2006 Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 15, 2006

The University of Washington women's volleyball team returns to the court after a magical 2005 season in which it brought home the program's first NCAA national title. Three starters from the championship season are back, as well as six letterwinners, and all are eager to earn the right to compete for another NCAA Championship.

'Winning the national title is what you work for everyday,' said head coach Jim McLaughlin. 'It's the payoff. It's a lot of gratification for all of the hard work. It means if you do the right things the right way and improve a little everyday, great things can happen. Of course, the process includes taking care of all the little things along the way.'

While the excitement and pride of winning the national title will never fade in the hearts and minds of the UW faithful, the Huskies clearly understand that a 2005 NCAA title will not guarantee wins in 2006.

'Last year was last year and will buy us a half cup of coffee this year,' said McLaughlin. 'For sure, there were some valuable lessons learned along the way that will help us and even impact us many years down the road. But 2006 will be a new beginning as every team starts out 0-0. How we start is one thing, but how we finish is the important thing and we have control over that.'

For the Huskies, the goals for 2006 remain the same as ever, to compete for and win the Pacific-10 Conference and NCAA titles.

'Our goal is to see how good we can become,' said McLaughlin. 'The improvement issue is what we will always be concerned about and, again, we control our improvement. Of course, the Pac-10 title and national title are the ultimate ends for which we will be working.'

One challenge the Huskies face is making up for the loss of the 2005 seniors. With the end of the season came the end of an era for Washington volleyball with the graduation of arguably the most talented class of women to ever wear purple and gold. Four Washington starters, who accounted for four All-America awards and 10 Pac-10 All-Conference awards, graduated leaving some big shoes to fill this fall. The Huskies will need to find replacements for two-time All-American and 2005 Pac-10 Player of the Year Sanja Tomasevic, two-time All-American and 2005 Asics Defensive Player of the Year Candace Lee, as well as, two-time All-Pac-10 honorees Brie Hagerty and Darla Myhre.

'We need to develop more players like Sanja, Brie, Darla and Candace,' said McLaughlin. 'But we are continuing to improve as a group. The players will change but our philosophy and approach day-to-day must be consistent.

'Every player on our roster will have a chance to step forward. I can't tell you who will fill their roles right now but the players will answer that question later. Of course we have some players like Christal (Morrison), Courtney (Thompson), Alesha (Deesing), and some others who have reached a level of expertise. However, those guys know you're never good enough and they will continue to improve.'

Headlining the list of returners for the 2006 campaign are two-time All-Americans Courtney Thompson and Christal Morrison, who will serve as team captains for the upcoming season.

'Courtney and Chris were very good captains last year and will be even better this year,' said McLaughlin. 'Both Court and Chris do the right things the right way. They work extremely hard, they make good decisions on and off the floor and they are both highly aggressive but in control. Their teammates watch them and gain confidence by seeing how they react.'

McLaughlin has also added a strong group of newcomers to the roster, including three players that redshirted the 2005 season, two transfers and three true freshmen for a total of eight new options for the Huskies' arsenal.

'Every year you lose some and add some,' said McLaughlin. 'That is why you have to invest and develop your entire roster. You have to get people ready and they have to get each other ready each day.

'Our newcomers bring talent, enthusiasm, a hunger to learn and improve, and a willingness to work extremely hard and do what we want them to do. I expect each one of them to improve, make progress and make an impact. They all come in different shapes and sizes and it's the most wonderful thing about being on a team because we are all so different. And on all teams I've coached, the contributions change along the way.'

While there are some unknowns about the 2006 squad, Husky fans should still expect to see some exciting matches behind the dynamic players Washington has become known for producing.

'We have the potential to be a very good team and compete at a very high level,' said McLaughlin. 'We have some good arms and a very good setter who knows the way we want to do things so we have a chance to be in the thick of things at the end. Our fans will see a team that plays hard, plays smart, doesn't make a lot of errors and improves over time.'

Here is a look at the Washington Huskies, position-by-position:


Washington returns the top setter in the country in senior Courtney Thompson. This two-time first team All-American won the Honda Broderick Award last season and was nominated for an ESPY as Top Collegiate Female Athlete. Thompson led the nation at her position with 14.89 assists per game, which set a UW single-season record, and she became Washington's all-time career assists leader (4,841). She also paced the Huskies to the best hitting percentage in the country with a .338 clip, which is a program record. Thompson was named the 2005 CVU.com National Setter of the Year and showed why she is the consummate student-athlete, earning Academic All-American honors for the second year in a row.

'Courtney has reached a level of expertise most players don't reach in their careers,' said McLaughlin. 'She does so many things well and continues to work each day to get better. She has an uncommon intensity everyday and there isn't a day I don't love coaching her. I admire her in many ways, not just for her volleyball ability, and she is a great example for her teammates. She will improve and her senior year will be her best year.'

The Huskies also welcome junior transfer Alison Simmons to the setter position. Simmons joins the team after two successful seasons at Northwest University, an NAIA school located in Kirkland, Wash. The Bothell, Wash., native earned all-region and all-conference honors and averaged 13.64 apg for the Eagles last season.

