Season Preview: Outside Hitters

Aug. 26, 2009

The 2009 Washington volleyball season begins this Friday at home against San Jose State. The Huskies once again expect a great deal out of themselves, and preseason pollsters would agree, with Washington coming in fourth in both preseason polls, and No. 1 in the Pac-10 Coaches Poll. Leading up to the opener, GoHuskies.com will take a look at the various positions on this talented team through the eyes of ninth-year head coach Jim McLaughlin.

Washington's dynamic outside hitters will provide hundreds of finishes this season on the court, but that is where the preview will begin. Although there is talent and depth at every position, the group of outside hitters that Coach Jim McLaughlin has at his disposal is one of the most dangerous units in the nation.

'We have the firepower, we have the speed, we have the ball control, and we have the people,' said McLaughlin when asked about the qualities that should lead the team to success. 'We just need to stay focused on the things that tell us what to do and be in good places at the right time and we can apply a lot of pressure.'

That firepower was the first quality mentioned is not surprising. Washington has four premier outside hitters this year with Becky Perry, Jill Collymore, Arial Salvo and Kindra Carlson all returning. Feeding the foursome is junior setter Jenna Haglund.

Senior Jill Collymore has come a long way since she was the high school state player of the year in 2004 at The Bush School in Seattle. Collymore is the only player left that was active during the Huskies National Championship season in 2005. Her thunderous serve has become a fearsome weapon and can instantly sway the momentum of any set. Collymore led the Pac-10 with 0.46 services aces per set last year, but set off this summer to improve on other areas of her game.

'Jill has worked so hard,' said McLaughlin. 'Maybe as hard as any player I've coached. She is getting the return and, if she stays on track, she will continue to improve. I'm excited for her and I'm proud of her and the changes she has made.'

That dedication may have manifested itself in the spring, when Collymore was named tournament MVP as the Huskies won the USA Volleyball Open Championship in Minnesota, beating the U.S. A2 National Team in the final.

'She has become a very mindful, mature player and she knows how to learn. She also knows she must stay connected or she will regress. Everything is beginning to click for her and she just needs to do the same things on game day.'

Becky Perry possesses one of the most powerful arms in Husky history. The junior is coming off a season in which she was named All-Pac-10 and was named a second team All-American by Under Armour/Volleyball Magazine. She led Washington with 3.77 kills per set, which put her in the top five in the Pac-10. Perry will again be one of the most feared hitters in the Pac-10 in 2009.

'She has the whole package physically and if she can continue to think the right thoughts when training and in matches, she will play at the elite level,' said McLaughlin of Perry. 'Serve receive and off plays will be her emphasis as well as just managing her game and understanding or seeing situations a little quicker. She has the fire you need and her fire burns bright.'

The Huskies have another power arm in the fold with junior Kindra Carlson coming on strong last year. Generally playing opposite Perry or Collymore, Carlson posted an impressive 3.23 kills per set and 0.85 blocks game, both ranking second on the team. Carlson was named honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2009 and has taken the necessary steps to improve on that this year. Her ability to play above the net is one of the best on the team, and should make her even more dangerous this year.

'Every day is a fun day being in the gym with Kindra because of her intensity,' said McLaughlin. 'Kindra will do what it takes to get the job done. She did a great job this past spring forcing herself to make a few changes mechanically.'

'It's never easy making any change and the frustration can tempt us to take the easy road or to do the things the same way we've always done them. Kindra did her best job channeling the frustration into improvement. She is playing very fast and very high above the net and as long as she can stay focused on the things that tell you what to do (the speed to play at) she will be very hard to stop.'

The Huskies have more than just power though, as senior Airial Salvo provides an all-around game at outside hitter.

'She and (libero Tamari Miyashiro) see the game better than any other players I've ever coached,' said McLaughlin. 'The thing I like most about Airial is she has no glaring weaknesses but she can fix a few little things that will help her do things a much higher level.'

That higher level will have a good base from 2008. In her first year at Washington as a junior, Salvo helped the Huskies to the elite eight. Salvo, who is touted for her defense as much as her offensive ability, was also name All-Pac-10 honorable mention. She was fourth in the Pac-10 with 0.28 aces per game, and showed her all around game by earning eight double-doubles on the year. Her 2.41 digs per set were the best of any outside hitter, and were second on the team. McLaughlin sees an even better player in 2009.

'Airial made a few mechanical changes this past spring that will really upgrade her game once she becomes comfortable doing them all the time,' said McLaughlin. 'Her shoulder is feeling better so she will take her game to a different level this year.'

Four hitters usually aren't seen on the court at once, although McLaughlin has said he may try to get them all out there at once. However it plays out, all four will undoubtedly have their chances to show what they bring to the table. The amount of talent also should allow the team to stay fresh for the rigorous Pac-10 schedule and postseason play.

'Great teams have great depth and great competition,' said McLaughlin.The Huskies hope to be a great team in 2009, and with the help of the fantastic four outside hitters that hope stands a great chance to be realized.

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