Thursday, April 17, 2014

NCAA | Final Four redux: Washington volleyball to host Wisconsin in 2014 preseason

Washington, Wisconsin, USC and Maryland agree to four-year Pac-12 vs Big Ten series

Two teams from the 2013 NCAA Final FourWashington and Wisconsin—will join USC and Maryland in a four-year Pac-12 vs. Big Ten preseason series.

Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini, a second-team
AVCA All-American as a freshman,
led Wisconsin to the 2013 Finals.
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
This fall, the four teams will gather in Seattle, where the two Pac-12 teams, Washington and USC, will each face the two Big Ten teams, Wisconsin and Maryland. Maryland and Rutgers are both joining the Big Ten next season, bringing the Big Ten’s membership to 14 teams.

In 2015, the preseason series host will be Wisconsin, followed by USC in 2016 and Maryland in 2017.

Wisconsin was the 2013 National Runner-Up. Both the Huskies and the Badgers lost to eventual champion Penn State in last season’s Final Four in Seattle’s Key Arena. In the Elite 8, Washington eliminated USC in an exciting match on the Trojans’ home court. Maryland finished 5-15 in the ACC, and 13-19 overall. The Terrapins’ new coach is Steve Aird, a Penn State assistant during several of its championship seasons. Aird was replaced at Penn State by former Washington star Stevie Mussie.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sand | Husky Volleyball Hits the Beach [Terry Wood]

  • Washington vs. Oregon | 10 AM | April 12 | Portland
  • Washington vs. Portland State | 12 PM | April 12 | Portland
  • Washington vs. Boise State | 2 PM | April 12 | Portland

In case you missed it, our colleague Terry Wood previews Washington’s one and only day of 2014 sand volleyball competition. The report is in today’s Seattle Times; a slightly longer version follows:

Seattle may not be Surf City USA, but it is the new home of a Division I women’s beach volleyball team.

Collegiately the sport is called sand volleyball, and this year Washington has joined more than 40 D-I schools that have granted the game varsity-sport status.

UW’s inaugural season involves a roster of underclassmen from last year’s NCAA Final Four indoor squad, and it will be brief -- just one day. On Saturday the Huskies will travel to Portland (The Courts in Eastmoreland) to play a tripleheader against fellow Northwest sand converts Oregon (10 a.m.), Portland State (noon) and Boise State (2 p.m.).
Washington's Kaleigh Nelson and Katy Beals scrimmage last Saturday at Seattle's Golden Gardens Park
In the future, the spring sport may feature around 10 matches, the roster will likely include several sand specialists, and the team could play at an on-campus waterfront facility on Lake Washington.

That’s the brightest potential outcome of a three-year plan envisioned for the sport by Jim McLaughlin, UW’s indoor coach and newly christened director of volleyball. In this inaugural season, McLaughlin has assigned first-year indoor assistant Keegan Cook to serve as sand coach while he stays focused on indoor and recruiting.

“I like the direction it’s going, and I think it’s going to help our indoor game,” McLaughlin said.

“We decided if we’re going to do it, we want to do it like the indoor game -- do it right and be successful,” he said. “But the priority is the indoor game. If this (sand) supplements that, we’re going to be good.”

Beach volleyball, as demonstrated by the interest generated by Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh during their string of three Olympic gold medal wins starting in 2004, can attract a big following. By 2009 a few indoor college coaches floated the idea of getting the game added to the NCAA’s inventory of sponsored sports.

“I don’t think the weather is a factor, They say it is for golf and softball, but we’ve been pretty good in those sports, and our baseball team is No. 1 in the Pac-12." -Jim McLaughlin

A handful of warm-weather schools started competing in 2012. McLaughlin had ambitions of joining the movement and recruited an international star, Summer Ross, for the start of UW’s 2011 indoor season.

UW delayed plans to add the sport, waiting to see if more schools would come aboard. Ross transferred and has since gone pro. Washington is now the eighth Pac-12 school to make sand VB a varsity sport.

“My biggest fear early on was this would be too much,” McLaughlin said. “But what we’re finding is that it also can invigorate players. These kids love it. They’re in the sand, it’s easier on your body, and there’s a fitness component to it that’s good. It’s a different enough game that it kind of revives you.

