Beach Season Preview
SEATTLE - The sunniest and warmest Seattle week of the year is a great way to welcome back the Beach Dawgs. Washington Beach Volleyball returns to the sand this weekend, exactly one year after the 2020 season was cut short.
The Huskies are headed to Salem, Ore. this weekend to open the year with a pairs tournament hosted by Corban University and including the host Corban Warriors, Boise State, and Portland. In another two weeks the Huskies will have their first dual matches at the Pac-12 South Invitational where they will get a test against Arizona State, No. 9 California, No. 19 Stanford, and No. 1-ranked USC.
Head Coach Steve Whitaker and Assistant Coach Mariko Coverdale worked with a group of eight Dawgs throughout the fall, and added two more – Ashley Shook and Hannah Yerex – at the start of January. This season, with the indoor campaign currently being played out, the Huskies will not have any crossover from the indoor roster for the first time.
"We had a good fall," says Whitaker. "We don't have the big kids blasting away at us, so we had to get good at our sideout game. We spent a lot of time just making that first time over the net count. We've seen a lot of improvement in that; picking our shots and then making our shots more aggressive and accurate. Second of all has been developing that never say die mentality. We spent a lot of time with a 'this ball's not going to drop' mindset. It's been neat to see them latch onto that."
It's not surprising that the Huskies would take to defense considering two of the team's seniors are two of the most accomplished defenders in the history of the indoor squad. Shayne McPherson, who goes into the season just three wins away from the school record, ranked fourth in career digs for the indoor squad. Avie Niece is one of the 10 most prolific blockers in indoor school history. Both are getting their Master's degrees in the Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership program and have focused solely on beach for the first time.
"There's some veteran beach players that are coming out of our program and that's cool to see," says Whitaker. "There is experience. Unfortunately we haven't gotten to go compete yet. I'm just glad that we can, first of all. But this group needs to go see what's out there and put their skills to the test."
From the 2020 team, the Huskies also return what was their No. 2 tandem of Natalie Robinson and Chloe Loreen, as well as Callie Weber, who was leading the team with a 5-2 record last year, and Scarlett Dahl who was 3-3 as a freshman a year ago. Returners Kyra Petersen and Cassidy Schilling should also be key factors this season, along with the newcomers, Shook and Yerex.
Shook is a grad transfer who played four years of indoors at Texas, the same path taken two years ago by Cat McCoy. A setter indoors, Whitaker says Shook sees the game at a very high level and has made quick progress on the beach. "Ashley is a super fast learner and it's been really fun to watch her growth. Ashley has gotten a ton better in her offense, she has great touch and on the defensive side she's learning the blocking side of it pretty rapidly."
Yerex is a native of Gig Harbor and was already enrolled in the business school at Washington. "Hannah played a lot of beach up until college and we're lucky to get her for a year or possibly two," Whitaker says. "She comes to practice with a great attitude and it's been really fun to watch her grow as well."
The ten Huskies will dive right into things in the Corban pairs tourney this Saturday and Sunday, with round robin play followed by a seeded bracket based on the results of the round robin.
"It will be a good test and I think a good way to start out," Whitaker says. "We can't do any switching of pairs in the two days, so it will be a good test of how much grit do we have and can we just take our partner and go compete."
Another big weekend to mark on the calendar is Apr. 16-18, when UW will be at Alki Beach to host perennial power and No. 5 Hawaii, along with Portland, Oregon, and 15th-ranked Arizona.
"Hawaii is used to having everybody come to them and hosting tournaments, and they don't get to host those this year, so we're lucky to have them," Whitaker says. "It's Oregon, Portland, Hawaii and us on Friday and Saturday. Hawaii will then stick around for another day and Arizona will fly in and we'll do two matches with them on Sunday, so that will be a big weekend for us."
The road will lead the Huskies back to the Pac-12 Championships, held once again in Los Angeles this year, from Apr. 29 to May 2.