Lone Senior Sets The Tone For Cougars

By Neil Stover

When Washington State University women's volleyball opens its season Friday against Santa Clara in the Seattle University Invitational, this year's team will sport changes aplenty.

A new head coach and coaching staff, freshly redesigned uniforms and a clean slate in the win-loss column all promise to be readily apparent. But perhaps the most noticeable change for the 2011 Cougars is the 11 newcomers the team welcomes into the fold. A mere four of the five returning players on the WSU roster have ever dawned the crimson and gray during live action.

Yet, despite all of the turnover, one constant remains: senior outside hitter Meagan Ganzer.

New head coach Jen Greeny expects Ganzer's experience to be a critical asset for the youthful Cougars.

"Meagan Ganzer has a very important role on the team with her three years of Pac-10 experience," Greeny said. "That's very important with so many newcomers."

The team's lone senior, Ganzer understands her role is as much about providing leadership for her inexperienced teammates as it is about producing on the court.

"I've always been more of the 'you get what you give' [type] as far as respecting my teammates [and how] I motivate them and they motivate me," Ganzer said. "But I've always been more of a lead by example kind of player. I like to do more than I say, so I think just showing them how things are done and how to go about practice has been really great."

Serving in a leadership role is nothing new for the Black Diamond, Wash., native. If service is the essence of leadership, Ganzer began cultivating the craft years ago.

As a student at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, Wash., Ganzer enrolled in a leadership class because of her passion for involvement. The course helped her foster an understanding of what it takes and what it means to lead.

"It's just given me good people skills as far as interacting and what gets people going and excited, and how do people operate," she said.

Those skills were not lost on Ganzer during her transition to college life. Rather, they set the foundation for what has evolved into a vital role for the Cougars.

But if her class in high school was the foundation for Ganzer's leadership abilities, her experiences and involvement at WSU serve as the wall framing. Over the course of her time in Pullman, Ganzer has repeatedly immersed herself in the leadership pool in various projects.

Ganzer is one of just four student-athletes on the executive board for WSU's branch of the Student Athletic Advisor Committee (S.A.A.C), with her serving as the treasurer. Her roles include managing all of the expenses and allocating money for the Cougar Sports Awards, as well as advising with and planning all of the committee's events. WSU S.A.A.C. President Natasha Ostopovich believes Ganzer's contributions to the program are invaluable to the group's overall outreach.

"Meagan has a lot of great ideas," Ostopovich said. "And she's got a great work ethic to help put those ideas in motion. She really is an excellent contributor to the group."

One reason for Ganzer's desire to get involved with the local community is because of the tight-knit culture amongst the school's student-athletes. It is that constant interaction, according to Ganzer, that truly separates WSU from other schools around the conference. And it's that interaction that furthers Ganzer's drive to lead.

"Pullman is a unique experience. Everybody is friends with everybody. Everybody sees everybody," Ganzer said. "I love it. It's like a family environment."

Those in and around the Palouse region have already witnessed the initial wave of an increased emphasis on giving back. Unsurprisingly, as her history would suggest, Ganzer is front and center in all of it. This summer, Ganzer joined 26 other student-athletes in constructing a house in nearby Uniontown, Wash., as part of a Palouse Habitat for Humanity project. But while service is an everyday part of her life, Ganzer said she not only loved to see the camaraderie formed by doing good for others, but also how rewarding the project was for all those involved. And for her personally, the project helped further her development as a leader.

This season marks Ganzer's last tour of duty as a student-athlete, but leadership is a quality sure to remain a prominent part of her life. The do-everything senior hopes to go into some form of social work after graduation. But first, she has some unfinished business.

One year after making the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars went winless in the Pac-10 last season. Those results, coupled with the influx of newcomers and a coaching change, steered the coaches to pick WSU to finish last in the Pac-12 this year.

And that is just fine with Ganzer: "I love that they ranked us that. I love it. I think that just shows they don't know anything about us. It gives us that underdog appeal and nobody is going to expect what's coming."

Coming off a season that saw her rank third in the Pac-10 and eighth in the NCAA in both kills per set and points per set, Ganzer looks to improve on those results this season. But, by her own admission, improvement means backing off those career-highs, not adding to them.

"I'm hoping to be lower in that standing," Ganzer said. "[Last season] was kind of an unbalanced offense. We have some great players this year, so we're going to spread the offense out definitely a lot more. That's a good thing for the rest of the team and for balance, and [will lead to] us being more successful."

Despite the question marks surrounding WSU entering the season, Ganzer maintains her expectations are as high as ever. Much of the reason for that confidence is the elevated talent added to the program and the benefits derived from such talent.   

"With so many new girls coming in, there's such heavy competition for each position, which has been fueling our improvement," she said. "We've gotten a lot of work done and I see good things happening. Hopefully we'll just take people by surprise."

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