Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pac-12 | Jim McLaughlin: “It’s hard to pick a starting lineup”

Veteran Seattle Times volleyball correspondent Terry Wood has a preseason profile of the Washington Huskies in the paper's August 24 edition. Terry shares the full transcript of his preseason interview with Jim McLaughlin with Volleyblog Seattle

Q: What’s your assessment of your latest team as the first match draws near?

I think we have the capacity to be a much-improved team in many areas because we have capabilities in each position.

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
We’ve got hard-working girls who are intelligent players and developing a volleyball IQ. They’re picking up the nuances of the game, which is really the key that separates the people and teams. We’ve asked them to get a little more connected in a deeper manner. Part of that is understanding the end—what we’re striving for every day. If we’re going to do that we have to have a championship effort in every area. Not some of them, not some of the time. Every day, every play, we do it. I think it’s becoming part of them. I think it’s a hard thing, but the girls are starting to go, whoa, we’re getting a return on this. this is really fun. Changing your game is sometimes really hard because you’re putting everything you have into it because you’re doing things differently than you have before. Then you get a return, and it becomes an addictive thing. I just want more. Jim, what else can I do? Then you’ve got a culture that’s healthy. You’ve got kids that want to be champions, and they understand it at a higher level. Because none of these kids knows what it takes to be a champion. We’re showing them and teaching them. They trust us, and we push them out of their little comfort zones. But they understand that’s the deal, they believe in the staff and we’re in this boat together. It’s a good deal.

Q: Does UW have the talent to compete with UCLA, USC, Stanford and other top-ranked teams?

I believe this more than anything: You have to have ability. But everybody has ability. So as you perform, you’ve got to not look sideways and develop your abilities. But then there are some intrinsic values that take you beyond, to the point where talent doesn’t win the championship—it’s these other things that win tough points, tough games, tough matches. It’s the ability to handle the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows. Can you stay the course? The most successful people I’ve been around and coached and have been lucky to be part of their lives is just, they can hold course. They don’t get distracted. Your mind is a powerful thing. You can think a million different thoughts, but you’ve got to pick out one thought that keeps you on track. I don’t know what talent is, in my opinion. I know there are some abilities and characteristics, but we’re going to have some kids with different abilities become a team and tap into those things.

Q: Can you define that mindset you’re seeking in players?

Kids don’t know. Every kid that has come into my office says Jim, I’ll do anything. Then all of a sudden you get into the situation and it’s really hard. Then you find out, based on the choices you make in life, whether you commitment is real or not. “You said you were going to do this.” “Oh, it’s just too hard” for a lot of people.

Now, I don’t think this is for everybody. But it can be the greatest thing in the world to a kid who really wants it. Like Courtney Thompson or Christal Morrison. Court thought she had all the answers. In her last interview it was, “It was harder than I ever thought, but it was so much greater than I ever thought.”

I think we’ve got the talent, whatever that means. I think we have ability, and now these girls are learning at a better rate; there’s trust; they’re making good choices off the court; and they’re starting to learn to get a return in life which will serve them well for the rest of their lives, and they’ll teach their little kids that.

Q: What’s your interpretation of making the right decisions off the court?

You’re in your dorm room and all these kids get fired up because they’re athletes. Let’s go support the whole dorm floor, not just the room. But then Friday night there’s a raging party on the Ave; and their friends are saying, “C’mon, let’s hit it, let’s go.”  That’s fun.  But we’ve got Stanford-Cal coming in, and we’ve got to get a good night’s sleep. We can’t go to that. But in the spring I’ve always said, just make good choices. You can’t be a robot. You can’t stay in your dorm room all day. You’ve got to go live life, but you’ve got to be smart. So I think there’s a time and a place. Yeah, if you’re a college kid you’ve got to go to that stuff. All I’ve told them is the same thing I’ve told my daughters: I’m never going to say you can never go to a party. No, go to the doggone party. But make good choices.

Q: What is this team’s potential?

I told the girls it’s really hard for me to pick a starting lineup. They’re ultimately going to pick the lineup for me because of what they’re doing at the gym every day. We’re going to play a lot of people in the preseason and gather some information. We have more competition this year. We have more kids developing at each position. It’s all about this year. The past doesn’t matter. The future; you can’t worry about that. We have to worry about today.  It’s just better, how they’re focusing on the right things.

Q: How do you see players at key positions developing?

Our outsides are getting good. We’re hitting with more range. We’re killing the ball at a higher level. We’re smarter. We’re developing more shots. That’s good.

The middles are getting better. Everybody wants to say we’re so young at that position. That’s how most people look at it. I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as, who cares; just get better. See how good you can be right now. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with this group.

Our quarterback position is a dogfight, and at a much higher level than it was last year. We must be better at that position. We focused on it. We made an emphasis of it. We studied it, and the girls are working hard and they know they’re getting better. We have numbers that support that. It’s not like I just feel that; we are making progress.

