From The Program: Committed To Winning
Sept. 14, 2009
The following feature was published in the most recent Husky football program at the game against Idaho. The story comes from a season preview angle and obviously the Huskies are well into the season now but fans might still enjoy the read.
By Michael Jeremiah
The University of Washington volleyball team enters the2009 season with high expectations, All-Americantalent and the steady hand of Jim McLaughlin leadingthe way to what should be a special season. A large part ofthe team that fell just a few points short of reaching the FinalFour returns with their eyes set on taking the next step in theireffort to add another national championship season toWashington's trophy case.
The Huskies' powerful offense will be run through juniorsetter Jenna Hagglund. A third team All-American last year,Hagglund led the Pac-10 and was second in the nation with12.17 assists per set. Washington players know that evenwith powerful hitters, it's important to get the ball to theirprolific setter in order to position for a dangerous attack.
On the defensive side, the Huskies have the best libero inthe country. As a defensive specialist, Tamari Miyashiro hasbeen one of the best players to ever play the relatively newposition to the college game. Miyashiro was named theNational Defensive Player of the Year by UnderArmour/Volleyball Magazine the last two years. She led the Pac-10with 5.14 digs per set.
In the middle, the Huskies have to replace stalwart JessicaSwarbrick. She was the only senior starter in 2008, and animportant part of that team. Filling the void will be sophomoreBianca Rowland, a player that McLaughlin raves about. Rowland playedextensively as a freshman and the task is to tap into her potential and watchher flourish under McLaughlin's system. Sophomore Lauren Barfield isrecovering from a broken finger, but her 6-5 frame alone makes her a problemfor opposing hitters.
There is strength all over the court for Washington, but the true muscle ofthe team is at outside hitter. All four top hitters return to the team creating anice problem to have -- too many talented players at a vital position. BeckyPerry, Airial Salvo, Jill Collymore and Kindra Carlson all have all-conferenceability that has either already been rewarded or is likely to be this season.
'With this group, we have the firepower, we have the speed, we have theball control, and we have the people. We just need to stay focused on thethings that tell us what to do and be in good places at the right time and wecan apply a lot of pressure,' says McLaughlin.
Applying pressure won't be hard with such a talented group of hitters, butthe logjam at the position might make it tricky to get everyone on the court atthe same time. Each hitter has their own skill set that can help the team win,so all will be needed if the Huskies hope to achieve the heights that theyenjoyed in 2005. Part of the advantage shows its head in practice, with playersalways pushing for more playing time and trying to be the best on one of thetop units in the country, there never is a down moment for the unit.
'Great teams have great depth and great competition,' said McLaughlin,who may try playing all four hitters at once. 'It's a dogfight every day. Wherethere's competition there's progress. We're making a lot of progress, each oneof them. Every day, you ask them, there's some heat going on and they got tobring their game.'
The competition between the hitters is an everyday battle that will workitself out in practice and the non-conference games and evokes memories of2005. According to McLaughlin and many of his players, there is a focus anddetermination among both the veterans and rookies that is reminiscent of the2005 team that won the NCAA title.
'Definitely the mindset and the amount of upperclassmen that we have and howthe underclassmen are responding to practice are very similar to 2005,' said Perry.Any program that has won a national championship will try to match that
success in the future, and the team understands that any comparisons to thechampionship season are good. One similarity between the two teams is thatboth entered the season deep and experienced. With seven upperclassmenthat participated in the 2006 Final Four and 10 players that were so close lastyear, success in the postseason isn't a foreign concept.
'This team has done some good things,' said McLaughlin. 'They have someexperience and you learn from your experiences and I think they're ready to takethe next step. They're going to be ready to take the next step and they know it'snot going to be easy and they also know that we can't take anything for granted.All the little things we do, the cumulative effect of all those things are going to becritical so we can't take a day off, mentally, physically, emotionally.'
The expectations of success aren't just limited to those surrounding theprogram, as Washington's reputation nationwide has grown as one of the topprograms over McLaughlin's tenure. That reputation and the bevy of returnersled to the Huskies being named the Pac-10 favorite by the conference's coaches.
That type of prediction in a conference as strong as the Pac-10 coulddistract an unfocused team, but Washington is taking it as a complimentinstead of a coronation.
'It's exciting to know that we are acknowledged around the country but atthe same time, it's only what matters in our gym,' said Perry.
With a focus on competition and improvement, the Huskies hope to beplaying their best volleyball in the post-season. A talented roster and a coachthat knows what it takes to be a champion makes Washington a dangerousteam in the national title hunt this year.
'This team works extremely hard,' said McLaughlin. 'The thing I admiremost about them is the commitment they make day-to-day. It's remarkableand if we can sustain that commitment over the course of the season, we havea chance to do what we want to do.'