Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sand | Washington volleyball “excited” to start sand season in Sacramento

A short season kicks off this weekend against Keegan Cook’s alma mater, St. Mary’s
  • Sat, Mar 21 | 11:00AM | vs. St. Mary’s @ Sacramento State
  • Sat, Mar 21 | 2:00PM | vs. Pacific @ Sacramento State
  • Sun, Mar 22 | 11AM | @ Sacramento State
  • Mon, Mar 23 | 4:00PM | @ Pacific (Stockton)

Sacramento State hosts this weekend's tournament
-Sacramento State Athletics
Head coach may be a new title for Keegan Cook in indoor volleyball. But he’s already a veteran head man for sand volleyball.

Cook, who will lead Washington’s indoor program this fall, is in his second season as Washington’s head sand coach. The Huskies travel to Sacramento State this weekend for three matches, then to Stockton for a repeat match with the University of the Pacific.

“The intensity’s high,” Cook tells Volleyblog Seattle. “We’ve been training pretty hard for about two months and we’re excited to play somebody other than ourselves. We’re excited to see how much progress we’ve made.”

The Huskies will divide into five pairs, designated one through five. For each match, UW’s “ones” will play a best-of-three sets against the opponent’s “ones,” and so on. The winner will be whichever school wins at least 3 of the 5 matchups.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Cook, “in that all your teams have equal value to the team’s victory.”

While a few schools—Pepperdine, UCLA and USC, for example—have teams made up mostly of sand players who are not on the indoor team, all of Washington’s current sand players are also on the indoor roster. With just one more practice this week, Cook has not yet finalized which players will pair together, and which will be the number one, two, three, four and five pairs.

“We’re close, he says. “We’ve got quite a bit of depth and parity on our team. People have good days, and we have a perception of what the best teams are. Then we go to practice and somebody decides to flip the script a little bit. It’s made bringing together teams a little more challenging. But, I think that’s a good thing.”

Saturday’s season-opening opponent is St. Mary’s, where Cook went to school and was an assistant coach for the women’s team. He’ll see players he recruited and coached. “You get to run into your friends quite a bit in this business,” he says. “It’s always kind of bittersweet. It’s great to play against people that you have a relationship with. But there’s always different emotions.”

This is the second season for sand at Washington. For the third year in a row, the national championships will be conducted by the American Volleyball Coaches Association in Gulf Shores, Alabama, May 1-3. Next year, sand volleyball officially becomes the NCAA’s newest championship sport. This year, Cook scheduled just two tournaments (this weekend and in a few weeks at Stanford) and two dual competitions (Monday at Pacific and April 4 against Oregon in Portland.) Why so few?

“It’s been part of a bigger plan to grow gradually, says Cook. “Last year was about teaching the game. This year was about expanding our competitive level and playing more matches. More of a thoughtful process instead of just going all in.”

Hard to imagine, however, that Cook’s athletes won’t go all in once their feet hit the sand on Saturday.

  • Pacific would seem to be the team to beat this weekend. The Tigers (6-2) already have wins against Stanford, Cal (twice), St. Mary’s, Cal State Northridge, and San Jose State, with losses to Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State. Sacramento State is 2-2 in 2015, defeating San Francisco (4-1) and San Jose State (4-1), and falling to Stanford (0-5) and California (0-5). St. Mary’s is 1-2, with a 5-0 win over San Jose State, and losses to Pacific (1-4) and Santa Clara (2-3).
  • Pacific senior Megan Birch is a graduate of Monroe High School. Birch plays on the Tigers’ #2 pair.
  • Sacramento State freshman Julia Wright graduated from Bellarmine Prep. Fellow freshman Shannon Boyle is a Ridgefield High grad, and sophomore Courtney Dietrich graduated from Chelan High.
  • In the current AVCA Sand Poll, Hawai’i is ranked #1, followed by #2 Pepperdine, #3 USC, #4 Florida State, #5 Long Beach State, #6 Loyola Marymount, #7 Florida International, #8 Pacific and #9 UCLA. Arizona and Stetson are tied for #10.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sand | Pac-12 teams have unequal facilities, schedules, scholarships

UCLA unveils new sand facility as teams move quickly to sand-only squads

UCLA's brand-new sand facilities, in the shadows of the Hedrick Hall dormitory
Volleyblog Seattle photo
LOS ANGELES—In a city synonymous with surf and sand, beach volleyball has been a surprising challenge for UCLA.

