There’s a spot in Southern California, just south of the San Clemente pier, and just up the shore from Richard Nixon’s former Western White House.
|Bailey Tanner signs her National Letter of Intent|
to attend the University of Washington
The beach—dotted with palm trees, surfers and families—is known simply as T-Street. Neighbors consider the sandy stretch a treasure and a bit of a secret, but that secret is out some 1,200 miles north, on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Washington.
Tstreet Volleyball Club—named after the beach—produced current University of Washington freshman Cassie Strickland. This fall, another Tstreet alum, Bailey Tanner, will join the Huskies. And—judging from Tstreet’s website—more Tstreeters may be on the way in years to come.
Tanner is 6’2 and a highly-touted setter and hitter. She considered Oregon, USC, Hawai’i and St. Mary’s, among others, but chose Washington both because of—and despite—its coaching staff.
“I think he’s the best coach in the country,” says Tanner of Jim McLaughlin. “I really respect him as a coach and a person.”
But McLaughlin is more than just a coach to the Tanner family. He and Troy Tanner—Bailey’s father—have been friends for years. Each was in the other’s wedding party. Both are part of an exclusive group of volleyball wizards with roots on Southern California beaches, extending to some of the finest indoor and beach volleyball players of the past generation.
And that connection just might have killed Bailey Tanner’s interest in Washington.
“I didn’t want to be recruited as Troy’s daughter,” she says. “I wanted to be recruited on my own merit. I didn’t want any special treatment.”
For Bailey, it all started when she was in fifth grade, and played on her first club volleyball team.
“But we didn’t like it,” says Bailey. “So that’s why my dad started a club of his own in sixth grade.”
Troy named the club after the beloved neighborhood beach, and started small.
“It started out with one team; it doubled most years to get huge now,” Bailey says. “Everybody wants to come.”
Tstreet’s popularity rose with its teams’ success. Bailey’s team took third at last season’s Junior Nationals. Many of Tstreet’s teams are ranked in the Southern California Volleyball Association’s Top Ten. 22 of last season’s 24 high school seniors—including Strickland—are playing college volleyball. Bailey Tanner’s fellow graduates will be playing for Penn State, Minnesota, Connecticut and San Diego State, among others. Recent club alums are at Cal, Utah, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Seattle Pacific, Harvard and Brown.
In affluent Orange County, Troy Tanner was able to raise funds for what’s been described as the finest club volleyball facility in the nation. Three courts and a training center occupy 15,500 square feet. Other sports—like basketball—can use it, but volleyball comes first. And that includes attracting top instructors.
“It’s the coaching,” Bailey says. “My dad coaches the other coaches. They all run the same system.”
Troy Tanner’s system, as you might expect, comes from the same tree as Jim McLaughlin’s. Troy was an All-American setter and hitter at Pepperdine, where the Waves won two national titles under legendary coach (and close McLaughlin friend) Marv Dunphy. Tanner went on to win a gold medal with the US Men’s indoor team at the Seoul Olympics. (Full disclosure: another member of that 1988 team was Craig Buck, younger brother of Volleyblog Seattle’s Leslie Hamann.)
After playing professionally, both indoors and on the sand, Tanner served as men’s team assistant at BYU to Carl McGown, the man McLaughlin calls his mentor. Tanner won a second Olympic gold in 2008 as coach of beach stars Kerri Walsh and Misty May.
But even with that incredible legacy, Bailey says she felt no pressure to excel at her dad’s chosen sport.
“He always wanted me to do my own thing,” she says. “I played a little soccer. I started with gymnastics; I just couldn’t work out the whole height issue.”
During middle school, she played volleyball, and realized she liked it. She also realized her dad could be more than the usual Dad-as-youth-sports-coach. And yet, as any parent who’s ever coached a child knows, it isn’t easy.
“There’s always going to be issues," says Bailey. “Sometimes we’d have a really great time on the court. Sometimes we weren't getting along on the court, and it transfers to home. That’s the rough part about it.”
But, with time, the two Tanners worked it out.
“He knew I had potential,” she says. “We did a really good job of managing that relationship. It got better every year.
“It’s cool to be close to your coach.”
Bailey turned some heads when she decided not to stay on her high school team.
“I played my freshman and sophomore year on varsity. But I wasn’t progressing, and I could do better training at Tstreet working out, rather than playing high school.“
And despite her dad's ties to McLaughlin, she came to believe that Washington was the best fit. She says it was her choice, not her father's.
"I know he wants what’s best for me and all the girls," says Tanner of McLaughlin. "If I want to pursue volleyball after college, he’s gonna put me in the right position and give me the right opportunities to do so. He treats his girls like his own children; he really cares."
Her choice of Washington left some wondering: what position would she play? She’s both a setter and a hitter, which could work if McLaughlin continues a 6-2 (two-setter) offense, but she’d have to beat out either Jenni Nogueras and/or Katy Beals at setter, and compete against several returning hitters—plus fellow recruit Carly DeHoog—for a front-line shot.
But Bailey looks at how 5-8 fellow Tstreeter Strickland—whom everyone thought would be competing for a libero position—became a season-long starter as an outside hitter. That sent a strong message that McLaughlin wants all his players to be open to learn virtually any position.
“I hope that I can contribute in whatever way,” she says. “I just really want to play. I’ll play middle if he wants me to.”
Tanner and DeHoog are the only two players to sign a 2013 National Letter of Intent so far. Washington has a third recruit who is waiting until the spring signing to make it official.