A Whole New Ballgame

Sept. 9, 2001

By Peggy Curtin

When Jim McLaughlin was hired as the seventh women's head coach in Washington volleyball history on Aug. 1, 2001, he knew he had to hit the ground running. Just one short week lay between his arrival on the Seattle campus and the start of the 2001 preseason training period.

However, if any coach has the experience to be a success in his first season, it would be McLaughlin.

A 11-year veteran head coach, McLaughlin spent the last four seasons building the Kansas State women's volleyball program into a national power, compiling an 82-43 record and taking the Wildcats to four-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Last season, McLaughlin led Kansas State to a 22-9 record, a program-best No. 16 national ranking and its first-ever trip to the NCAA Sweet 16.

Prior to a one-year stint as an assistant at Notre Dame in 1996, McLaughlin was the head men's coach at the University of Southern California for seven seasons, directing the Trojans to the NCAA title in 1990 (his first season as head coach) and a runner-up finish a year later. While at USC, McLaughlin's teams were ranked in the top-10 five times, while 15 players earned All-America accolades, led by two-time national player of the year, Bryan Ivie.

At Washington, McLaughlin has the same lofty goals for a program which is three years removed from its last trip to the NCAA tournament.

'My three goals are to graduate every player, win the Pac-10 (if we do that we are in striking distance of winning the national title) and develop players for the USA national team,' McLaughlin said. 'I believe that we can have a top-10 team at the University of Washington. We have the resources, the facilities and the academic reputation. We just have to put the things in place that need to be in place to develop a volleyball team.'

With five of six starters returning, a chance to move back into the newly renovated Bank of America Arena and new set of rules thrown into the mix, the 2001 Washington volleyball team has all the tools necessary to compete with the nation's elite.

'We're going be a good team, and I've always said we're going to be playing our best volleyball in November - that's a given,' McLaughlin said. 'Whether we're good enough to win the Pac-10, I don't know, but that's the end we're working toward.

'What I do know and what I can control, is how much improvement we make and how good of a volleyball team we can be.'

This year's Washington volleyball squad includes a 14-player roster with six upperclassmen and seven players who are six-feet and taller. Leading the way are the team's three seniors, Britni Churnside, Allison Richardson and Lisa Underhill, who have all been integral parts of the UW program.

Underhill, now entering her fifth season at Washington, boasts outstanding hitting and blocking skills and provides the team with quiet leadership out of the middle. A year ago, she led the team in kills per game (3.66), hitting percentage (.321) and blocks per game (1.08), while also ranking among the Pac-10 Conference leaders in all three categories.

Churnside and Richardson, meanwhile, are two of the team's best defensive players and primary passers, while adding a more vocal presence on the court. Both, however, may see new roles in 2001, as Churnside will compete for the starting setter position, and Richardson will be used more exclusively out of the middle after spending the majority of time on the outside her previous three seasons.

Besides the three seniors, two other starters return in junior outside/center blocker Paige Benjamin and junior setter Gretchen Maurer, while defensive specialists junior Elissa Ross and sophomore Libba Lawrence each saw significant starting time in 2000.

One of the biggest changes for the Huskies this season will actually be in the game itself, as a number of new rules, such as the let serve and the international pursuit rule, in addition to a new rally-scoring format, will go into effect in 2001.

'As far as the standards of the game (hitting efficiency, your ability to score points and your sideout game), it's not going to change those standards - I guarantee it,' McLaughlin said. 'Is it going to change everything in our training? No way. We're going to be training the same way, but we're just going to play shorter games.'

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