For its first two seasons—when sand ball was still a demonstration sport—the Bruins’ home court was 6 miles west of campus, accessible only via congested surface streets. The inconvenient commute meant they had time to practice just twice a week.

Now that sand volleyball will finally hold its first NCAA Championship next spring (2016), UCLA can more than double its practice time. Last week, the Bruins premiered a brand-new on-campus facility, adjacent to the dorms. Head coach Stein Metzger spoke with Volleyblog Seattle when we visited during the facility’s grand opening:

As the NCAA launch approaches, the sand volleyball experience will vary wildly across various campuses. While Washington’s 2015 sand team will once again be composed exclusively of players on its indoor roster, all but two UCLA sand athletes are playing sand only. The situation is the same at sand powerhouses Pepperdine, USC and Florida State, where the sand and indoor rosters are almost entirely separate.

Washington is in the same situation UCLA was last season, having to split practice time between a private facility in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood and temporary courts on UW’s Denny Field. Before Jim McLaughlin left for Notre Dame, there were discussions about constructing a year-round on-campus facility for Washington. New head coach Keegan Cooke has expressed confidence that those talks will continue. Meanwhile, schools up and down the west coast are already joining UCLA with dedicated sand courts of their own.

Last season, Washington’s entire competitive season lasted just one weekend—three matches in Portland. This season is almost as spare, this time spanning just three weekends. March 21-23, the Huskies will travel to Northern California for matches against St. Mary’s, Sacramento State and Pacific. On April 4, they’ll face Oregon in Portland. The following weekend, they’ll be part of the Stanford Invitational, whose competing teams (other than UW and Stanford) have not yet been announced.

The 2015 season launches tomorrow, when UCLA travels to Cal State Northridge. On Friday, Arizona, Hawai’i and Stanford all host invitationals.

  • UCLA indoor coach Mike Sealy announced that junior Ryann Chandler—daughter of former NFL and UW quarterback Chris Chandler—has transferred to Westwood. The 5-9 setter/defensive specialist last played for Pepperdine in 2013. Junior outside hitter Jordan Anderson is also transferring to Westwood. She spent her first two seasons at West Virginia, earning All-American Honorable Mention after leading the Big 12 in kills per set.
  • Thursday morning at 7:30AM (Pacific), Washington alum and USA Olympian Courtney Thompson leads Zurich into the penultimate round of the 2015 CEV European Championships. The first of the home-and-home series opens in Istanbul, against a team featuring Thompson’s Olympic teammate Jordan Larson-Burch. Thompson’s team leads the Swiss League, and will host the World Club Championships later this Spring.
    >>Try this link to watch the match live online.<<
  • Washington alum and USA Olympian Tama Miyashiro joined her Stuttgart teammates in defeating Aachen 3-2 for the 2015 German Cup Championship. Miyashiro’s team is the second seed in the Bundesliga playoffs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

College | Jonathan Winder is new Washington volleyball assistant coach

Current Pepperdine men's assistant makes transition to women's game

Jonathan Winder coaches Pepperdine players during his last weekend as Waves' Assistant Coach before heading to Seattle to become Washington women's Assistant Coach
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
SAN DIEGO--Jonathan Winder is not yet 30, but has plenty of worldly experience. Raised in Irvine, California, he was a four-time All-American setter at Pepperdine before spending years traveling the globe with the US National Team and with professional leagues throughout Europe.

Most recently an assistant at Pepperdine, Winder is on the move again. This week, he's leaving one of the elite programs in men's college volleyball to join one of the elite programs in women's college volleyball. New Washington head coach Keegan Cook announced that Winder will join the Huskies' staff, effective this week.

