Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 13, 2004

EVERY PLAY, EVERYDAYThe Washington volleyball team's recipe for success in 2004 is simple- make every play, everyday. This team motto, that was adopted when Jim McLaughlin took over the reigns of Husky volleyball in 2001, has helped catapult Washington from the bottom of the Pacific-10 Conference to a top 10 team and national title contender.Last season, McLaughlin's approach helped Washington amass a 23-9 record and tie its best-ever postseason finish with an appearance in the Elite Eight. In the quarterfinal match, Washington lost a five-game heartbreaker to Minnesota to just miss out on what would have been the program's first Final Four appearance. While McLaughlin is proud of his team for its accomplishments, he makes it clear that the team is not'satisfied with just being a top 10 program. Washington is hungry for a national title.'There is always room for improvement,' said McLaughlin. 'As a coach, you are proud of advancing to the Elite Eight but you're never totally content. This team made big'strides last year but there were still seven teams better than we were. We just need to look at the things that we need to correct and go correct them this season. It's pretty simple.'Keys to success in 2004 will be a combination of Washington's firepower, its passing ability, and its intense work ethic.'This team knows how to work hard,' said McLaughlin. 'We can pass the ball, we have good ball control and we have some live arms. We don't need to reinvent the wheel this season and there's no magic in winning. If we do things the right way and our hearts and minds are in it and we work extremely hard-we will get better.'The Huskies enter the season with a No. 7 national ranking in the AVCA USA Today/CSTV preseason poll and have been picked to finish third in the grueling Pac-10 by the league's coaches. It marks Washington's highest preseason ranking in the Pac-10 since 1995 but McLaughlin takes all the hype in stride as he believes rankings don't always tell the whole story.'Last year we weren't ranked in the preseason poll and we finished in the top 10,' said McLaughlin. 'This year we are in the top 10, but we try not to focus on that too much. The girls are excited but what matters to us is that we get a little better every day. We need to just take'care of what we need to take care of and make progress every time we take the court. If we do that, the ranking is going to be kind of fun in the end.'Washington returns 10 players from the Elite Eight team, including four that earned All-Pac-10 honors.UW's ace is senior outside hitter Sanja Tomasevic. Tomasevic earned second team All-American honors last season after ranking among the conference's top three in kills, points and aces. Three other returners were named to the Pac-10 honorable mention team, including junior middle blocker Darla Myhre, junior libero Candace Lee and sophomore setter Courtney Thompson. Tomasevic and Thompson will also serve as team captains for the second consecutive season.'Sanja and Courtney did great last year as captains so we are going to go with them again,' said McLaughlin. 'They have provided some really sound leadership and we don't want to change things--we just want them to get better. They both have amazing drive, they just need to have their focus in the right area. Leadership is hard, responsibility is tough. Great leaders serve their people, and Sanja and Courtney can do that.'Also adding to Washington's arsenal are four newcomers, headlined by outside hitter Christal Morrison and middle blocker Alesha Deesing.'Christal Morrison is one of the top recruits in the country and Alesha Deesing was one of the top and most physical recruits in the country,' said McLaughlin. 'Those two are physical enough to make an impact in some way, shape or form. Time will tell. The first year is always the toughest, but you can have a tremendous amount of growth in the initial period. We are seeing it. You rate your recruiting class a couple of years down the road, but I sure am encouraged every day. I am excited about the season ahead.'OUTSIDE HITTERSWashington returns a strong corps of outside hitters for the 2004 campaign, headlined by Tomasevic. A senior from Uzice, Serbia and Montenegro, Tomasevic led the Huskies in nearly every statistical category last season, while ranking third in the Pac-10 with 5.29 kills per game. She set school records for single-season attacks (1411) and aces (58) and tallied double-figure kills in every match.'Sanja does many things at a high level and she has a true feel for the game,' said McLaughlin.''If she can add the extreme discipline to her game that all the great ones have and continue to prioritize her game, she will take it to the highest level.'Other key returners include Kaitlin Leck, Brie Hagerty, Jessica Veris and Carolyn Farny. Leck, a senior from Carson City, Nev., played in 95 games last season, averaging 3.09 ppg, while ranking fourth on the team with 2.44 kpg.'At times, Kait is the best attacker in the gym because she is fast and has a good arm,' said McLaughlin. 