2007 Husky Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 15, 2007

The University of Washington volleyball team has finished among the top-four teams in the nation each of the last three seasons, including the program's first-ever NCAA Championship in 2005. It's a streak that head coach Jim McLaughlin looks to extend for a fourth year as the Huskies move forward in their quest for another national title.

'We'd like to think that Washington can be in the hunt for a national championship every year,' said McLaughlin. 'The key, as always, will be the progress we can make over the course of the season. To win a national title takes a lot of hard work and doing things the right way. Every year the players in our program have bought into making progress day to day and every year we have shown and measured our improvement. It takes time to become a very sound team and every day, even every drill, is extremely important to the process. There is no secret to success- just a mountain of work.'

One of the biggest challenges the Huskies will face in their pursuit for another championship will be the graduation of three-time All-American setter Courtney Thompson. Thompson finished her career as the Pac-10 all-time career assists leader and the NCAA all-time career assists per game record-holder. Her leadership will certainly be missed but with Washington returning every other starter from last season, McLaughlin is optimistic about the team's future.

'Court was special in many ways and she improved each day throughout her career at UW,' said McLaughlin. 'Our goal as a program is to do the same with each player. The team is excited about the season ahead and they look forward to practice. We should be a very good team but the real question is can we become a great team. This group appears to be up to that challenge.'

With five starters returning for the 2007 campaign, the Huskies are poised to contend for their third Pac-10 title in four years and make another deep run into the postseason.

Leading the way for the Huskies will be a trio of All-Americans, including senior outside hitter and 2006 Pac-10 Player of Christal Morrison, senior middle blocker Alesha Deesing and junior middle blocker Jessica Swarbrick.

Other returning starters include senior outside hitter Stevie Mussie, the 2006 Seattle Regional MVP, and sophomore libero Tamari Miyashiro, who was a Pac-10 All-Freshman team selection last season.

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

OUTSIDE HITTERS

Puyallup, Wash., natives Morrison and Mussie will pack Washington's one-two punch on offense. Both are coming off knee surgeries over the summer but are expected to be at full strength by the season-opener.

Morrison led the Huskies and ranked second in the Pac-10 last season with 4.56 kills per game and 5.27 points per game. She led or tied for the team lead in kills 18 times and had 17 double-doubles. A three-time All-American, Morrison should once again be regarded as one of the best in the country at her position.

'Christal can do so many things at a high level and she continues to work hard to improve her game,' said McLaughlin. 'Her spring season was cut short because of her knee, however, it gave her a chance to focus exclusively on her serve and receive game. As a result, her passing has improved significantly and mechanically she is very sound. She will be stronger this year and will hit harder with more range. This will be her best year if she can continue to improve and make a few changes in her attack.'

Mussie completed her first season in a Husky uniform after transferring from Pacific after the 2004 season and missing 2005 with a knee injury. In her first season in the purple and gold, Mussie made an immediate impact, ranking second on the team behind Morrison with 3.82 kpg, which also ranked 10th in the conference. Mussie had 22 double-digit kill performances and 14 double-doubles as she established herself as one of the most powerful hitters in recent Husky history.

'I expect Stevie to have her best year as a senior,' said McLaughlin. 'She is physical, she has a complete skill level and she likes to compete. The key for Stevie, as for all elite players, is to compete every play, every day and at the same time, keep emotionally connected so she can perform consistently. She can take over a match but can she do it consistently? I know Stevie is playing well when she is passing well. Her ability to pass is the key.'

Also vying for time at the outside hitter position is junior Jill Collymore and newcomers Becky Perry, Kindra Carlson.

Collymore appeared in 25 matches last season and averaged 3.16 kpg. She had seven double-figure kill performances, including 17 kills vs. Arizona State, and once again kept defenses off balance with her blistering jump serve.

'Jill hits the ball as hard or harder than most of the guys I've coached,' said McLaughlin. 'She has tremendous arm speed. But what impressed me most was Jill's last two weeks of practice. She had a much better mindset coming to practice. She was more direct, she knew what she was doing and what she needed to do and, as a result, she was able to make the necessary changes in her game and she learned at a much greater rate. As she focused on managing her game and doing the simple things well, her confidence began to grow. As she continues to improve her mechanics and then develops her eye-work she will make better choices as a hitter. I asked her to improve her passing and she improved 17% in six weeks. She improved the second step in her jump serve and became more consistent in her results. Jill is in a good place to take her game to a new level. She has learned how to come to practice.'