We caught up with Winder this past weekend in San Diego, just after his penultimate match with the Waves, and just before he and his wife and their newborn baby make the move to Seattle. Here is our conversation:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Professional | American volleyball stars advance in Champions League

Courtney Thompson leads Zurich to showdown against Cannes; Becky Perry’s UYBA club faces Baku

Courtney Thompson celebrates a point in Volero Zurich's 3-1 Champions League victory over Wroclaw

Volero Zurich, a top European professional volleyball team featuring Olympian and former Washington All-American Courtney Thompson, has advanced to the playoff rounds of the 2015 Champions League. Zurich defeated Wroclaw 3-1 yesterday to finish 5-1 in pool play.

Becky Perry of Busto Arsizio
Volero will now face RC Cannes, a team with three familiar American faces: four-time Olympian Logan Tom (Stanford 1999-2002), Carly Wopat (Stanford 2010-2013) and Juliann Faucette (Texas 2007-2010).

Thompson’s Volero teammates include Natalie Hagglund (USC 2010-2013) and Emily Hartong (Hawai’i 2010-2013). All six—Thompson, Hagglund, Hartong, Tom, Wopat and Faucette—earned one or more First Team AVCA All-American honors while in college.

Former Washington All-American Becky Perry is with Unendo Yamamay, an Italian club based in Busto Arsizio, just north of Milan. Her UYBA team is also in the playoffs, and will face Azeryol of Baku, Azerbaijan, a team featuring Canadian UCLA alumnus Tabi Love.

The Champions League is an annual volleyball tournament to determine Europe’s top professional club. Clubs also compete in their national leagues; Thompson’s Volero team leads the Swiss League with a 15-0 record.

Several other former American collegians are on clubs still in Champions League contention, including:
  • Jordan Larson-Burbach (Nebraska), Eczacibasi VitrA Istanbul
  • Kristin Hildebrand (Stanford), Fenerbahce Grundig Istanbul
  • Cursty Jackson (Arizona), Dresdner SC
  • Arielle Wilson (Penn State), Nordmeccanica Piacenza
  • Chloe Ferrari (San Diego), Dresdner SC
  • Molly Kreklow (Missouri), Dresdner SC 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Keegan Cook to replace Jim McLaughlin as Washington volleyball head coach

"A lot of cheers and smiles" greet announcement of Keegan Cook's hiring
see also: 

New Washington head coach Keegan Cook with setter Katy Beals
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

After a brief search, the University of Washington has named assistant coach Keegan Cook to replace Jim McLaughlin as head volleyball coach. Cook, 29, assumes his first collegiate head job after eight years as an assistant. He spent six seasons at St. Mary’s (Calif.) College and the past two at UW.

Cook shared the news last Friday with Washington’s players. “A lot of cheers and smiles and congratulations,” he said. “That was a special moment. I know I would not be the head coach of the University of Washington if the players weren’t behind me.”

The announcement comes just ten days after Washington confirmed reports that McLaughlin, 54, had abruptly left UW after 14 seasons to become the head coach at Notre Dame. In a January 17 Notre Dame video release, McLaughlin cited family reasons. “My wife, Margaret, went here,” he said. “She’s closer to her family. So, when I’m recruiting, she can see her family.”

A news release said the Washington Athletic Department conducted an “across the country” search, only to discover that “feedback ultimately led right back to the Husky locker room.”

Cook confirmed that Leslie (Tuiasosopo) Gabriel, who did not seek the head position, will stay on as Associate Head Coach. Gabriel, a former UW star who’s been on the coaching staff for 14 seasons, “was the first person I talked to about becoming head coach,” said Cook. “They knew that if they hire Keegan, he’s gonna hire Leslie.”

Cook is from Pleasanton, a suburb east of Oakland, California. He learned volleyball from his sister, Meg, then followed her to St. Mary’s College in the Bay Area. Cook played club volleyball at St. Mary's while earning a degree in mathematics with a minor in religious studies. He parlayed his dual passions for math and volleyball into his first collegiate coaching job, as an assistant to St. Mary’s coach Rob Browning. When Washington assistant Keno Gandara left after the 2012 season to become Miami head coach, Cook was selected to replace him.