'Being a lefty, we can get the ball to her on the right side in all situations. If Kait improves her serve receive skills, she could become an all-conference player.'Hagerty, who made her Husky debut last season after transferring from Ohio State, made an immediate impact on the Washington offense. She ranked second on the team with 3.56 kpg and 3.90 ppg, while posting double-figure kills 23 times.'Brie has the drive,' said McLaughlin. 'If she keeps her emotions from taking her out of the game and continues to do things in the right way, Brie should become an All-American. Attacking is her identity but she can block when she remains focused.'Veris, a junior from Manhattan Beach, Calif., appeared in 57 games for the Purple and Gold, making seven starts. She averaged 1.46 kpg and 1.56 dpg.'Jess is one of the most skilled players on our team,' said McLaughlin. 'She has a very fast arm and the ability to play under control at all times. I'm impressed with her composure in tough situations. If she can improve her ability to play above the net, she will become an impact player.'Farny saw limited action last season, playing in five matches and seven games.'Carolyn made significant progress this spring and she has tightened the gap for playing time,' said McLaughlin. 'It's now time for her to beat someone out. Although her skill level is more complete, Carolyn needs to develop an identity other than blocking. Her ability to pass will be key.'Adding depth to the Huskies' offense will be newcomer and 2003 Gatorade Player of the Year Christal Morrison. Standing at 6-foot-2, she is expected to immediately bolster Washington's firepower and take some of the scoring pressure off of Tomasevic. Morrison, a four-year letterwinner at Puyallup High School, should adapt quickly to the Huskies' style as she is more than familiar with UW setter Courtney Thompson. Morrison and Thompson were club teammates for Kent Juniors and Morrison has also honed her skills with the junior national team that earned a silver medal at the NORCECA Junior Continental Championship in Puerto Rico.'Christal is the real deal,' said McLaughlin. 'She is fast, jumps high, hits hard and has a nice skill level. The key to her development will be how she assesses and manages her game day-to-day. If she wants to be the best and does things in the right way- she will be the best. Plus, she's a good kid.'SETTERSThompson returns as Washington's starting setter after a record-setting freshman season. Thompson, a native of Kent, Wash., tallied 1590 assists last season, breaking the school record by more than 150 assists. Her 14.20 assists per game ranked third in the nation and first in the conference to pick up Pac-10 All-Freshman team and All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors.'Not many freshmen could have done what Court did last year and we aren't even close to where she could and will be,' said McLaughlin. 'Her competitiveness is unmatched on a day-to-day basis and she is developing sound composure, which is a tough trait to understand your first year. She will do whatever it takes- work hard, study film, tutor, etc. She has matured in her first year and is beginning to grasp the setting position from an emotional, intellectual and physical aspect. I thought she was one of the best setters in the country last season and I want her better this year.'The Huskies will also introduce Erin Liu into the mix this season. Liu, a junior academically, will be a rookie athletically. McLaughlin will look to her to challenge Thompson to get better each day and be prepared to step in at a moments notice.'Erin was a pleasant surprise this past spring,' said McLaughlin. 'She knows the commitment level it takes to be on the University of Washington volleyball team. She knows how tough it is going to be and she welcomes the challenge. She is the type of kid we want representing our university and program. I'd like to have her take the approach that she can she put pressure on Courtney and make her better. 'MIDDLE BLOCKERSThe Huskies will look to veterans Dalra Myhre and Egan Metcalf to anchor the middle, while freshman Alesha Deesing should also see significant time at the net.Darla Myhre, a junior from Victoria, British Columbia, ranked sixth nationally with a .418 hitting percentage last season. She averaged 2.22 kpg and led the Huskies with a 1.10 blocks per game average, which also ranked 10th in the Pac-10.'Darla continues to improve her attacking and attacking will be her primary focus for a while,' said McLaughlin. 