The benefits? “When you’re playing a two-man game, you can’t hide,” he said. “You’ve got to play the entire game and have a complete skill level. You’ve got to pass, set, hit shots, spike and serve. Having all these kids do all those skills all the time is really a benefit to their development.”

Cook, 28, was an assistant at St. Mary’s last year and help that school prep for its debut sand season in 2013. Like UW’s indoor players, he’s learning as he goes.

“My original tone was to mold things after the indoor game: very diligent preparation, detailed, fast-paced practices, lots and lots of reps, clearly defined methods,” he said. “All of which sounds good, but what I found is the learning curve was so steep for the girls was that they didn’t need things quite so advanced. They needed to learn just a few concepts really well.

“What they needed was time in the sand, playing two-on-two, fewer drills and a slower pace of practice,” he said. “They needed to be allowed to play and make mistakes.”

The team started practicing in the first week of February three to four times a week, training primarily at Golden Gardens Park in Ballard, but sometimes at Alki Beach, courts in Juanita, Kirkland or, on bad-weather days, Seattle’s Sandbox Sports.

“I think it’s fun,” said junior Krista Vansant, the 2013 national player of the year. “It’s a very different game, and it’s fun for all of us to do something different. We’re all learning the more strategic part of volleyball.

“It’s still pass and hit,” she said, “but it’s just you and your partner, not six people, so it takes a lot more communication, a lot more vibing, I guess, between the two of you. Serving tactics are different. Then you have to deal with the elements, wind and sun.

“For a lot of us it’s been hard in a way to completely learn a different game and not be very good for a little bit,” she said. “But it’s been cool to see improvement and see the process working.”

McLaughlin said he is awaiting approval of a proposed three-court (one covered) facility in the vicinity of the new UW track. Eventually he will be able to offer six sand-specific scholarships (he gets 12 for indoor) and anticipates someday hiring a sand-specialized coach.

Players signed to a sand scholarship, he says, cannot play indoor for their first two seasons, but indoor players can go both ways all four years.

‘We’ll always have some crossover,” he said. “We’re still working on the model, how we’re going to do it. We’ll have a beach coach, and that person will train the girls who are only beach girls during our (indoor) season.

“We’ve got three years to figure it out,” he said. “It could be earlier. I think I just told our administration to give us three years. But I want to make sure it’s done right so we have a successful program.

“Right now it’s a pain to get the girls in a van and go downtown because we don’t have a court on campus yet,” he said. “But once we get our facility it will be great.”

Can the sport flourish in the spring in the Northwest? “I don’t think the weather is a factor,” McLaughlin said. “They say it is for golf and softball, but we’ve been pretty good in those sports, and our baseball team is No. 1 in the Pac-12. If you get the right kids, coach well and work hard, the wins will come. We’ll be like we’ve been on the indoor side.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Life after college volleyball: some make millions

Playing overseas, elite American volleyball players can earn like a pro

Elite American volleyball players--especially Olympians--
can make substantial salaries playing overseas
A report this week by AP sportswriter Anne M. Peterson is making the rounds, alerting Americans that as many as three dozen US volleyball players earn a million dollars or more each season playing overseas.

The report—which has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, San Antonio Express-News and Charlotte Observer, among others—points out that “about 25 American women and 10 men (are) making more than six figures.”

“The average sports fan would be blown away if they found out that anyone was making a million dollars playing volleyball,” said sports agent Tim Kelly.

While not assigning specific dollar figures by name, the biggest salaries are known to go to the world's elite outside hitters. The article quotes three athletes (none of them necessarily in the million-dollar range), former Texas All-American Rachael Adams, former USC star Geena Urango and former Washington All-American Courtney Thompson. An excerpt:

“I always tell people you have to be ready for an adventure and not to have too many expectations,” said Courtney Thompson, a setter who played on the United States women’s team that won the silver medal at the 2012 London Games. “It’s a lot different than a lot of people think because we have nothing like it in the United States. They train differently, they play differently, the lifestyle is obviously different — which can be really cool, but it can also make it difficult.”
 Thompson, who was a standout for the University of Washington, made the 2012 Olympic team and played a key role when the veteran setter Lindsey Berg went down with an Achilles’ tendon injury. The United States women lost in the gold medal match to Brazil.
 Thompson plays in Switzerland for Volero Zurich. Last season while playing in Poland, she was the subject of a documentary, “Court and Spark,” about her odyssey abroad as a pro athlete.
 She said: “The first year, I remember that every time they would give me a check — which wasn’t much every month — I would say, ‘Thank you, thank you so much, thank you.’ And finally, my boss was like: ‘Courtney, you can stop thanking me. This is your job.’ It’s something you’ve done for free for so long.” [read more]

The “Court & Spark” documentary was produced for Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball by no little things Productions. Jack & Leslie Hamann of no little things Productions also bring you Volleyblog Seattle.