'Ali had a very high level of success at Northwest University and we think she can take her ability to the next level,' said McLaughlin. 'She has a very good touch and is not afraid to take control. She loves to compete and she has embraced the challenge to play at the highest level. Ali has a very good serve but what impresses me most is her defensive ability. She has made a nice transition and she will continue to improve.'

Outside Hitters

Christal Morrison, the 2005 NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, is Washington's most decorated returner at the outside hitter position. The junior has two All-America awards and was the 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer Female Sports Star of the Year and the 2004 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year. Last season, she demonstrated her complete skill level, ranking among the Pac-10's top-five in four different statistical categories. She was second in service aces (0.51 sapg), fifth in kills per game (4.36 kpg) and points per game (5.29) and sixth in hitting percentage (.337). Morrison also had 26 double-doubles and posted the second-most service aces in Husky single-season history (55).

'Christal can do so many things and she is becoming great at those things,' said McLaughlin. 'She has a very complete game and she is as tough as any player I've ever coached. Christal is not afraid to work extremely hard, in fact, she enjoys it. Her primary focus will be to become more dynamic in the air as well as become an elite passer. If she continues to improve, she will play at the highest level.'

Sophomore Jill Collymore is Washington's only other returner at outside hitter. She saw limited playing time in 2005 but made the most of her opportunities on the floor. Collymore appeared in 13 matches and 19 games, averaging 1.89 kpg with a .380 hitting percentage. Perhaps what Husky fans remember her most for is her powerful jump serve that led to eight services aces last season.

'Jill made significant progress this spring,' said McLaughlin. 'She knows it, her team knows it, and the staff knows it. She is beginning to learn at a faster rate and improving is about learning. Jill is fast, has a very good platform and is becoming a very good blocker, but what separates her is her arm. She has one of the best arms, if not the best arm, of any player I've coached. As she learns to develop the appropriate rhythm in all the different situations that are called for, she will develop the confidence to rely on her arm. She is close to becoming an impact player and works very hard each day. She will go as far as she wants to go.'

Washington will also have the benefit of seeing two veteran players take the court for the first time in Husky uniforms in Stevie Mussie and Janine Sandell. Mussie, a junior, transferred from the University of the Pacific before the 2005 season but redshirted with a knee injury. Sandell, the 2005 Big West Player of the Year, transfers to UW after three record-breaking seasons at UC Santa Barbara.

Mussie was a two-year starter at Pacific and averaged 3.01 kpg and 2.69 dpg. As a sophomore, Mussie recorded 23 double-figure kill performances and 14 double-doubles. She was named to the All-Big West Freshman team and played club volleyball with Thompson and Morrison on the Kent Juniors.

'Stevie is fast, she is powerful and she loves to compete,' said McLaughlin. 'As she learns the specific movement patterns and reduces all excess movement, she will make an impact at the University of Washington. She has made so much progress already and is willing to pay the price to make more.'

Sandell comes to Washington after three of the most dominating seasons in UC Santa Barbara history. Last season, she averaged 5.26 kpg, which ranked second on the UCSB all-time list and led the Big West Conference. Her 571 kills ranked fourth on the UCSB all-time single-season list, while her 1,251 career kills rank 10th in program history. She was named to the AVCA All-America honorable mention team last season after posting double-figure kills in all 30 matches, including 12 matches with 20 kills or more. Sandell also led or tied the team in kills in every match and averaged 3.15 dpg, which led to 16 double-doubles on the season.

'Physical is the best way to describe Janine,' said McLaughlin. 'She can jump high and hit hard. As she starts to see the game correctly and regulates her timing she will become even more physical and efficient. The great thing about Janine is she can pass. We have changed her mechanics and she is getting it. What I like about her most is she wants to be the best and will work for it.'

Freshman Becky Perry will also compete for a starting position at outside hitter. The Austin, Texas native was a member of the 2006 USA Junior National Team and was named the 15th-best senior in the nation by PrepVolleyball. She was an all-state selection as a senior and was the District 16-5A Newcomer of the Year.

'Becky jumps well, she is fast, she has a good platform and she has a very fast arm-swing,' said McLaughlin. 'At some point, she will have one of the most complete skill levels in the country. We have a very high standard for Becky. The great thing is, she wants to be the best and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. We have asked her to learn so much and she is doing a great job processing the information and understanding what she needs to do. It's only a matter of time before she develops the confidence to do everything at a high level in the toughest conditions.'

Middle Blockers

Junior Alesha Deesing tops the list of UW middle blockers after a 2005 campaign in which she was a first team All-Pac-10 selection and an All-Pacific Region honorable mention pick. Deesing started 32 matches for the Huskies last season and led the league with a .402 hitting percentage. She averaged 2.54 kpg and 3.28 ppg, while her 1.29 bpg ranked fifth in the Pac-10. Deesing already ranks seventh on the UW career points list and is on pace to set the UW career hitting percentage record.

'The question for Alesha is can she make the same progress she made from her freshman to sophomore year,' said McLaughlin. 'If she does, she will be an All-American. She must increase her range in front of the setter as well as behind the setter and, most importantly, reduce tough swing errors. She has more than enough talent but she needs to improve her ability to block, as well as her ability to serve. Alesha has a competitiveness comparable to Courtney. I love coaching her.'

