Volley Talk: Digging into No. 15 Washington’s game strategy with The Daily UW

Jordan Mitchell

The Daily Texan spoke with Spencer Smith, volleyball beat writer at The Daily of The University of Washington ahead of Thursday’s NCAA Regional matchup in Austin between the No. 2 Longhorns and No. 15 Huskies.  

The Daily Texan: The Pac-12 is a really competitive conference for volleyball. I think six of y’all made the tournament this year. How does that competition impact Washington’s gameplay?

Spencer Smith: Going up against some of the top teams in the nation forces the team to go through adversity, which (has been) a common theme of Washington’s season this year. They just kept facing adversity and kept struggling, especially at the beginning of the season. But then they took lessons from it and were able to implement (those lessons) into their game and improve over the season as a whole. It’s really exciting seeing (Washington) have dealt with the adversity, especially against the top teams of the nation. Facing that type of competition definitely fueled their improvement.

DT: I know that y’all had gone pretty far into the tournament last year, to the (NCAA) Final Four. What has been the impact of that experience (and the) extra year of availability on Washington’s volleyball program?

SS: Something that I’ve talked to Coach (Keegan) Cook a lot about is having that experience on the team. The majority of the team came back this year, so having that experience on the team definitely benefits Washington as they head into the tournament just because they’ve been in those positions before and they’ve dealt with that kind of pressure before. But not only that, there’s been new additions to the team with freshmen Lauren Bays and Emoni Bush, who both have come into the team and provided a spark. I think having that experience is really beneficial. 

On top of that, (the Huskies are) able to come into the season and improve, even though (Washington) got super far in the tournament last year, getting to the Final Four. Being able to improve is really exciting to see what they can do in the tournament.

DT: What do you think will be the key to winning this upcoming match versus Texas?

SS: I say the key to winning this match would probably be the depth of the team. Obviously day in and day out the star players (at) Washington tend to play really well. But I think the difference that Washington could have in this game is having players come off the bench and have those players shine too. When you have two options that are really solid, that’s obviously really good for the team. But when you can also bring players off the bench that are huge threats (as well) I feel like that’d be really hard to deal with for any (opposing) team in general.

DT: Y’all made it to the Final Four last year. Where has your team improved since then?

SS: I think we’ve improved a lot actually. The additions of Lauren Bays and Emoni Bush — they both provided a spark to the team when the team needed it most. We started off the Pac-12 season with two losses. We were 0-2 but from then on, we (have) only lost one game. 

Something that the team tended to struggle with was coming out strong. Last year (Washington) faced that too. They would lose the first set or the first couple sets and would have to come back from a deficit. That’s something that the team really worked on throughout the season. Early on (this) season, they even lost six or seven first sets in a row. That was a big struggle for Washington. But you know, now it’s not a problem at all. Washington tends to come out strong in every single game ever since they started working on that.

DT: It’s definitely going to be an interesting matchup then because Texas (is put on) a pedestal, but the Longhorns are a very human team. I feel like the first set is definitely like a warm up set—Texas usually finds itself behind once or twice during that (first) set. The Longhorns kind of have to go on scoring run(s) to take that first set. Even though Texas has a lot of sweeps under our belts, that first set is always a big tough, but once the team gets past that hump, Texas starts playing our best.

What player do you think might pose as an unforeseen problem for Texas?

SS: I’m gonna go with Emoni Busch. She’s been inconsistent throughout the season. She will have a really, really good game and then the next game (will) not play super well. It seems like under the lights, when the pressure is on, she steps up her game and is able to provide an extra threat on the Washington team. I feel like she could be someone who really steps up her game and could be the difference maker for us.

What do you predict the score to be?

DT: I think that this match goes to five sets, and Texas just barely edges Washington out (3-2). I also think the Longhorns definitely drop the first set.

SS: Texas is a really good team, but I have to pick Washington. I’d say it definitely goes to five sets, it’s just going to be a really close game. (Washington has) always been really good at closing out the fifth set. I think we can pull it out.

DT: As much hype as Texas gets, I think that this is going to be an incredibly competitive game. It’s just going to have to come down to the small technicalities.