[Note: Starting this week, Court & Spark is now available for online streaming rental and purchase; it had previously been available on DVD only. All proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball. More information here.]

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seattle | Super Bowl Parade

A departure today from the usual volleyball fare. Seattle Police say we were among 700,000 to line downtown streets for the Seahawks' Super Bowl Parade. Photos, from Lower Queen Anne, by Leslie and Jack Hamann.

The Lombardi Trophy

Marshawn Lynch, cigar and Skittles in hand, leads the parade

Lynch rides the Ducks

Pete Carroll

Typical scene: Seahawks juggling Google glasses, cellphones and cameras

Legion and Lombardi

Hugs all around

Richard Sherman

Lombardi on Lower Queen Anne

Russell Wilson

Sunday, December 22, 2013

NCAA | Volleyball fans do Seattle proud

Huge crowds fill Key Arena, even when home team no longer in contention
  • #2 Penn State def. #14 Wisconsin 3-1 (25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23)

Penn State libero Dominique Gonzalez stood on the Key Arena volleyball court and marveled at the noise.
Wisconsin's Lauren Carlini
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

“It was really loud,” she said. “They filled the stands. Even though their home team wasn’t playing here, they still came out to cheer on the national championship game. That is, obviously, great.”

Two days after the Nittany Lions eliminated Washington in the national semifinals, there was trepidation in some circles about whether Seattle fans would show for Penn State vs. Wisconsin. Not only were the seats filled, but players figured fans had picked a favorite.

“There were a couple times I heard boos,” said PSU setter Micha Hancock, voted the championship’s Most Outstanding Player. “It was, like, dang! Tough crowd!”

“I think a lot of people were cheering for Wisconsin, the underdog,” said Gonzalez. “And why not? They play hard. They want to win.”

The loudest explosion came toward the end of the third set, when Wisconsin’s 5-7 Deme Morales stuffed 6-1 All-American Deja McClendon. That gave the Badgers a 23-18 lead, on the way to their only set win of the match.

Penn State players celebrate their championship in front of an appreciative Seattle crowd
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Brett Hamann
From our perspective at courtside, the roar of the crowd seemed evenly balanced. More than anything, appreciative fans screamed approval for big plays, especially on defense, no matter which team won the point. And the crowd stood and cheered for both squads when Penn State won the final point and the school’s sixth championship.

See also:


NCAA | Penn State defeats Wisconsin 3-1 for fifth volleyball championship in seven years

Left/right weapons prove decisive for Nittany Lions; Badger plays with separated shoulder
  • #2 Penn State def. #14 Wisconsin 3-1 (25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23)
During the NCAA D1 Women's Volleyball Championships, Volleyblog Seattle on assignment for Please follow our coverage at

SEATTLE -- It was a championship bout with a left and right attack. And after the final round of an
exceptionally high-energy match, Penn State emerged with a 3-1 (25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23) victory against Big Ten rival Wisconsin. It was Penn State’s fifth volleyball championship in the past seven seasons, and sixth overall, tying Stanford for the highest total in NCAA women’s Division I volleyball history.
Penn State's Micha Hancock
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

The attack from the left came from Penn State setter Micha Hancock, voted the most outstanding player of the championships. Hancock’s blistering serve—delivered with her left arm—offered the razor-thin difference throughout the match and—in particular—the deciding fourth set.

“She’s one of the elites,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We had no offense at all when she was serving.”

“She’s the best-ever in the nation,” Wisconsin libero Annemarie Hickey said.

Penn State’s right side attack ran primarily through Ariel Scott, who pounded a match-high 21 kills on 51 attempts. The 6-4 All-American was matched up against Wisconsin’s 5-7 dynamo, Deme Morales, nine-inch advantage.

