Alumni Return Home For Celebration And Competition

May 19, 2010

After the Husky volleyball team wrapped up its final scrimmage against Santa Clara, the Marv Harshman court was swarmed over by dozens of children expending some energy and attempting to emulate a few bumps and spikes learned while watching the Huskies and Broncos work out just a few feet away. Maybe one of the girls on hand will end up suiting up for the Huskies in a few years, inspired by the present group, who in turn have followed in the footsteps of hundreds of Huskies who blazed a trail over the past 36 years.

Saturday was a day of celebration for the Husky alumni; a chance to reconnect with old friends, see how the current team operates, and also a chance to come out and play the sport that they love.

Many of the alums were on hand to watch the UW scrimmage against Santa Clara to start the day. Assistant Coach Leslie Tuiasosopo, herself a decorated alum of course, welcomed the group in the Founder's Club in Bank of America Arena along with the rest of the current team, and led them on a tour of the facilities, which have come a long way since the program's infancy.

The Alumni Match

At 4 p.m., Tuiasosopo led a group of 12 recruits back onto the Marv Harshman court for the first of what will hopefully become an annual alumni game. The teams were split into Purple and Gold squads, six women to a team.

Team Purple was made up of Paige Benjamin (2002), Gretchen (Maurer) Killibrew (2002), Dragana Djordjevic (1995), Carolyn Farny (2005), Elissa Ross (2002), and Kelley (Larsen) Sweeney (1991). On Team Gold was Tuiasosopo (1998), Darla (Myhre) Van Winkle (2005), Jessica Veris (2005), Angie (Short) Coma (1998), Ashleigh (Robertson) Dickinson (1992) and late addition Kara (Hardesty) Peterson (1984), who made an impressive go of it in bare feet.

It turned out to be a well-chosen group as the teams were neck and neck throughout two sets, the first to 25 points and the next to 15.

Early in the first set, Djordjevic showed she still could call upon a great jump serve that racked up 142 aces in her career, third-most in Husky history, helping Purple to an early lead. Strong play from Dickinson on the outside and at the service line helped Gold even it up, and Husky head coach Jim McLaughlin stepped in to whistles a timeout at 16-all.

Gold took a lead with a kill out of the middle from Darla (Myhre) Van Winkle, which prompted an impressed shout from her former coach. Purple responded with a point off a dump from former All-Pac-10 setter Gretchen (Maurer) Killibrew. However, a subsequent attempt from Killibrew was countered at the net by Gold's Jessica Veris. Van Winkle and Veris both now work in the athletic department, as was detailed in a GoHuskies feature earlier this year.

Purple took a 21-20 lead on two straight kills from Paige Benjamin, who was the first Husky to earn All-America honors for Coach McLaughlin in 2002. Benjamin and Killibrew were a lock to team up Saturday, since they spent all four years of their careers helping get UW to the NCAA tourney in 2002 after a four-year absence. After a Dickinson kill gave Gold a set point, Killibrew set Benjamin up for a put-away to even it. Purple earned the 26-24 win with Farny knocking one off a block by Tuiasosopo and out.

The next set needed extra points as well. Van Winkle tied it at 14-14 with a kill but Farny got the chance for the game-winner yet again, finishing off a 16-14 win for Team Purple.

Post-Match Thoughts

After the game there was laughter and compliments all around, and Dickinson and Sweeney both talked to Tuiasosopo about potentially making the games more than a once-a-year occurrence.

Benjamin talked about rekindling the chemistry with her former setter.

'We were trying to get that connection going, especially towards the end, we talked and said, `Let's try something, let's try some `go's' and see if we can get on the first step.' So it was fun, it was good to try it, and next year when she's playing in an adult league again we'll probably play together again,' said Benjamin.

As part of the first team to play for McLaughlin at Washington, Benjamin played a big role in the change in culture that has made Washington a National Champion and perennial Top-10 team. She still remembers the first meeting with the new coach and his surprisingly lofty goals for a team that had won just four Pac-10 matches the year before.

'Jim came in and said, `In five years we're going to win a national championship.' And you know everyone kind of looked around the room and was like, `Okay, he seems really sure about this idea.' And sure enough, five years later they won a national championship,' Benjamin said. 'He has a plan, and he tells you how to get there, and as long as you're following it, you get there.'

The match was a family affair in more ways than one for Sweeney, who returned to the Harshman court for the first time with her daughter in tow. She and Dickinson also played with April (Topham) Muñoz, who was in attendance with her own daughter, Kylin, who is about to become eligible to play for the Huskies this fall.

