Former Champs Return To Contribute In New Ways

March 14, 2010

By Alexandra Davis

In 2005, the Washington Husky volleyball team won their first National Championship with the help of two standout middle blockers, Darla Myhre (now Darla Van Winkle) and Jessica Veris. At 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-1 respectively, crowds couldn't miss these two tall blondes on the court, with their energy and a determination to capture the national title in their senior years at Washington.

'It's still surreal when people ask you the question,' says Van Winkle, 'It's kind of one of those moments where it is a dream and we know it is a reality, but it still feels like a dream. It's indescribable.'

The two enjoyed their experience so much at Washington, that they have found themselves back on campus and working for the athletic department, hoping to contribute to the student-athlete experience that they recently gained from.

Van Winkle was hired in August 2008 and holds the title of Assistant Event Manager. As part of the Event Management Team she shares responsibilities for game day operations, special events, facility scheduling and management of Event Staff.

After an impressive senior season, leading the Pac-10 in hitting percentage with a .417 clip, Van Winkle, a native of Victoria, B.C., graduated in 2006 and continued her volleyball career in Monforte, Spain. After having the experience of playing professionally for a year, Van Winkle came back to the state of Washington to coach at Central Washington University and pursue a graduate degree in Athletic Administration. With plans to get married, Van Winkle made her way back to the west side of the state after one year at Central Washington to start a new life with husband, Adam (a former Husky crew team member), and landed the position at Washington.

Veris, hired in January 2010, works part-time in the Life Skills Area as a program assistant, where she works with career development, community service and leadership with the student-athletes at UW and Washington Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (WSAAC).

Also graduating in 2006, Veris went home to Manhattan Beach, California to pursue professional beach volleyball with the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Tour. She was first invited to the collegiate nationals, which was based off a boot camp where she was then invited to play with the AVP. Instead of going with the UW team to compete in China after their national title, she went to the invite camp amongst top college players who were looking to experience the transition from indoor to beach volleyball.

Veris traveled the country for the next year, playing with different partners, until she was injured and needed foot surgery. She then pursued a graduate degree in Sport Management from California State University, Long Beach, where she graduated in August 2009. During her time in Long Beach, she gained experience working positions with the Los Angeles Clippers, USA Water Polo, Fox Sports and as a student mentor at UCLA.

Being part of the first recruiting class for Coach Jim McLaughlin was something that Van Winkle and Veris will never forget. Van Winkle recalls, 'It was a whirlwind because you don't understand the magnitude of what you are going through until you are actually here. Looking back on it, it was pretty amazing to be part of the team that transformed Husky volleyball.'

When the two started at Washington in 2002, the Husky volleyball team was last in the Pac-10. By the time they graduated, they had moved not only to the top of the Pac-10, but made two Final Fours and won a national title. The incredible experience they had playing for Coach McLaughlin has something to do with the reason they returned.

'I think everyone respects him and the fact that he knows so much about volleyball,' Veris said. 'One of his famous quotes is, `There are no little things'. There are so many quotes from Jim that we remember and stick with us. Everything about his coaching style is amazing. And that goes for the assistant coaches too.'

As former student athletes, they will be the first to admit that it was a different experience being on the other side of things at Washington.

'It was surreal at first, because the student athletes don't understand what goes on behind the scenes. This is a tribute to the athletic department and who they bring in,' said Van Winkle. 'We don't understand the capacity and what the daily operations are like, so it took a little bit of getting used to, but now I appreciate what people did in the athletic department so much more.'

Veris, who feels the same way, has just been back a month and hasn't completely gotten used to the fact that she is not still an athlete after being back at Washington. 'It really makes you appreciate being a student athlete at UW. I've only been here for a month, so I'm allowed to say it's still kind of weird being on the other side, but I walked up to Darla and said, `Was this weird for you too?''

The two have found their niche being back in the athletic environment at Washington. As for the future, both see a continued career in athletics.

Van Winkle knows this is where she wants to be. 'I don't know where ten years is going to take me, but I hope to take steps in furthering my career in athletics, whether one day it's being a senior women's administrator or something along those lines. I would love to do that,' she said.

While having the experience of working in many different areas of athletics, Veris is interested in finding a focus, and right now she really loves working with student athletes. She was the WSAAC President during her time as a student athlete at Washington, so it comes as no surprise that she would find a passion there.

'I like being around student athletes, I love the college atmosphere and the fast-paced, everyday work that goes on,' says Veris. 'My goal right now is to keep furthering my experience in collegiate athletics. My original intent was to be an athletic director, so we'll see if I keep going on that path.'

Naturally, with their specific expertise and experience on the volleyball court, their presence at Washington is also important for the Husky volleyball program. Van Winkle and Veris are both active in coaching for the Jim McLaughlin Volleyball Camp during summer which includes young girls from grades 4-12.

After having such an incredible career here at Washington, they envy the current players and those whose careers are just starting.

'Jim asks me all the time, `When are you going to play with us?'' Van Winkle says smiling, 'Maybe soon,' she adds.

Veris currently does strength training sessions with the team and provides a great role model and someone the current players can talk with about their everyday experiences. Laughing, Veris says, 'We'd love to put on a jersey and go play again.'

Yet while their playing days may be over, four years down the road Van Winkle and Veris are finding new ways to contribute and bring the same attitude to the Washington athletic department that made them a part of the nation's best volleyball team.

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