Washington also welcomes Perry into the mix after she redshirted her freshman season. 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. With a full season of training under her belt, Perry may work her way into the UW line-up this fall.

'Becky is fearless and she is not afraid to take big swings in tough situations,' said McLaughlin. 'She made steady progress this spring and was a different player in terms of where she started and where she finished. If she can continue to manage her game skill-to-skill and drill-to-drill as well as her day-to-day approach, she will be one of the most complete players I've coached. She has very good arm speed, is a very physical player, and is becoming more physical. As she develops the mechanics and timing of her spiking approach. As she sees the game better and better, she will play faster and faster. It's fun to watch her and it's fun to see her become more comfortable with her game.'

Carlson, an Eaton, Colo., native, will also compete for playing time at the outside hitter position. A first team all-state selection, Carlson was also honored as the Greeley Tribune Athlete of the Year and led her club team, Front Range, to the 2006 AAU Championship and a fourth place finish at nationals.

'Competitive, quick and powerful are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about Kindra Carlson,' said McLaughlin. 'She learns every day and made significant progress this spring. She is performing the movements we want her to use with more regularity and, as a result, her numbers are getting better and better. She is learning how to manage her game in all areas, which is never easy. I expect GREAT things out of her if she just makes a little improvement every day. Learning how to pass is high on her task list.'

Washington has also added Utah junior transfer Airial Salvo to the roster but she will sit out the 2007 season per NCAA transfer rules. Salvo was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and a second team All-America selection. She led the Utes with 4.13 kpg, 3.35 dpg and 4.98 ppg, while collecting 29 double-figure kill performances. Salvo has also been involved with the USA National Team system as a member of the 2006 US A2 team and 2005 USA Junior National Team.

'Airial has all the ability she needs, a strong arm, good platform, good speed and a good feel for the game,' said McLaughlin. 'As she learns the specific movements we want her to consistently make and learns to look at the right things at the right time, she will become a great player in the Pac-10. She is into volleyball in every way, shape and form and is not afraid to work her tail off. She will have no weaknesses and should be great in a number of areas. She will redshirt this season so we get a year to make her a lot better.'

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

Veteran All-Americans Deesing and Swarbrick headline the Washington middle after posting dominating numbers in 2006.

Deesing earned second team All-America honors and was a first team All-Pac-10 selection after averaging 2.51 kpg and 1.03 bpg with a scorching .368 hitting percentage. She had 16 double-figure kill performances, including 18 kills vs. UCLA, and hit at a .500 clip or better 12 times. Deesing also led or tied for the team lead in blocks on 10 occasions.

'Every day is fun coaching Dees because she gives everything she has from start to finish and as a result she continues to make progress,' said McLaughlin. 'In my opinion, she was one of the best middle hitters in the Pac-10 last season and if she makes a few little adjustments in her game she will distinguish herself as the best. She has improved her range as a hitter and has improved her speed and movements as a blocker. She also invested time in her serving and passing and she could help us in those two areas as well. She leads by example and is one of the hardest workers I've ever coached.'

Swarbrick was a third team All-America pick and first team All-Pac-10 honoree after averaging 2.67 kpg and 1.47 bpg with a team-leading .397 hitting percentage, which ranked third in the league. She had 14 double-figure kill performances, including 17 kills vs. Oregon, and recorded eight or more blocks eight times.

'Jessy has made a lot of progress and became an All American last year but she is learning that she can become so much better,' said McLaughlin. 'She has a great arm, good speed, a fairly complete skill level, and we need to get the ball to her more often. She is making more and more progress at the net as a blocker and is beginning to understand blocking at a very high level. As she improves mechanically and makes the small changes needed, Jessy will take her game to an elite level she doesn't know about yet. She is a special kid in many ways and I believe if she stays mindful in every drill, film session, conditioning session and makes good decisions throughout the season, she will separate herself as one of the best in the country. The challenge and opportunity are there for her to take a hold of.'

Also looking to make an impact at the middle blocker position is redshirt freshman Shantell Durrant. An American Fork, Utah native, Durrant sat out last season while honing her game and hopes to get her shot on the court this season. Durrant was an all-state athlete in both volleyball and basketball and is just waiting for an opportunity to show how her game has developed over the last year.

