SEATTLE - A new NCAA volleyball season begins to unfold this weekend, with teams all around the nation taking the first step on a path they hope will lead to Seattle’s KeyArena for the 2013 NCAA Championships in December. For the fifth-ranked Huskies, the journey starts to the south in Portland with the annual Northwest Challenge. First serve for the 2013 season is this Friday, Aug. 30, at 6:00 p.m. as the Huskies go up against Boise State in a match hosted by the Portland State Vikings.
Volleyball will be the first of three Washington teams to take on the Broncos of Boise State this weekend, followed by football beginning its season on Saturday, and women’s soccer facing the Broncos on Sunday in Seattle as well. On Saturday, Aug. 31, the Huskies will have a double-header, taking on the host Vikings at 12 noon, and then returning to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs at 5:00 p.m. This is the sixth annual Northwest Challenge, which features these same four squads each year and rotates between host sites. All matches will be in PSU’s Peter W. Stott Center. Portland State will have live video streams of all matches available through WatchBigSky.com, with a free live account required to log in.
The Huskies have won all five previous Northwest Challenges, including sweeping the three matches last year in Seattle. Head Coach Jim McLaughlin, now entering his 13th season, has an experienced squad with 11 returning letterwinners from a squad that went 25-7 in 2012 and made the NCAA round of 16. Junior Krista Vansant and senior Kylin Muñoz were named to the Preseason All-Pac-12 Team, and Washington was voted third in the preseason Pac-12 Coaches Poll.
Even with the experience on hand, the team will start to form a new identity this weekend. "Some players have graduated, new players have joined us and the remaining players have changed, we’re different, so reinventing our team is the task," McLaughlin says. "The skill levels are better than last year but becoming teammates is as important as anything we do technically or tactically. We’re like all teams at this point in time. You’ve got an opportunity to become what you want to become.
What can this team become? "We’re going to find that out down the road by what we do and how we interact in good times and tough times. There is no question our identity isn’t in place yet," McLaughlin says.
The team will look to start answering some of these questions on Friday.