At 29, Cook is the same age McLaughlin was in 1990 when he took his first head job as coach of the USC men’s team. Jen Greeny was 34 when she became Washington State head coach. Liz Kritza was 32 when Colorado hired her. Shawn Olmstead, this year’s national Coach of the Year, was also 32 when he took over BYU.

Cook says his first job will be to hire another assistant, something he says he’s “just fired up to do.” He says his voicemail is jammed, his texts and emails are buzzing, and that resumes are already coming in. “Anyone who knows anything about volleyball knows Washington is an amazing place to be,” he says.

Also on the agenda will be setting up summer camps for local kids (“I LOVE summer camps,” he said) and preparing for sand volleyball practices, which begin next week (“This team has a lot of players who LOVE beach volleyball.”)

Coaching changes in collegiate sports can sometimes cause current players to request a transfer to another school, or recruits to have second thoughts. “No one has made that request,” Cook said. “That would be difficult for me. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with that. I wouldn’t expect that from these women. They play for something far beyond just one person.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

College | Volleyball video replay challenges on the horizon?

NCAA volleyball rules committee recommends experiment by Big 12 schools; What do you think about the idea?

Players for both Washington and Nebraska plead their case to the referee during December's Round of 16 Nebraska win in Seattle
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Football has it. Baseball has it. Basketball and hockey and tennis have it.

Now, NCAA volleyball may allow video instant replay challenges, too.

When Washington lost 3-1 to Nebraska in December’s Round of 16, many fans howled about a pair of line calls in the fourth set (won by the Huskers, 29-27).

The following week in Oklahoma City, the use of video replays was a hot topic at the Final Four.

“I think officials are all trying to make the right call,” said Penn State head coach Russ Rose. “But it’s more important that the call is correct.”

“I’ve been a proponent (of replay challenges) for quite some time,” said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott. “I think it’s something we should really consider.”

Now, Elliott may get his wish.

Yesterday, the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Rules Committee recommended that Elliott’s conference, the Big 12, be permitted to experiment this fall with replay challenges. The Committee’s recommendation will be considered February 18 by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

Under the Big 12 plan, coaches would be allowed two instant replay challenges per set. Only the following challenges would be reviewable:
  • whether a ball landed in or out, or if a ball hit the court before being played.
  • whether the ball or a player touched the antenna.
  • whether a foot fault occurred on a serve.
  • net faults.
  • whether a ball is touched by a player.
  • whether a four-hit violation occurred.

The experiment would only be conducted during Big 12 conference matches at schools able to provide the necessary equipment and personnel.

“It’s a new technology,” said Elliott during the Final Four. He estimated that it could cost as much as $15,000 for a two-match weekend. “But I think it’s great for the fans. It would be fantastic. We could have one or two reviews, and the fans could sit there and watch, like they do in tennis. And it makes our sport better.”

Jack Hamann interviews US Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly about the use of replay challenges during major international tournaments. Check out "Video Voices," a Volleyball Magazine series featuring with many of volleyball's leading minds. 

FIVB, volleyball’s international governing body, recently began using replay challenges at major international tournaments. (See our Volleyball Magazine interview with Karch Kiraly about his experience at the World Championships, won by the USA.) “There’s a reason they’re doing it at the highest level in the world,” said Rose. “It’s based on the speed of the game and the fact that they really want the calls to be correct.”

But, says Rose, “I think the cost is probably going to be prohibitive.”

In the first Oklahoma City semifinal, Texas trailed BYU 2 sets to 1. With the score tied at 24, BYU star Jennifer Hamson’s attack sailed long, but the down referee called a touch on the Texas block. Elliott’s passionate protest drew a yellow card. BYU went on the win the set and the match.

“You just want to give athletes the best chance to settle it on the floor,” said a visibly frustrated Elliott during the post-match press conference. “We saw some calls last week with Washington and Nebraska that were very tight. With instant replay, you get to do it right. That’s all we’re asking, is just to be fair.”

Your turn, readers. Check out our interview with Karch Kiraly, and tell us what you think about replay challenges.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

College | McLaughlin on leaving Washington: “Notre Dame is a special place”

Notre Dame welcomes Jim McLaughlin as its new head coach.

