BY TERRY WOOD
Special to The Seattle Times
It will be what Washington volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin calls a big-time event: Seattle will host college volleyball’s Final Four at Key Arena in mid-December.
|Washington players huddle before Friday's win against Boise State|
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
Will UW, which won a national title under McLaughlin in 2005 and last played in a Final Four in 2006, be in the mix?
“This team has got a chance,” said McLaughlin, repeating a line he often states at the start of a season, and for good reason. The Huskies, 25-7 a year ago, reached the round of 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament and advanced to the round of eight in 2010 and 2008.
The 2013 team, ranked No. 5 and 3-0 after a tournament at Portland State last weekend, makes its home opener Tuesday at Alaska Airlines Arena at 7 p.m. against Seattle U.
McLaughlin, in his 13th season at Washington, witnessed up-and-down performances in Portland. The Huskies hammered Portland State and Boise State but had to battle through five sets to finally subdue a winless Gonzaga squad.
“We played different lineups, played people in different positions, and had a lineup we wanted to try against Gonzaga” he said. “We’re still gathering information about our players. I liked that we got to see people develop in areas they’re not comfortable in. We’re developing people as passers, and we wanted them to get in the reps.
“I think I didn’t do a good job of managing that because the edge of the team wasn’t real sharp when we took the floor,” he said. “It was almost like, we’re going to try this and see how it goes. The next thing you know, we’re in a dogfight.”
Compounding matters, UW’s second-team All-American outside hitter, junior Krista Vansant, went down in the fourth set with an ankle injury, ending her night. The Huskies could not convert match points in the third and fourth sets, yet pulled out the win 15-9 in the final set.
“We responded in the fifth set,” he said. “We showed some of those values that are important to us. We passed at 60 percent, fought for points and hit at a nice clip. When it was on the line, we pulled it together and played well.”
McLaughlin believes UW can play well consistently. Vansant, who may be available against Seattle U., racked up 44 kills before her injury.
“I like this team and the direction we’re heading,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve changed a little bit in that I don’t want to do anything to keep us from developing. I’m going to take some chances and give some people some time, look at them in combat and see how they respond.”
- McLaughlin ran a two-setter offense over the weekend, using both sophomore Katy Beals and senior Jenni Nogueras. “I like it at this point,” he said. “The numbers we’re producing off of it are very good. We’re still running a 5-1 in parts of practice, but our two setters are almost dead even right now. I’m hoping one of them will take off. If that were the case, we would look at a 5-1.”
- Key goals for this season: Run more of the offense through the middle, dig more balls on defense and improve everyone’s passing. “Passing and setting quick (in the middle) was a weakness last year,” McLaughlin said.
- Sophomore middle blockers Melanie Wade and Lianna Sybeldon both had good weekends. Junior outside hitter Kaleigh Nelson, being asked to pass more frequently, led UW with 18 kills against Gonzaga.
- UW’s two freshmen are sidelined by injuries: setter/outside hitter Bailey Tanner (foot) and OH Carly DeHoog (knee). McLaughlin says neither injury is considered serious.
- Seattle U. earned 3-0 wins over Texas Tech and UC Riverside during a tournament in Utah over the weekend. Two Croatians, 6-foot-5 middle Martina Samadan and freshman OH Iris Ivanis, lead SU in kills. Locals on the roster include Lani Beadle (Seattle Prep), McKenzie Daniels (Kings) and Stephanie Stoll (Issaquah).
- Last night, Seattle U was swept at home by Eastern Washington (25-18, 25-22, 25-21). Last Friday, EWU gave Pac-10 power Oregon all it could handle in Eugene, so the Eagles look like a program on the rise. The Redhawks committed 15 service errors against Eastern Washington.
Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography