2003 Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 18, 2003

As head coach Jim McLaughlin looks ahead to the 2003 season, his focus remains fixed on two goals; to challenge for the Pacific-10 Conference title and to position the team to make a strong run at the national crown. In just his third season at the helm of the Husky squad, McLaughlin has already proven his ability to cultivate and teach young talent.

When McLaughlin arrived in Seattle in 2001, he took over a team which won just eight matches all season and tied for last place in the Pac-10. In one year, he guided the Huskies to their best record in five years and doubled the team's conference win mark. He built on that success last year, leading Washington to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10 and a 20-win season.

'We've accomplished a lot in the last two years and have made a lot of progress,' said McLaughlin. 'But we had a lot of progress to make. Making the NCAA Tournament was big for us, however, our goal is to make a solid run in the tournament each year and for postseason play to be part of the norm.'

Washington's volleyball program has made huge strides in just two years and is well on its way to becoming a Pac-10 powerhouse. As the Huskies continue to narrow the gap and establish themselves as a top-20 program, McLaughlin says the team's development won't be as glaring but smaller improvements will be essential to becoming a national title contender.

'I've said it many times, our objective will be to continue to improve and make progress,' said McLaughlin. 'The goal for this season is to improve each day. We may not make as big of an improvement this season but the important thing is to continue to get better and that's how we will approach each year.'

Despite the loss of first team All-American Paige Benjamin and first team All-Pacific-10 selection Gretchen Maurer to graduation, the Huskies return a solid corps of players for the 2003 campaign. McLaughlin will look to middle blocker Kara Bjorklund and outside hitter Sanja Tomasevic to fill the gap left by Benjamin while the starting setting position is wide open.

'Replacing Paige and Gretchen will have to be a collective effort,' said McLaughlin. 'Our players made steady progress this spring, so I am excited about the level of play we will bring to the court this fall.'

The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2003 Washington volleyball team.

OUTSIDE HITTERS

Once again, Washington's deepest position will be its outside hitters. Headlining this list is junior Sanja Tomasevic who was an all-conference honorable mention selection last season.

Tomasevic appeared on the Pac-10 top-10 list in kills, digs and points. In her first year as a Husky, she ranked second on the team with 3.82 kills per game and 3.27 digs per game.

'Sanja has made a lot of progress in just one season at Washington and is perhaps our most complete player,' said McLaughlin. 'She has solid skills across the board and we're challenging her to continue to improve in all areas of her game. Sanja is attacking the ball higher and harder and I look for her to be one of the best outside hitters in the Pac-10.'

Two other returners - Kaitlin Leck and Jessica Veris - also saw playing time in the outside hitter position. Leck, a junior, played in 83 games for the Huskies and averaged 1.96 kpg. She also ranked second on the team with 35 service aces and tied the school record with eight aces against San Francisco last season.

'Kate has all the physical ability in the world,' said McLaughlin. 'She's fast, has a good arm swing and she jumps well. She may very well be the quickest player on our team. As a lefty, we can use her more on the right side.'

Veris, a sophomore, had an increased role towards the end of the season and came up big in Washington's first round victory over Colorado State with five digs and five blocks. Veris played in 33 games and averaged 1.30 kpg and 0.73 dpg.

'Jess is also a very complete player,' said McLaughlin. 'She is quiet but competitive and has a powerful arm swing. She provides a lot of stability on the floor and as she improves her jumping ability, she will bring her game up to a new level.'

Adding to Washington's arsenal is redshirt freshman Carolyn Farny and a pair of newcomers in Brie Hagerty and Liandren Buck.

Farny, who was a medical redshirt last season, will train as a hitter and a setter for the Huskies. A versatile player, Farny has impressed the UW coaching staff with her ability to do a little bit of everything, including pass, hit, block and set.

'Carolyn works extremely hard, almost to the point where I have to pull her back a little,' said McLaughlin. 'She is a very complete player and does many things well. We are currently working with her to develop an identity so she can narrow her focus to one area. Carolyn has made progress in every part of her game and wants to play this season. When you coach players that work like she does, they tend to find a way to get into the line-up.'

Hagerty is a sophomore transfer from Ohio State. Last season, she played in 42 games for the Buckeyes, averaging 1.36 kills, 0.62 digs and 0.40 blocks per game.

'We are excited to have Brie come into the program,' said McLaughlin. 'She is a physical presence who has the ability to become a very good player within the Pac-10. I believe in time Brie will become a very skilled player both at and off the net.'

Buck joins the Husky squad after a successful career at Inglemoor High School. At 5-feet 10-inches, she brings a natural ability to block.

'Everyday I get a little more excited about Liandren,' said McLaughlin. 'She's a player with a lot of God-given talents and has a great ability to block. Physically there is no question. Liandren will be thrown into the mix immediately and we look forward to watching her elevate her game.'

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

Last season, Washington posted nearly 100 more blocks than its opponents, while making 31 fewer blocking errors. This season, the Huskies return a trio of solid middle blockers in senior Kara Bjorklund, junior Alexis McDonald and sophomore Darla Myhre.

Bjorklund, one of two seniors on the Husky squad, will bring experience to the court. Last season, she led the team with a .397 hitting percentage, while contributing 2.19 kpg and 1.21 bpg.