-Notre Dame Athletic Department
One day after the University of Washington confirmed Volleyblog Seattle’s January 10 report that Jim McLaughlin is leaving after 14 years, Notre Dame released an extensive press release—and video—welcoming their new coach.

In the release, McLaughlin reveals that he was first contacted by Notre Dame’s senior deputy athletics director Missy Conboy to fill the spot of Debbie Brown, terminated after 24 years as the Fighting Irish head volleyball coach.

Highlights from the press release and video:

  • "I am excited to become the new head coach of women's volleyball at the University of Notre Dame," said McLaughlin. "The University of Washington was a great place to coach and, at this point in my career, this is the only other school I would have even considered. Since first having been given the opportunity by Debbie Brown to coach here as an assistant for one season, I always thought it would be a great place to be a head coach. I love the school's values, the spirit, the tradition, the beautiful campus and the enthusiasm of everyone that is a part of this great university. There is no doubt Notre Dame is a special place.

  • “My wife Margaret went here (a four-year soccer athlete at Notre Dame.) She’s closer to her family. So, when I’m recruiting, she can see her family.”

  • “My faith is the key thing for me. I base everything I do off of it. It just helps me to be a better coach. It allows me to see things better. It’s not what you look at but what you see. It allows me to listen better.”

The Notre Dame Athletic Department reports that McLaughlin—like almost every volleyball coach in the country—is spending this three-day holiday recruiting at club volleyball tournaments.


Is volleyball big news in the Pacific Northwest? The article confirming McLaughlin's departure has risen to the #6 spot of The Seattle Times' Most Read list ...

Friday, January 16, 2015

College | Jim McLaughlin confirms he is leaving Washington volleyball for Notre Dame

See The Seattle Times Sports section for full updates

Jim McLaughlin is leaving Washington for Notre Dame
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Jim McLaughlin, a coach who built the University of Washington volleyball program into a national power, has confirmed reports by Volleyblog Seattle and The Seattle Times that he is leaving to become the head coach at Notre Dame.

After Volleyblog Seattle and The Seattle Times first published news Friday afternoon that McLaughlin had told players at both Washington and Notre Dame of his decision, McLaughlin and UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward confirmed the report.

“This was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my coaching career,” said McLaughlin in a prepared statement. “My wife, Margaret, is from the Midwest and all of her family is still there.  She has followed me across the country and we both decided that it was time to pursue opportunities in that part of the country.”

“Jim poured his heart and soul into building the Husky Volleyball program over the past fourteen years and has achieved unprecedented success,” said Woodward. “While I am disappointed to see Jim go and will miss working with him, he, Margaret and their three daughters carry with them my best wishes for success in their new endeavor.”

see The Seattle Times Sports section for full updates

College | Jim McLaughlin’s image removed from Washington volleyball website

Washington and Notre Dame still mum as sources confirm that McLaughlin confers with Notre Dame players


see also: “Jim McLaughlin leaving UW volleyball program for Notre Dame, sources say” [The Seattle Times]

When you visit, the official website of the Washington Athletic Department, you can select a link for each of UW’s 20 intercollegiate sports. On the home page for each sport, you’ll find an image of the head coach next to a quote from that coach.

Until today, the volleyball home page featured a photo of Jim McLaughlin, with his name beneath the quote, “Everything we do must be better than what our opponents do.” The quote remains, but McLaughlin’s name is now gone and his image has been replaced by a photo of a team huddle. His official bio is still on the site.

Those otherwise innocuous edits are the first unofficial acknowledgement of what we reported here last week: that Jim McLaughlin told his players on January 8 that he is leaving Washington after 14 seasons as head coach. Since then, a total of 10 sources—including 8 coaches—have provided details about his departure, though none of the sources agrees to be named. As we report today on the Seattle Times website, some of those sources have confirmed that McLaughlin has begun meetings with Notre Dame players, where he is expected to be named the next coach.