If there’s a key, it’s about our ability to serve and pass and our ability to spike with range. That requires a good setter who can put the ball where the hitters need it.

Q: How does Katy Beals look?

Really good. Steady. I’ve asked her to be a little bit more vocal, which is a good thing. She’s a very humble girl. People have different levels of outgoingness. Sometimes very humble people have a tough time talking when they need to talk. I’m not saying I want to change her personality. I love her the way she is. That’s why we got her. But she’s got to make some noise in transition so people know where she is. She’s doing it.

Now Jenni (Nogueras) is just outgoing. She makes lots of noise. Sometimes I say, “OK, Jen, tell me something meaningful.” She’s making lots of noise, which I love. That’s her personality.

We have two different personalities. They’re starting to connect with the quicks, putting more pace on the ball, they’re locating with a little more pace to the pins.

Q: How is Amanda Gil?

Amanda is starting to come back, and everyone’s stoked. She’s probably at 65 percent now. I meet with her doctors and they’re telling me, Jim, you know she’s wounded; just be careful. The trainers are with her every day. They think we can get her to 70 percent by end of September, maybe 80 percent by October and 90-95 percent going into November if we do this right. We just can’t jump her like she’s this young freshman.  We have to make sure we don’t overdo it and get too excited. Same with her. She gets mad at me sometimes because I take her out, but I’ll say, “Amanda, let’s rest that thing. I’ve seen enough today.”

Q: How is your offense?

To win the thing I believe we’ve got to have a lot of good volleyball players, and one of the players we’ve got coming in is a volleyball player. Cassie Strickland can play the game. She doesn’t look the part, but that doesn’t matter. Neither did Courtney. She’s got a nice arm, she can hit hard, she’s starting to develop composure and confidence in shot selection. She doesn’t have to do too much. She doesn’t have to be flashy. She’s just got to get the job done. We recruited her as a libero, but she’s doing well on the outside. I like what she does for our team. She digs the ball off the net. She’s really good at learning. She understands the right environment, so she is tapped in. I can push her in a good way. She goes hard. She’s a good addition.

Gabbi Parker has upgraded. Gabbi passed at 60 percent at the last scrimmage. I’m stoked. I just want to see her do it over and over. Did we just serve easy or did she pass well that day? Time will tell.

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin teaches during 2010 preseason training
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Q: How about Kylin Muñoz?

Muñoz is a different person on the court. She’s got confidence that’s going up. She’s taking no prisoners right now, which is hard for her. Wait ‘til you see her. It’s so cool when a kid works as hard as she does and she gets a return.

Q: Sometimes it gets frustrating seeing her aim for the same spot with her kills. She tends to be the Cross-court Kid.

She understands that. I told her directly, you hit one shot over and over and over. You can’t survive doing that. She’s worked on her tool box, and she has different tools for different situations. So she’s ripping the ball in practice. Now I want to see it on game day.

Ky is such a good kid. These kids come in with such high expectations—a lot are these external factors that build the kids up—then they get here and they just don’t want to screw it up. And that screws them up. You can’t approach life like that. You’ve got to go hard.

Q: How is Krista Vansant?

You make your biggest improvements during your freshman and sophomore years. Kris had a tough time learning until the end of the year, then she said I’m just going to go for it, and she was a different girl. She was a kid No. 1 on the magazine covers, and I don’t know if that served her well. She came in and didn’t want to screw it up.

Now I’ll tutor her one-on-ne before practice. Work with her on mechanical things. She’s better, has a stronger presence and isn’t acting like a goofball when she makes an error.

Q: Did Jenna Orlandini give you want you wanted at libero last year?

No, and she knows it. She got into her routines, and I didn’t like her routines. It was like, let’s watch film. She needed to address work a different way. Part of the reason we recruited her was this competitiveness, this drive. I wanted to see her just be her. She was doing these little mechanical things that would mess her up. She couldn’t get her angle on the ball. We got her in the gym and told her she needs to know when her body is doing this. The thing that has helped her is Kelly Holford has improved a lot, so Jo is in this competition and thinks, “I’ve got to figure this out or I’m not going to play.” That maybe has helped her more than anything.

Q: How about the new middles?

Lianna (Sybeldon) hits hard with range, then Melanie Wade is starting to hit hard, staying off the net, getting her timing right. We’ve thrown a lot at these young kids but they’ve been able to handle it. I’ve looked at their journals and it impresses me what they’re writing down. I’m not worried about those guys.

Q: What is this team’s strength?

The athletic capabilities are there, but I like the intelligence. They’re picking up the game at a reasonable pace. They’re committed to daily improvement. They’re really staying in the moment, and I just believe that if you can sustain that for five months, then you’ve got a chance. You really have a chance. They’re making plays that they didn’t make earlier.  If it’s a dug ball, rather than just swinging it at it, they’re getting a nice touch on it and we’re not just putting free balls over any more. 

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