“We planned to go over Morales, because she’s shorter,” Hancock said. “[Morales] is a great player, but we’ve got the hammer over there.”

Wisconsin's Lauren Carlini
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Throughout the match, Wisconsin countered with a right-side attack of its own. Setter Lauren Carlini sent her middles in motion, connecting almost at will on slides to Dominque Thompson, who finished with a team-high 16 kills on 35 swings. “She’s probably one of the most underrated middles in country,” Carlini said. “People look at her height and think, ‘oh, she can’t be good.’”

Oh, yes, Thompson’s height. Just like her teammate Morales, 5-11 Thompson gave away several inches to her opponent, Penn State’s 6-6 Katie Slay. Yet Wisconsin scored a disproportionate percentage of its points off serve with Morales and Thompson on the front row. Their grit was part of the reason why the Badgers got all the way to set point in the second frame, and reached 23-23 in the fourth. The rest of the story? Lights-out defense.

“That’s what we do,” Sheffield said. “We defend like crazy. It doesn’t always look pretty, but we’ll throw our bodies around with the best of them.”

Throwing bodies around was more than a metaphor; late in the match, Wisconsin libero AnneMarie Hickey landed wrong, popping her shoulder out of its socket. She refused to leave the game.

Wisconsin's AnneMarie Hickey separates her shoulder while diving for a dig
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Brett Hamann
“It hurt pretty bad,” Hickey admitted. “But we were playing with such high intensity, and we were winning the set. All I wanted to do was win for my teammates.”

Penn State coach Russ Rose talks during a timeout
with setter Micha Hancock
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
And Wisconsin came close. Its second-set late lead evaporated with two service errors and some furious Penn State defense down the stretch. The Badgers seemed in control of the fourth set, but it was Hancock who made the difference.

Because Hancock is a lefty, her powerful jump serve comes at defenders from an angle they rarely see. It’s a high risk/high reward skill that sometimes produced errors instead of aces. After missing a couple of serves, her coach, Russ Rose told Hancock during a timeout to switch to a safer serve.

“Sometimes players swear at the coaches,” Rose said, with a grin. “I can’t repeat how the conversation went.” Hancock, however, insisted she continue using a jump serve. “Then you might want to serve it in,” Rose told her.

So with her team trailing 22-23, she stepped to the line. Her first serve, an ace, forced a Wisconsin timeout. Her second serve, barely handled by the Badgers, was over-passed for a Slay kill, forcing a second timeout. Her third serve? Another ace, setting up the final rally, and a Penn State victory.

“This was a match we had to grind out against a really good opponent,” said Rose. “It was hard to win this championship.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

NCAA | Penn State volleyball overwhelms Washington

A single serve may have set the tone for a decisive defeat
  • #2 Penn State def. #3 Washington 3-0 (25-14, 25-13, 25-16)
  • #12 Wisconsin vs. #1 Texas | December 21 | 6:30 PM (Pacific) |Key Arena, Seattle | ESPN2

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NCAA | Washington vs Penn State played memorable match the last time out

“Courtney Thompson just kicked our butts,” remembers a former Penn State star
  • #12 Wisconsin vs. #1 Texas | December 19 | 4:30 PM (Pacific) |Key Arena, Seattle
  • #2 Penn State vs. #3 Washington | December 19 | 6:30 PM (Pacific) |Key Arena, Seattle

NCAA | Final Four teams all turned losses into winning lessons

Washington, Wisconsin, Texas and Penn State each faced turning points that pointed to this week's Championships
  • #12 Wisconsin vs. #1 Texas | December 19 | 4:30 PM (Pacific) |Key Arena, Seattle | ESPN2
  • #2 Penn State vs. #3 Washington | December 19 | 6:30 PM (Pacific) |Key Arena, Seattle | ESPN2

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NCAA | Whose serve will scorch in the semis, Washington or Penn State?

A renowned server faces a team that serves tough

  • #12 Wisconsin vs. #1 Texas | December 19 | 4:30 PM |Key Arena (NCAA Semifinal)
  • #2 Penn State vs. #3 Washington | December 19 | 6:30 PM |Key Arena (NCAA Semifinal)

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