Tomorrow, by the way, marks the end the annual NCAA-mandated “dead period” for recruiting high school players. Over the next several months, college coaches will be travelling to watch prep players as they participate in club volleyball tournaments across the country. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Professional | 11 Washington alums playing pro volleyball overseas

Post-college volleyball careers now part of elite players’ job options

For a privileged few, a grand tour of Europe has long been part of entering the adult world. But while such tours are usually a perk of inherited wealth, they are a perk of long hours in the gym for an increasing number of former Washington volleyball players.

Former Washington All-American Jenna Hagglund is playing in Poland this winter
-USA Volleyball

This week, USA Volleyball released the latest list of former American collegiate volleyball players to have completed the necessary paperwork (international transfer certificates) to play overseas. So far, 208 women and 103 men are earning international paychecks, including many of the players you’ve seen competing for both the home and visiting teams in Pac-12 arenas.

11 former Washington Huskies are on the list, including Olympians Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro, and their fellow US National Team teammate Jenna Hagglund. 2014 graduates Gabbi Parker, Jenna Orlandini and Kylin Muñoz are also on the list (2015 grads Krista Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson have not yet announced whether and where they will be playing.)

Here are the Washington alums. We also note fellow American teammates on their club’s roster.

Courtney Thompson, Volero Zurich
  • Natalie Hagglund (USC), Emily Hartong (Hawai’i)

Gabbi Parker, VBC Val-de-Travers

Jenna Hagglund, Impel Volleyball S.A.

Jenna Orlandini, Vannes Volley-Ball
Bianca Rowland, Vannes Volley-Ball
  • Katie Slay (Penn State), Korrin Wild (Fresno St)

Alesha Deesing, Volley Bergamo SRL
Becky Perry, Futura Volley SRL

Tama Miyashiro, Allianz Volley Stuttgart
  • Katherine Harms (Minnesota), Nikki Lindow (Colorado), Heather Meyers (Oregon)

Kindra Carlson, Kopenicker SC Berlin
Lauren Barfield, Kopenicker SC Berlin
  • Erica Wilson (Arizona State)

Kylin Muñoz, VT Aurubis Hamburg
  • Alexis Olgard (USC), Sara Shaw (USC)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Professional | Courtney Thompson leads Zurich to upset win over Istanbul

Former Washington great helps shake up CEV Cup with a win over a team featuring USA teammate Jordan Larson-Burbach; UW & Notre Dame still silent about McLaughlin job change
  • Volero Zurich def. Eczacibasi Istanbul 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-16)

Former Washington star Courtney Thompson (far right) celebrates a Volero point in Istanbul earlier today
-photo courtesy CEV

Courtney Thompson—US Olympian and former Washington All-American—today helped lead visiting Volero Zurich to a surprising 3-0 sweep of powerhouse Istanbul Excacibasi.

Istanbul’s roster includes Jordan Larson-Burbach, a Thompson teammate on the USA National Team and one of the world’s most accomplished international players.

Team USA's Jordan Larson-Burbach (right, in red), attacks for her
Istanbul Excacibasi team against USA teammate Courtney Thompson (#15),
the setter and captain for Volero Zurich
-photo courtesy CEV
Today’s match was part of the CEV Champions League, an annual competition featuring the top professional clubs in Europe. Last year, Larson-Burbach led Dinamo Kazan—a club based in Russia—to both the CEV Championship and the FIVB Club World Championship. Thompson and Larson Burbach were members of the Team USA squad that won the 2014 World Championship, the first gold medal in the history of the Women’s USA National Team.

Istanbul came into today’s match undefeated in pool play, including a 3-1 December victory in Zurich. But during today’s match, played in Turkey, Volero held Larson-Burbach to 7 kills, while team captain Thompson set the team to an eye-popping .540 team hitting average.

“This was our best game since the start of the season,” Thompson said. “We come together and celebrate every point. We are very happy that we won so smoothly.”

