with some luck, the Dawgs can get there, provided they don’t overlook anybody and take care of their own business.

The story so far: Oregon State (5-21, 3-13 Pac-12)

It’s been a rough go for the Beavers since their last appearance on the Pac-12 Networks’ Women’s Volleyball Match of the Week, a 3-0 loss to these Huskies. Including that contest, the Beavers went on to lose six straight and have lost nine of 10 overall. A year after advancing to the Sweet 16, Oregon State has struggled to put wins on the board with an inexperienced group.

While the Beavers are well out of the NCAA tournament discussion, Taras Liskevych and Co. still have plenty to play for. Currently locked in a three-way tie for last with Utah and Cal, the Beavers can get to as high as ninth place (Washington State is in 9th at 4-12). It might not seem like much, but the goal is always to finish as high as possible, and ninth in the Pac-12 isn’t anything to ridicule.

These final four matches are also about building confidence and chemistry for a more experienced 2016 squad that will look to get back to playing December volleyball. Despite all the losses, there have been some promising results during this recent 10-match stretch, as the Beavers took both tied-for-third UCLA and middle-tiered Colorado to five sets in back-to-back matches. The Beavers will have their chances to notch a win or two as well, with three home matches remaining (UW, Wazzu and 'Zona) and a rivalry roadie at Oregon.

Three players to watch: Washington

  1. #8 Cassie Strickland (Libero, Senior)  The Pac-12 Libero of the Year candidate just picked up her third straight Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award after averaging 4.57 digs per set in a couple of victories over Stanford and Cal. For the season, the scrappy Strickland leads the team and is fifth in the conference with 4.34 digs per set and 0.29 service aces per set.
  2. #10 Lianna Sybeldon (Middle Blocker, Senior)  The Folsom, California, native leads the nation with a .486 hitting percentage (she has just 27 attacking errors all season). That’s all you really need to know to want to watch her, but she also has a 200-kill, 100-block season with 230 (first on the team) and 110, respectively, and is second on the team in both kills and blocks per set.
  3. #13 Bailey Tanner (Sophomore, Setter/Outside Hitter) – The dual-threat, second-year player posted a double-double in her last match against Cal, posting 13 kills and 18 assists while hitting .632 in the process. Since the Dawgs use two setters, Tanner will likely surpass the 500-assist mark for the season Wednesday night (she has 495 thus far).

Three players to watch: Oregon State

  1. #15 Mary-Kate Marshall (Outside Hitter, Sophomore)  Somehow, Marshall’s arm is still working despite being seventh in the nation in attacks per set (12.47). The big-time swinger leads the Beavers with 3.74 kills per set and has taken a whopping 35 percent of all available attacks.
  2. #12 Katelyn Driscoll (Outside Hitter, Redshirt Junior) – If the third ball isn’t going to Marshall, it’s probably going to Driscoll. She is the only other player on the team with more than 500 attacks and two kills per set. Combined, she and Marshall have taken 55 percent of all of Oregon State’s swings this season.
  3. #11 Lanesha Reagan (Outside Hitter, Redshirt Freshman) – She has only played in 41 sets this year, but is coming off her best performance of the season. The second-year frosh posted her first double-double with 10 kills and 13 digs in the Beavers’ last match, a four-set loss at UCLA.

Four notes to know:

  1. Washington’s dominance in 2015  Yes, the Huskies have a gaudy record, but what’s even more impressive is that they have swept 19 opponents in 26 matches this season, with six of those three-setters coming against ranked teams (including No. 1 USC for the Trojans’ only loss of the season) and 10 coming against conference foes.
  2. Pac-12 goes 1-2 in the polls  USC and Washington are the top-two teams in the latest AVCA top 25 poll, and it’s far from the first time that has happened in Pac-12 history. Last year, Stanford and Washington held the top-two spots in three consecutive polls.
  3. More on Marshall – Oregon State’s Mary-Kate Marshall had 30 kills in a match against Utah earlier this year, which is the most any Pac-12 player has had in the 2015 campaign. The 30 kills are the most a Beaver has had since 2009, when Rachel Rourke racked up 31 against Arizona.
  4. Last meeting  Washington swept the Beavs 25-13, 25-22, 25-20 the last time the two met (Oct. 14 in Seattle). Tia Scambray paced the Dawgs with 12 kills and Cassie Strickland’s 15 digs were a big reason why the Beavers hit just .034 on the match. For the Beavers, Marshall had just four kills in 29 attempts and hit -.069, while Katelyn Driscoll led the way with seven kills.
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