There’s a short pause when Washington State volleyball coach Jen Greeny is asked what she learned about her team during the nonconference schedule.
“Uhm, well, we need more depth,” Greeny said. “Unfortunately, injuries have us right now.”
The first occurred in the season opener when Shea Rubright went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Jasmine Martin, Rubright’s replacement, suffered an undisclosed injury in the first set against Pepperdine last week. Greeny isn’t sure how long Martin will be sidelined.
Rubright, a Yakima native, played three seasons at Minnesota before transferring to WSU. Her mother, Valerie, played volleyball at Gonzaga and her father, Jason, was on the basketball team.
“Shea was doing so well and she was playing great. It really is heartbreaking,” Greeny said. “Jasmine was doing fine and then she got injured against Pepperdine. We played Pepperdine and Minnesota with only one middle.”
With options obviously limited, WSU moved an outside hitter to middle in those two matches.
“So we’re piecing some things together,” Greeny said. “You work all spring, summer, you’ve got a plan, a schedule and then injures. It’s the worst thing, for the kids, too.”
The timing is lousy with WSU (8-3) opening its conference schedule Wednesday against rival No. 18 Washington (8-2) in Seattle on Pac-12 Network, but the Cougars are still operating at a high level despite behind shorthanded. They pushed 17th-ranked Pepperdine to five sets and fell to No. 8 Minnesota in four in their recent matches.
The Cougars will continue to tinker at the middle blocker position, but the remainder of the lineup has been solid, led by returning All-Americans Magda Jehlarova and Pia Timmer, opposite Katy Ryan (Lakeland High grad), Arkansas-Little Rock transfer Laura Jansen, setter Argentina Ung and libero/defensive specialist Karly Basham and Julia Norville.
WSU paces the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.295). Jehlarova leads the way at .351. Ryan is next at .299 with Jansen’s team-leading 131 kills coming at a .289 clip. The 6-foot Ung, who played outside hitter and middle earlier in her career, ranks third in the conference in total assists.
“Having Pia, Magda and Katy back, they’ve all been really great pieces,” Greeny said. “Argentina has been fantastic stepping into that role and Laura has probably exceeded our expectations.”
The Cougars have won three of the past four vs. Washington and they’re the only school to finish in the top five in the Pac-12 standings each of the past four seasons. The injury situation will make another top-five placing a tougher challenge.
“In certain rotations, we’re going to have to score points,” Greeny said. “Everybody else just needs to pick up their game a little bit more. It’s just still being confident in our skills and really working as a team.”
Elsewhere, Eastern Washington (5-7) and Idaho (3-9) dive into Big Sky action Thursday with the Eagles visiting Montana State while the Vandals entertain Sacramento State.
“We’re a pretty resilient bunch,” first-year coach Jon Haruguchi said of the Eagles’ nonconference performance. “For the most part, we hung in a lot of matches with the exception of Stephen F. Austin, which is a very solid team, but we had our opportunities to upset a few folks. The biggest thing is we’ve positioned ourselves for the rigors of the Big Sky.”
EWU, statistically, has nearly the same stats in kills, assists and digs as its opponents, but there’s room for improvement.
“When we looked at the top of the Big Sky, we knew we had to do a little better in certain areas,” Haruguchi said. “We’re just a little bit below what we want our standards to be. For example, we’re at 12.28 kills (per set) and we want to be at 12.78, so it’s just a kill here or there.”
Idaho dropped its first nine matches – eight by 3-0 sweeps – before winning the UniWyo Invite last weekend with victories over Morehead State, host Wyoming and Nicholls State. The 3-1 win over Wyoming was particularly sweet after losing to the Cowgirls 3-0 two weeks before in Phoenix.
“To come back after two weeks and win 3-1 on their home floor … shows both improvement and fight,” first-year UI coach Chris Gonzalez said.
Freshman setter Kate Doorn was the Big Sky’s co-offensive player of the week and freshman middle Madison Wilson was named defensive player of the week. Freshman Olivia Gloeckner and grad student Allison Munday (Post Falls High) joined MVP Doorn on the UniWyo All-Tournament team.
Gonzaga (3-7), which defeated EWU 3-1 last week, begins West Coast Conference play at home against Pacific on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
“I continue to be pretty happy with the progress we’re making,” first-year coach Katie Wilson said. “We continue to get better every single match. We have a ways to go, but that’s part of the process.”
Gonzaga’s conference schedule gets interesting in a hurry. The Zags visit No. 17 Pepperdine on Tuesday before returning home to face No. 4 San Diego on Sept. 29 and No. 16 BYU on Oct. 1. In terms of rankings, the WCC’s top three are slightly ahead of the Pac-12’s top three (No. 5 Stanford, No. 18 Washington and No. 21 Oregon).
“It’ll be a lot of matches in a short period of time against some really good teams,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to stay on the process.”