'We've asked her to get stronger and she is a lot stronger. She has distinguished herself as a blocker but if Dar is to make the all-conference team, she knows what she has to work on and she just has to go after it.'Metcalf, a senior from Kenmore, Wash., saw limited action last season but made the most of her appearances with 1.71 kpg and 0.82 bpg. She logged at least one kill in every match in which she appeared and had a season-best performance against 17th-ranked Wisconsin with six kills and four blocks.'I can legitimately say that Egan is in the mix,' said McLaughlin. 'I love coaching her. She gives everything she has everyday, every play and then she gives more. Egan knows what she has to do. She has made great gains but she has to make more progress. Egan has a chance to be a starting center blocker.'Deesing, a freshman from Salem, Ore., joins the Husky squad after a successful career at Santiam Christian High School. Deesing led the 2003 team to the state championship while earning first team all-tourney accolades. She also served as team captain and was named to the all-league first team. A former member of the Webfoot Juniors 18 Gold team, Deesing's 6-foot-1 frame will bring extra height to the Husky middle.'Alesha is physical and as she learns to control her ability- the sky will be the limit,' said McLaughlin. 'She will learn what she needs to do and as she makes progress, her confidence will build. She has a drive comparable to Court and Brie, which is the key. In time she will learn what she needs to know. I can't wait to coach her.'DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTSJunior libero Candace Lee, who has led UW in digs each of the last two seasons, will anchor Washington's defense. Last year, Lee averaged 4.17 dpg to rank third in the Pac-10. She set the school's single-season record with 467 total digs, recorded 25 double-figure dig performances and committed just 30 reception errors.'Candace, in my opinion, is the best and I believe she will only get better,' said McLaughlin. 'Everyday she is connected to the task emotionally, intellectually and physically. She needs to be and deserves to be more aggressive.'Also returning to the Washington defensive line-up is junior Danka Danicic. Danicic, a native of Lijg, Serbia and Montenegro, played in 81 games for the Huskies last season, posting 48 digs for a 0.59 dpg average.'Danka just had the best spring of her career,' said McLaughlin. 'She increased her range defensively and is running to and picking up more balls. What has impressed me most is that she has made some improvements in her passing game. We asked her to change her technique and she did. We are reaping the return but we want more.'McLaughlin will also look for Tomasevic to pull double-duty- not just as UW's primary scorer but as a primary passer as well.'Sanja can do everything,' said McLaughlin. 'She can do a lot on the court, but I want her to be the best passer. I want her and Candace to control the floor. Her contribution to the team is significant if she does the things she is capable of doing.'Washington also welcomes newcomer Ashley Aratani to its defense. Aratani, a walk-on from Honolulu, Hawaii, earned first team all-state honors in 2002 and led her team to the 2001 state championship.'Ash is fast and likes to compete,' said McLaughlin. 'As she learns our mechanics and systems she will become a contributor.'SCHEDULEWashington opens its 2004 campaign with 10 pre-conference road matches. The Huskies open the season at home with an exhibition match against Canada's Trinity Western on Sept. 1. UW then hits the road for three-straight tournaments hosted by Northern Illinois, Wichita State and Boise State. Washington's toughest pre-conference opponent should be NCAA participant Florida A&M at the Boise State Tournament. Last season, FAMU dropped to Elite Eight team Georgia Tech in the NCAA second round.The Huskies kick-off the Pac-10 slate with the toughest road series of the season as they face UCLA and defending national champion USC. USC and UCLA were picked to finish first and second, respectively in the Pac-10 and the Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the preseason national poll. The Pac-10 schedule is expected to be fierce as six of its teams participated in the 2003 postseason and five advanced to the regional tournament. 'Our schedule is a little tougher than we've had in the past,' said McLaughlin. 'But you never know. We are at a point now that if we play well, we have a good chance to win. We also want to stay in the present and take the season one match at a time. You can't look too far down the road- you have to stay in the now. If we can do that and continue to get better every play, everyday- we will succeed. That's the Washington way.'