'Playing in this gym and having your daughter right there, that's weird. And one of the players we used to play with, April, her daughter is actually on the team. So that dates us just a little,' Sweeney said with a laugh.

The pair noted the amazing growth of the sport and the changes in the game since their time, all positive, except they are not fans of serves being allowed to hit the net.

'They've changed a lot of the rules since we've played and made it a more interactive and faster paced game which is great,' Dickinson said. 'Also at all positions the girls are very well-rounded athletes now. Over time it's evolved and when we were here it was just starting that way.'

Sweeney agreed and said that at six-feet tall she used to be one of the tallest players but now felt short by comparison. The locker room tour also made an impression on Sweeney's daughter.

'She asked, `Did you guys have a locker room like this?' I said, `No, we didn't even have locker rooms. We had to walk three miles in the snow...''

One alum who can attest to the changes in support over the years is Marci Mulloy, a letterwinner from 1976 who took in the game and the dinner afterwards. Mulloy was just two years removed from the inaugural Husky team, and in her era not even the Marv Harshman Court existed in any of its earlier incarnations. Her Husky squad went 18-9 for Carol Garringer, and played all their matches in Hutchinson Hall on upper campus, which currently houses the UW drama department and seems as unlikely a place as could be for a volleyball match.

'We were up the hill with the spiders and the rust and drove everywhere we went in a little van, no matter where it was, as far down as Southern Oregon,' said Mulloy. 'We thought it was so exciting when they built this, and started playing down here.'

Washington's sleek Nike-designed and sponsored uniforms also were a distant dream in those early days.

'We kind of got the bottom of the barrel, and the uniforms were hysterical. But it really makes it nice to see how far these gals have come.'

Dickinson agreed, and was impressed to see approximately 200 fans turn out just to watch the Husky scrimmage earlier in the afternoon.

'We had nice crowds too when we played in this gym, but that's been so nice just to see the following. They have such a great crowd and fan support,' she said.

Mulloy's daughter now plays college volleyball at the University of Arkansas-Monticello and in her club days would compete at Hec-Ed Pavilion for the Emerald City Classic, allowing Mulloy a chance to return to campus, if not the Hutchinson basement.

'It's really nice. They've got a great program, I love watching them still,' she said. According to Mulloy, she wishes she could still play, but four knee surgeries took a big toll. Her daughter called to make sure she'd be staying on the sidelines. 'I still get the itch,' she admitted. 'The body won't go but the mind is just as quick.'

The prevailing sentiment was one of appreciation for the current era, and playing a role in bringing the sport to its current level. All hoped this first gathering would be just the start of something bigger in coming years.

'I think it was a great idea for them to reach out to the alumni, and try and get them to come back and watch the girls because they are amazing, and the things they are doing with the program are incredible,' said Benjamin. 'So I think the next year and the year after that the more and more people will come and I think it will be a really good event.'

Dickinson echoed Benjamin's call for her fellow Huskies to turn up in even greater numbers for the next event.

'I hope more people will come out,' Dickinson said. 'There's a big gap between when we played and some of the other players.'

Dinner Time

The final event of the evening was a dinner back in the Founder's Club with the current team interspersed with the alums. Husky players introduced the alums to the group with a few facts, while a video of Washington's sweep of Nebraska in the 2005 NCAA title match played at one end.

Coach McLaughlin addressed the group near the end and fielded a few questions. The alums wanted to look forward to the fall and how the 2010 Huskies will shape up.

'This group has shown that we have a chance,' McLaughlin said. 'I believe in my heart that if we can address some things we have a chance to be great. Great teams also love each other. We're starting to see excitement when others are improving. These girls realize that it's not just about yourself.'

On this Saturday evening, it wasn't just about yourself, but about more than 30 years of Washington Husky tradition.

List of Husky Alumni In Attendance
Paige Benjamin - 1999-2002
Angie (Coma) Short - 1995-1998
Ashleigh (Robertson) Dickinson - 1989-1992
Dragana Djordjevic - 1991-1995
Lisete (Krayer) Johnson - 1981-1984
Lisa (Underhill) Key - 1998-2001
Gretchen (Maurer) Killebrew - 1999-2002
Allison (Richardson) Leep - 1998-2001
Justine Miller - 70's
Christal Morrison - 2004-2007
Marci Mulloy - 1976
April (Topham) Munoz - 1989-1990
Leslie Tuiasosopo - 1995-1998
Kara (Hardesty) Peterson - 1981-1984
Claudia Potter - 1975
Elissa Ross -1999-2002
Kelley (Larsen) Sweeney - 1988-1991
Darla (Myhre) Van Winkle - 2002-2005
Jessica Veris - 2002-2005
Carolyn Farny - 2002-2005

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