The Huskies also welcome back sophomore Jessica Swarbrick to the middle. Swarbrick played in 20 matches last season and made the most of her opportunities, averaging 1.29 kpg, 0.94 bpg and 1.79 ppg. Her best match came against California when she collected six kills and six blocks in her only start of the season.

'Jessica is another one who made significant progress this spring,' said McLaughlin. 'She could make the biggest impact this season if she continues to improve getting over the net when blocking. I'm impressed with her improvement serving and she has one of the best arms on the team. What she needs to control is her unforced errors. Jessica loves to compete, she loves to play, and she is a fun kid to coach.'

Washington has also added freshman Shantell Durrant to its line-up and she will battle it out with Deesing and Swarbrick for playing time in the middle. Durrant, an American Fork, Utah, native, was an all-state selection in volleyball and basketball. She also excelled in the classroom, becoming a four-time Academic All-Region honoree and a member of the High Honor Roll.

'Shantell has good physical ability,' said McLaughlin. 'It will just take time for her to learn the movements as well as how we want her to see the game. She wants to play at this level and she is willing to make a complete commitment.'

Libero/Defensive Specialist

Redshirt freshman Tamari Miyashiro is expected to step into the role of libero after the graduation of four-year starter and two-time All-American Candace Lee. Miyashiro, a Honolulu native, was the 2004 Hawaii Gatorade Player of the Year and a four-time all-state selection.

'Pound for pound, Tamari may be one of the best, if not the best volleyball players I have ever coached,' said McLaughlin. 'She has an unbelievable feel for the game. I think she could play any position but I believe she will become a great libero. She is improving every part of her game and we need to get her on the floor. She works hard, she love competition, and she has the ability to make the people around her better. Tama just has to continue to improve.'

Junior Ashley Aratani is the veteran of the defensive specialists after appearing in 32 matches last season. She was called upon to come off the bench and serve and make key defensive plays and she finished the season with 24 aces and 27 digs.

'Ashley has a tenacity on defense that is unreal,' said McLaughlin. 'She has no fear and will go for every ball. She is part of every play and is one of the best cover players I have ever coached. I have asked her to improve her passing and serving game and she comes to work everyday and makes progress. It's fun having her in our gym.'

The Huskies also welcome two freshmen to the defensive line-up in redshirt Lindsey Thiry and true freshman Megan McAfee.

Thiry, a Renton, Wash., native, was a member of Seattle Prep High School, which won back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004.

'Lindsey made progress this spring,' said McLaughlin. 'She is tough and is not afraid to take a hard shot. The key is her ability to pass the ball. She will do the work and she will improve.'

McAfee, a West Linn, Ore., native, led West Linn High School to four league championships and the 2003 state title. She was the Three Rivers Player of the Year as a senior and was also an all-league selection in softball.

'Megan has been a very nice surprise,' said McLaughlin. 'She will have a chance to contribute if she can learn the things we want her to learn. So far, she has made the progress that makes me believe she will contribute at some point. We like her a lot.'

Strength of Schedule

The Huskies, who boasted the third-toughest 2005 schedule, will face a similar road this season with 12 matches slated against teams ranked among the top-20 in the CSTV/AVCA Top-25 Preseason Coaches Poll. Washington will open the season on the road at the prestigious invitation-only AVCA College Volleyball Showcase in Madison, Wisc., Aug. 25-26, before heading to Davidson, N.C., Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The Huskies will then make their home debut in Bank of America Arena when they host five teams in the Husky Classic, Sept. 7-9.

'Our August training block will get us ready for the preseason schedule,' said McLaughlin. 'The preseason schedule will get us ready for the Pac-10 schedule and doing well in our conference will get us ready for the NCAA Tournament.'

Washington, which has won back-to-back Pac-10 Championships, will have a number of conference opponents looking to spoil the Huskies hopes for a Pac-10 title repeat. No Pac-10 team has won three consecutive conference titles since Stanford rattled off six straight from 1994-99. The Cardinal have been selected by the league's coaches to win the Pac-10 crown this season, followed by UCLA and Washington. Stanford last won the Pac-10 title in 2001, while UCLA has not won the conference crown since sharing it with Stanford in 1999.

'I know how tough the Pac-10 has been over the years and it will be no different this year,' said McLaughlin. 'Every night is a test and you have to be prepared each night or you risk the chance of someone who is prepared sending you home very upset. Stanford, UCLA, USC, Cal, Arizona, ASU and all of the teams will be better this year. If we continue to do the right things the right way and continue to improve, which we have control over, the wins will come.'

One scheduling gift the Huskies received from the NCAA Committee was a bid to host a regional tournament, meaning Washington has the potential to host the first four matches of the NCAA Tournament and ride home court advantage straight into the NCAA Championship. The Huskies last hosted a regional in 2004, the year the Huskies advanced to the program's first-ever national semifinal.

While it has taken McLaughlin just six years to transition Washington from the Pac-10 basement to the national title, the Huskies know it will be their day-to-day commitment in 2006 that will be necessary to put UW in position for another championship season.

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