Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 15, 2005

Coming off the most successful season in Washington volleyball history, the Huskies are poised to make a run at the program's first NCAA Championship in 2005. Washington finished the 2004 season with a 28-3 record and won its first Pacific-10 Conference title. The Huskies climbed to the No. 1 national ranking for the first time in the program's history and held the top spot for seven weeks. The team also made its first appearance in the Final Four where it lost to eventual NCAA Champion Stanford in the national semifinal.

'There is tremendous meaning in what we accomplished last season and it is significant in a number of ways,' said head coach Jim McLaughlin. 'It basically is just another step in the right direction, but we also understand that there is more out there. We haven't accomplished what we want to accomplish. We haven't accomplished the pinnacle, but we have made progress and fundamentally that is the key.'

This season, Washington returns all but one starter and is the only team in the country to field four All-Americans. Viewed as one of the most talented and stacked teams in all of college volleyball, the Huskies are ranked No. 2 in the preseason AVCA/CSTV Top 25 Coaches' Poll. McLaughlin insists however that experience alone will not lead to success.

'We have a lot of players returning, but I have warned the team that it doesn't guarantee success,' said McLaughlin. 'The identity of the team has changed, but we have an opportunity to be a better team. I like our mindset. I like where we are physically, mentally and emotionally. I want to make sure that we understand that we have a lot of growth ahead of us. It is extremely difficult to become a great team, but if we get the vibe right and follow our game plan day to day, every play and every day, we, along with many other schools, have a chance to win it all. That being said, all I want to think about is today.'

The 2005 squad has depth, speed and a desire to win but McLaughlin says that it's the team's drive for success in all areas that sets them apart.

'More than the wins, the Pac-10 Championship or the Final Four, I appreciate the commitment of this team,' said McLaughlin. 'These girls are committed to improving individually and as a team and it isn't just in volleyball. It's all encompassing. It's in the classroom and it's off the court. We adopted this approach four years ago and we have made progress. We are a different team now then we were then but we can't change our approach. If we keep doing what we have been doing, we will continue to get better. That is the foundation of our program.'

Headlining Washington's corps of 12 returners are All-American outside hitters Sanja Tomasevic and Christal Morrison, All-American setter Courtney Thompson and All-American libero Candace Lee. UW also returns first team All-Pac-10 outside hitter Brie Hagerty and honorable mention middle blocker Darla Myhre to its arsenal.

The Huskies also welcome six newcomers to the mix, including transfer Stevie Mussie, the 2002 Washington Gatorade Player of the Year, and Jill Collymore, the 2004 Washington Player of the Year.

OUTSIDE HITTERS

The Huskies are loaded in the outside hitter position and return all-conference players Sanja Tomasevic, Christal Morrison and Brie Hagerty.

Tomasevic, a senior, led the Huskies with 4.70 kills per game and 5.65 points per game last year despite missing five weeks of the Pac-10 season with a broken hand. She had double-figure kills in 17 of 21 matches, was a two-time Pac-10 Player of the Week honoree and was the Regional MVP. Tomasevic ranks third on the UW all-time list with 1,318 kills and is just the 11th Husky to join the 1,000-kill club.

'Our expectations for Sanja are very high and she understands that as well as anyone,' said McLaughlin. 'I have asked her to do all the little things to improve her game and she continues to make progress. This should be her greatest year as a Husky.'

Morrison posted the most successful rookie campaign in Washington's history, earning second team All-America honors and receiving the Pacific Region and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year awards. She ranked fourth in the conference with 4.10 kpg and 4.67 ppg and made a gutsy postseason performance when she played with a torn meniscus. Morrison had 24 double-figure kill matches and tallied 20 or more kills 20 times. She also had 12 double-doubles.

'Christal is working harder and harder and is taking care of the little parts of her game,' said McLaughlin.'I like her rate of improvement. She set the bar high as a freshman and she is not afraid to experience some of the discomfort associated with pushing herself to the next level. She knows the areas of her game to address and as a result, should have a better year.'

Hagerty was a first team All-Pac-10 selection and her 4.20 kpg and 4.51 ppg ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the conference. She was named to three all-tournament teams, including the all-regional team, and was an All-Pacific Region honorable mention pick. Hagerty had 24 double-digit kill performances last season.