'Shantell made progress but, like everyone else, she must make more,' said McLaughlin. 'She is willing to do the work and she has shown good ability at the net when blocking. The key for Shan will be her arm swing. Arms are tough to change but we have to change her arm to get her on the floor.'

SETTERS

With the loss of Thompson at setter, who started every match of the last four years, a trio of players will battle it out for the starting position. Leading the way is freshman Jenna Hagglund, who graduated high school early to begin training with the Huskies last spring, as well as senior Alison Simmons and freshman Kelly Christian.

Hagglund, a West Chester, Ohio native, has been involved with the USA National Team system as a member of the 2006 US A2 team and 2005 USA Youth National A3 camp. The 2006 Cincinnati Player of the Year, Hagglund was ranked 29th nationally among the prep class of 2007 by PrepVolleyball.

'Everything has been new for Jenna and she has done a nice job taking each drill and each day, one at a time,' said McLaughlin. 'I'm impressed with her progress at this point and I believe she can and will do the things it takes to become a great setter at this level. She has all the ability and she is learning what it takes and how to develop her ability. Jenna has tremendous character, a strong presence and is capable of becoming a leader. She makes good decisions at this point in her career and is not afraid to take some chances. Making good decisions is the key to becoming a great setter and as she learns the demands and priorities of our system she will learn to make better choices. What also impresses me about Jenna is that she earned a 3.7 grade-point average in her first quarter at UW this past spring.'

Simmons completed her first season with the Huskies last year after transferring from Northwest College (Bothell, Wash.). She appeared in five matches, collecting 15 assists for a 2.50 apg average.

'Ali's progress this spring narrowed the gap and made the setter position competitive,' said McLaughlin. 'She loves to compete and if she can stay healthy and train at the level she needs to train to improve she could see playing time. Ali is a smart player and understands the system and I like the way she runs the team. She has a great serve and is one of the best defensive players on the team. I hope she stays healthy.'

Christian, a Newport Beach, Calif., native, was the 2006 Pacific Coast League MVP and was a first team All-CIF selection at Corona del Mar High School.

'What I like most about Kelly is her work ethic,' said McLaughlin. 'She is not afraid to go hard and because of that she will get better. She is a confident kid and that will only grow stronger as she improves her ability to set the ball and run this offense. It takes time to learn and I'm anxious to see her growth day to day.'

DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS/LIBERO

Miyashiro will once again anchor the Washington defense after filling the shoes of All-American Candace Lee as a redshirt freshman last season. Miyashiro made an immediate impact and was recognized as an All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection, Pac-10 All-Freshman Team pick and was named to the Seattle Regional All-Tournament Team. Miyashiro averaged 5.57 digs per game and had 32 double-digit dig performances, including five matches with 30 or more digs.

'Tama has a very good feel for the game, maybe the best feel and all around game of any player I've coached,' said McLaughlin. 'She continues to improve and the better she gets the more influence she has on our team. She competes at the highest level every day and makes the people around her better, but what separates her is her character and presence. She demands so much from herself and knows how to demand the same from the people around her. Some day she will play at the highest level but, of course, no one understands better than Tama that she must continue to grow as a player.'

Also returning as a defensive specialist is senior Ashley Aratani. She played in all 34 matches last season, making 14 starts, and played a key role off the bench with her float serve. Aratani finished the season with 1.73 dpg and 0.27 sapg with 30 total aces.

'Ash's defense speaks for itself,' said McLaughlin. 'She's one of the best. She is fast, has tremendous range defensively and she covers hitters well. Her serve is very tough to pass as well but the key for Ash will be her ability to pass. As she improves her passing she will contribute more significantly to our team. We will invest in her passing.'

Sophomore Megan McAfee also returns to help on defense after appearing in 13 matches last season. She collected 20 digs on the season and a pair of aces.

'Megan has ability and she will be as good as she wants to be,' said McLaughlin. 'She made progress this spring and did a good job at Nationals. It's time for Megan to beat someone out for playing time. Every great team has two great defensive specialists. If Megan wants to, she can become one of them.'

Washington also welcomes newcomer Bizzy Williams to the Husky defense. Williams, a Sammamish, Wash., native, was the 2006 King County MVP and the All-Eastside Player of the Year.

'I like a lot of things about Bizzy,' said McLaughlin. 'She works so hard, she's quick, and most importantly, she is intense. I look forward to working with her and finding out her pace of learning. We are excited about this kid.'

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