Nothing new to report about Jim McLaughlin’s announcement to his team last Thursday that he is leaving Washington, although additional sources have confirmed the move. The University of Washington has not released any statement. A spokesman for Notre Dame says the school is “getting closer” to making an announcement about a replacement for departed volleyball coach Debbie Brown.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sources: Jim McLaughlin Leaving Washington Volleyball for Notre Dame

[this story reported by Jack Hamann and Terry Wood]

01.10.15 | 11:40AM | CLARIFICATION added to end of report regarding Coach Debbie Brown's Notre Dame departure.

Jim McLaughlin, a coach who built the University of Washington volleyball program into a national power, has told his players he is leaving to become head coach at Notre Dame.

Jim McLaughlin
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Several sources, all insisting on anonymity, confirmed that McLaughlin gave his team news of his pending departure Thursday night. Contacted by The Seattle Times Friday night, McLaughlin declined to comment. There has not yet been any statement from the University of Washington Athletic Department.

If he signs a contract with Notre Dame, McLaughlin, 54, will replace Debbie Brown, who resigned (see clarification, below) December 4 after 24 seasons in South Bend and a 6-23 record last season. A Notre Dame spokesman said a volleyball coaching announcement is expected sometime next week.

In 1996, McLaughlin was Brown’s assistant at Notre Dame. His wife, Margaret, was a four-year soccer athlete and former assistant soccer coach for the Fighting Irish. After years in the Big East Conference, Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference last fall.

During his 14 seasons in Seattle, McLaughlin made the Huskies a perennial contender. His teams won three Pac-12 titles, and reached the Final Four four times, winning the national championship in 2005. 15 of McLaughlin’s players earned All-American honors, including Olympians Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro and 2013 National Player of the Year Krista Vansant. More than two dozen of his former players have gone on to professional indoor volleyball careers overseas.

McLaughlin was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year four times, and National Coach of the Year in 2004. He was the first coach to win NCAA titles coaching both men (USC) and women. He built a 355-90 (.798) record at Washington as the Huskies consistently led the Pac-12 in attendance.

The Washington Volleyball annual team banquet is tonight.

01.10.15 | 11:40AM CLARIFICATION. In our initial report, we said Debbie Brown "resigned" from Notre Dame last month. A reader pointed us to the wording of the official Notre Dame press release, which seems to indicate otherwise. The relevant excerpt:

"Debbie has probably understood what Notre Dame and its student-athlete experience is about as well as any coach on our staff. She has represented the University in exceptional fashion in her time here," said Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick. 
"However, our expectations regarding competitive performance are also high, and we regrettably have not been able to meet those in recent years. I'd like to thank her for all she has done for the program and, in particular, for all she has done for the student-athletes who have played for her. We will immediately begin a national search to identify a new head coach for our volleyball program."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

NCAA | Vansant, Nelson, Sybeldon, Mussie and scenes from volleyball's Final Four

Notes from Oklahoma City 

Happy holidays. As usual, we spent the third week of December in the company of volleyball coaches, players, officials, fans and fellow reporters, this year in Oklahoma City. We were on assignment for Volleyball Magazine; look for links to our reports as the New Year approaches. 

Washington's Krista Vansant, honored for the second time as an AVCA First Team All-American,
with Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin and Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Krista Vansant, Kaleigh Nelson and Lianna Sybeldon were all in Oklahoma City to pick up their trophies at the annual All-American banquet.  

Vansant, the 2013 AVCA Player of the Year, sat next to Penn State setter Micha Hancock, the 2014 Player of the Year. Both athletes were coached as youngsters by their moms; Vansant also had dad as a coach. Both told Volleyblog Seattle that having parents on the bench had more advantages than disadvantages. But both said that their parents still offered volleyball suggestions once they headed off to college. Hancock told us she eventually had to ask her mom to let Penn State head coach Russ Rose call the shots. And Vansant? 

"They've almost stopped giving me advice," she smiled. "I've kind of asked them to back off a bit, let Jim do his job." 

Both Vansant and Hancock plan to play professionally, and each will be invited to join the USA National Team's training sessions in 2015. 

Nelson, a senior, and Sybeldon, a junior, were both named to the AVCA All-American Third Team. This was the second consecutive year Nelson won the honor, all the more impressive since she came to Washington a relatively unheralded--and presumably undersized--outside hitter from Oregon. After redshirting her freshman year, there were those who wondered whether the Huskies had squandered a scholarship with Nelson seemingly stuck near the bottom of the depth chart. 