'All the great ones have intensity and Brie is as intense as one can get,' said McLaughlin. 'The issue is the discipline in her game, whether she is in the right place at the right time. If she can stay connected emotionally as well as intellectually, she will tap into the physical talent she has been blessed with and will become one of the best outside hitters in college volleyball.'

Also vying for playing time as an outside hitter is transfer Stevie Mussie, junior Carolyn Farny and freshman Jill Collymore.

Mussie, a Puyallup native, was a two-year starter at Pacific. She averaged 3.53 kpg and 2.69 dpg last season for the Tigers and had 23 double-figure kill performances and 14 double-doubles. Mussie was named to the All-Big West All-Freshman team and played club volleyball with Morrison and Thompson on the Kent Juniors.

'Stevie's physical ability is elite,' said McLaughlin. 'She has all the tools to play at a very high level and she loves to compete. She just needs time to learn our movement patterns as well as her responsibilities in the system. We are all very happy she is a Husky and I look forward to coaching her.'

Farny played in just two matches last season but has been working on her game over the spring.

'Carolyn had a very good breakthrough this spring,' said McLaughlin. 'We are so happy because she works so hard. She needs to compete and earn playing time but she is in the hunt. Her ability to pass over time will be the key.'

Collymore was a standout at Bellevue's The Bush School, earning the 2004 Washington Player of the Year award and league MVP award, twice. She also played club volleyball for Kent Juniors and has trained with the Junior National Team.

'Jill has tremendous arm speed and foot speed,' said McLaughlin.'She jumps well and hits very hard. As she develops her timing, she will increase her range as a hitter. She can pass and she can play solid defense. Jill has all the elements we look for in a player including her work habits. It's just a matter of time as she learns our systems.'

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

Seniors Darla Myhre and Jessica Veris and sophomore Alesha Deesing headline Washington's returning middle blockers.

Myhre is a two-time All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection. Last season, she led the team with 1.51 blocks per game, which ranked second in the Pac-10 and 23rd nationally. She also ranked sixth in the league with a .338 hitting percentage. Myhre ranks fourth on the UW all-time list with 319 career block assists and her 166 blocks last year tie for third on the school's all-time list.

'Darla is not afraid to get after it in practice,' said McLaughlin. 'I think she really enjoys competing. We challenged her to develop her arm speed and she has made progress. It's been hard and taken time but she keeps pushing herself and she is starting to see a return. She needs to address serving the same way and improve her mechanics. In terms of blocking, she should be one of the best, if not the best, in the country.'

Veris made the switch from outside hitter to middle blocker last season and started 29 matches. She averaged 2.46 ppg, 1.74 kpg and 0.80 bpg. Veris also led the Huskies with 23 aces.

'Jess was making progress until she hurt her foot three weeks into spring training,' said McLaughlin. 'Generally, she does many things well and specifically, I have asked her to develop an identity as a jump server and slide hitter. If she can do those two things at a high level, she will help us take the next step. Time will tell with her foot injury.'

Deesing appeared in 13 matches last season and ranked third on the team with a .309 hitting percentage. She averaged 1.68 ppg, 1.25 kpg and 0.80 bpg. Deesing's best performance of the season was when she came off the bench against USC to record 15 kills and seven blocks with a .467 hitting percentage.

'Alesha has matured and made a lot of progress last spring,' said McLaughlin. 'She is learning how to manage her game day-to-day. She loves to compete and is gaining control of her composure play-to-play. Physically, she can do anything she really sets her mind on. Alesha is now a different player and could make a very big impact this year if she continues with the right approach day-to-day.'

Freshman Jessica Swarbrick will also compete for time as a middle blocker. She was an all-league and All-Metro player at Union Mine High School and led her club team, Gold Cal, to an 18th place finish at the U.S. Junior National Tournament. Swarbrick ranked 21st nationally among the prep class of 2005 by PrepVolleyball.com.

'Jessy loves to play the game and she has big-time talent,' said McLaughlin. 'She jumps well, has a very good arm, and moves well. She has the ability to someday, I think soon, control the net. She already hits very good angles on quick sets and can get over the net when blocking. Our goal is to develop a complete skill level with the identity to control the net. As she develops her eye-work, she will increase her speed and put more pressure on the opponent.'