'Kara is ready for a really good senior year -- maybe a great one,' said McLaughlin. 'She's made so much progress. Kara is a physical player and at this point is the best attacker on the team from the middle. She has improved mechanically, which has allowed her to hit with more heat and more accuracy.'

McDonald showed her ability to dominate at the net last season, averaging 1.22 bpg and 2.08 kpg. She had six matches with eight or more blocks, including an eight-block performance against Hawaii in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

'Lex has all the talent in the world,' said McLaughlin. 'Physically, she is our most athletic player on the team. I've asked Alexis to approach attacking the way she approaches blocking and she's shown some real improvements. If we can channel her talents, she could be one of the best middle blockers around.'

Myhre was an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman team pick. She led the team with 1.24 bpg, while also chipping in 1.50 kpg.

'Darla is one of the best blockers in the Pac-10 and in the country,' said McLaughlin. 'She is a great kid who is very mature for her age. She works extremely hard, is quick as a cat and has made progress every day. I've asked her to change mechanically, which is often difficult, but she has accepted the challenge and is improving. She will play a more pivotal role for us as she gets better at attacking the ball.'

Also vying for time in the middle is redshirt junior Egan Metcalf. Metcalf appeared in just eight games last season but made the most of her opportunities with six kills and seven blocks.

'Egan has improved significantly,' said McLaughlin. 'She is maturing. Based on what she does in August, she could be in the hunt to see some playing time this fall.'

LIBERO

The Huskies return two athletes that carried the majority of the libero duties last season in sophomore Candace Lee and senior Libba Lawrence. Lee and Lawrence are expected to battle it out for the starting bill after strong showings last year.

Lee was a first team Pac-10 All-Freshman selection after ranking fourth in the league with 3.57 dpg. She notched four 20-plus dig performances, including a 22-dig showing against Hawaii in the NCAA second round.

'Candace had a very, very good freshman year,' said McLaughlin. 'She is the kind of player every coach wants on their roster. She's the whole package. She's competitive, has good character, has a tremendous work ethic and has a real ability to focus. I'm pushing her each day to improve and she has even higher expectations for herself. I believe that Candace can play at the highest level if she continues to refine her game.'

Lawrence appeared in 103 of Washington's 108 games last season and averaged 1.29 digs per game. She was a consistent force in the Husky backcourt, making only eight reception errors all season.

'Libba has a competitive attitude and takes pride in what we do here at Washington,' said McLaughlin. 'There is going to be a battle for the libero position and she is right in the mix. She has made some adjustments to her mechanics and has made a lot of progress. I am expecting Libba to have a great senior year.'

Also competing for some playing time as a defensive specialist is sophomore Danka Danicic and redshirt junior Diane Halvarson.

Danicic appeared in 74 games for the Huskies, collecting 55 digs (0.74 dpg) and 21 aces (0.16).

'Danka is becoming a sound defensive player and has a good feel for the game,' said McLaughlin.

Halvarson did not see playing time last season but played in five matches in 2001 and is known to be a workhorse in practice.

'Diane has one of the biggest hearts of any player I've coached and it's her work ethic that separates her,' said McLaughlin. 'She has a lot of drive. Di has been key to the progress this team has made and will continue to contribute this season.'

SETTERS

With the graduation of Gretchen Maurer, the starting setting position is up for grabs. Joining Farny in the hunt is newcomer Courtney Thompson. Thompson, a freshman out of Kentlake High School, led her team to two consecutive state titles in 2000 and 2001, earning South Puget Sound League MVP honors. She set four school records at KHS, including match assists (65), season assists (996), season attack percentage (.441) and season assist average (10.34).

'Courtney is a special player,' said McLaughlin. 'She's quick and competitive and will out work almost any player in the country almost to the point of over-doing it. Courtney is maturing and August will be a very important month for her. We want her to run a specific system, set accurately with the appropriate tempo and have the ability to work quick. Then we will ask her to serve and block.'

SCHEDULE

Washington opens its 2003 slate with nine pre-conference matches. The Huskies begin with a tournament in Madison, Wis., hosted by top-10 opponent Wisconsin. UW then travels to Fort Wayne, Ind., to play in a tournament hosted by IPFW, before heading to Pocatello, Idaho to play Idaho State in a non-conference match-up. Washington concludes its pre-conference schedule with a tournament hosted by Idaho in Moscow.

'We will be tested early against a top-10 team in Wisconsin,' said McLaughlin. 'We intend to train at a higher level each day in August and make progress through the pre-conference matches to make any necessary adjustments before the Pac-10 season.'

After three weeks on the road, the Huskies return home to kick-off the Pac-10 season against the Arizona schools, September 18-19. The Pac-10 schedule is expected to be as tough as ever as eight of its members competed in the NCAA Tournament last season.

'From top to bottom the Pac-10 is tough,' said McLaughlin. 'We've got to come into each night prepared to battle. We also have to be prepared to face a conference team in the NCAA Tournament. With eight of the Pac-10's teams making the tournament and four of those advancing to the final eight, the proof is in the pudding. The Pac-10 season will be a challenge.'

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