"Everyone has different roles on the team," she says. "And even players who are not starting have a role. I wasn't playing, but maybe I was pushing someone who was out there to be a little bit better. You make the team better. Always. It's not just the starters and the non-starters. You're a unit. I still felt like I was part of it and I was doing something good. If you work hard enough, then you can get out there." 

Sybeldon, making her first All-American banquet appearance, said she was excited--and not at all nervous--to be in the company of the nation's elite players.  

"More than anything," she said, "it motivates me to be first team next year, and be here with my team playing." 

Sybeldon says she and other UW juniors, including Melanie Wade, Cassie Strickland and Katy Beals, are ready to become team leaders. "After this season, I've thought so many times how thankful I am to have another shot. If this were the end, I would feel, like, so--like unfinished business. I'm not ready to be done." 

Penn State Assistant Coach Stevie Mussie offers instructions from the bench as Head Coach Russ Rose looks on. Setter Micha Hancock (12) is in the foreground.
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Stevie Mussie, one of the stars of Washington's 2005 national championship team, is now in her second year as Penn State Assistant Coach. 

Almost a decade after playing her final collegiate match, Mussie seems well on her way to making her own mark in the coaching world. Among the challenges of being an assistant, she says, is adjusting to the differences in philosophies and systems of coaches like Washington's Jim McLaughlin and Penn State's Russ Rose. 

"Working for Russ has been a challenge, but the best kind of challenge," she told Volleyblog Seattle. "I've had to learn a different way of doing things, but I can't argue, because he clearly knows what he's doing." 

Mussie went to Final Fours as a player, and now twice as a coach. She's impressed with how Rose keeps his calm amid all the championship week chaos. "The light atmosphere he creates in tense situations makes it controllable for the players. He practices what he preaches." 

After a season being seen mostly in spandex and sweatshirts, athletes at the All-American banquet tend dress their best, from their favorite hairstyles to stylish dresses right down to stilettos that add inches to women already proud to be tall. 

Miami Second Team All-American
Savanah Leaf. The back of her shirt
reads "I Can't Breathe"
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
So, when Miami's Savanah Leaf, the ACC Player of the Year, stepped to the podium to accept her Second Team All-American trophy, it was hard not to notice.  On the front of her simple white t-shirt was a dramatic stenciled image of a woman's face, eyes shut, with a hand covering her mouth. 

On the back, the words: "I Can't Breathe." 

"I wanted to make a point in a place where most people wear formal outfits," Leaf told Volleyblog Seattle. "I think this will turn some heads and get some people to start thinking twice about what they're promoting."   

What they're promoting, she said, are All-Americans. As a role model to countless girls in Miami, Leaf said she wanted those girls to see that expressing her dismay about the death of Eric Garner was part of being an American. 

"When I watched that video (of Garner dying at the hands of New York City police,) I was brought to shock. I was crying. I don't even know the person, but I was crying. Because I don't want that sort of police brutality in this country. Or anywhere, for that matter.   

"I have a young sister," she continued. "She's told me she's afraid of the police. That's scary. I've heard her kindergarten friends talk about it too. That's scary at that age. I don't want anything like that to happen to them." 

Leaf, who just graduated and hopes some day to be a filmmaker, designed and made the shirt herself. She wore it in the airplane from Miami to Oklahoma City, unsure about the reaction it might provoke. To her surprise, no one--including strangers--said anything negative. Even so, the decision to wear the shirt at the banquet was made at the very last moment, without, she said, telling her coaches in advance. 

"I've been hoping that more and more people--especially in volleyball--will speak up about their opinions about issues going on in the world." 

While in Oklahoma City, we conducted video interviews for Volleyball Magazine with a wide range of folks, including Karch Kiraly, Amanda Gil, Micha Hancock, Krista Dietzen, Mick Haley and several more. We'll post more on the blog soon, but feel free to take an advance peek on Volleyball Magazine's Team VBM website. 

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