SETTERS

Junior Courtney Thompson returns as the Huskies' field general after earning first team All-America honors last year. Thompson led the team with a .392 hitting percentage and dished 50 or more assists 18 times. She led the Pac-10 and ranked third nationally with 14.67 assists per game and set the school record with 1,643 assists. Thompson ranks second on the UW all-time chart with 3,233 career assists and is just the third Husky to amass 3,000 assists in a career.

'A day doesn't go by that I'm not impressed with how Courtney approaches things day-to-day and I enjoy coaching her so much,' said McLaughlin. 'Court had a very good spring in terms of her mechanics and system work and she now knows where and when to put the emphasis. She is seeing the game on the move at a higher level. Court has prepared well and I expect her to be a better player in 2005.'

Newcomer Tamari Miyashiro will also compete at the setter and libero positions.

Miyashiro, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, was the 2004 Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year and a four-time all-state selection.

'Tamari has a very good feel for the game at this point in her career and has a very complete skill level,' said McLaughlin.

'Once she learns our mechanics and her responsibilities within our system, she will take her game to a new level. She has a very strong presence and what impresses me most is her ability to compete.'

LIBERO/DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS

Senior Candace Lee returns as the starting libero after earning All-America honors last season. She led the Pac-10 and ranked 13th nationally with 5.65 dpg to set the school record and tallied double-figure digs in 29 matches. Lee's 666 digs were a Washington single-season record and her 1,508 career digs top the school's all-time chart and rank fourth on the Pac-10 list.

'I asked Candace to improve and she did,' said McLaughlin. 'The great ones always find a way to improve and she is truly great. She is now a captain and provides a wonderful example every play, every day. She goes hard from start to finish and she always has control of her game. It is so much fun to coach her and watch her play.'

Danka Danicic returns for her senior season after playing in all 112 games as a defensive specialist last season. She had 17 double-figure dig performances and ranked fourth on the squad with 2.70 dpg. Danicic also ranked third on the team in aces.

'Danka has one of the best feels for the game of any player I've coached,' said McLaughlin. 'She sees things very well and therefore is in the right place at the right time. Her digging is contagious and we score points when she is on the floor. Her passing consistency is improving and she has a great serve but needs to reduce her errors.'

Sophomore Ashley Aratani played a small but significant role last season and appeared in 14 games. She came off the bench for key service aces against Kansas and Saint Mary's in the postseason and picked up a pair of digs against UCLA in the regional final.

'Ash made progress this spring but she needs to make more,' said McLaughlin. 'I'm confident she will. Ash works very hard drill-to-drill and this is important to her. Her identity at this point in time is digging and we will shift the emphasis to passing. When her serve is on, it's a very tough serve to pass.'

Newcomers Danielle Chun and Lindsey Thiry will also fight for playing time on defense. Chun, an Orinda, Calif., native, was a two-time all-league selection and league MVP at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School. Thiry, a Renton native, led Seattle Prep High School to back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004

'Danny plays hard, is very quick, and can pass,' said McLaughlin. 'She needs time to get used to the speed of play at this level. She also brings a lot of energy to the floor. I look forward to watching her develop.

'Lindsey is a competitive player and is willing to work. She has the ability to pass, dig and serve. We have set very high standards for her and she is willing to do what it takes to meet them. We are happy she is a Husky.'

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

The Huskies have another tough schedule ahead of them this season after posting the nation's sixth-highest RPI rating in 2004. The Huskies will face 12 opponents that are ranked in the preseason top-25 poll and kick things off with a pair of road matches against No. 4 Hawaii on Sept. 16-17. Washington will face the remainder of its ranked opponents during the Pac-10 season when it takes on No. 3 Stanford, No. 7 Southern California, No. 13 UCLA, No. 17 Arizona and No. 19 California.

'We have 14 days to train in August and we need to make progress each day,' said McLaughlin. 'The preseason objective is to get things in place to prepare us for the rest of the season. We will have 10 non-conference matches to address the issues we need to address heading into the Pac-10 and we will have a tremendous test against Hawaii. There are a lot of good teams in the Pac-10 and regardless of where we play and when we play, we have to stay centered on what we are doing. We are very internal in our approach and the competition forces us to be that way. It is the only way I know how to be.'

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