SEATTLE – The first match for the Husky volleyball team is still a week away, but that doesn’t mean competition has been lacking. The Dawgs have been ramping up the intensity, pushing each other, as Head Coach Jim McLaughlin says, “to the edge of their abilities.”
The changeover from the 2012 season to 2013 saw only one new player take the court, and that was Justice Magraw, who appeared in four matches last year. But with four seniors moving on from last year’s 30-3 squad, there are spots to fill that will require some combination of Washington’s seven freshmen and redshirt freshmen to jump in and play key roles.
But they will have to earn it.
“We are getting some things in place. That takes a level of concentration, a level of energy, a level of intensity,” said McLaughlin. “Tuesday was really the first day that we put some numbers together, and people are going to start fighting for position, and I think they did a pretty good job. They just competed hard, which is really important.”
The returning players are enjoying the early-season intensity, which begins with early morning serve and pass practices and winds up in the early evening often with six on six rallies that leave the players drenched with sweat.
“There’s definitely a more competitive feeling on the court than I think there normally is, based on my past few years,” said junior middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last year. Part of that, Sybeldon thinks, is the ability of the four freshmen to jump right in. Crissy Jones, Reni Meyer-Whalley, Tia Scambray, and Courtney Schwan have all held their own and pushed the veterans early on.
“The freshmen have blended well I think and they’re good at asking for feedback,” says Sybeldon. “It’s hard to come into a big program and not get scared and feel like you’re in over your head. I think they’ve done a good job of accepting the challenge, and asking for help when needed, but taking it upon themselves to get better.”
One of the four true freshmen looking to not just survive, but thrive, is Jones, who is practicing in the middle along with Sybeldon and Melanie Wade. Jones had a good idea of what to expect, but says the reality has still surpassed that.
“It’s definitely more than I expected,” Jones said. “It’s a really great environment to be in, everything is competitive, there are no plays off. Everything matters, and that’s something that I’ve never experienced, and it’s great, it makes everybody well-rounded volleyball players. It’s an awesome experience.”
Junior Kim Condie also credits the newcomers with fueling the competitive fire in practice.
“They don’t act any different than anyone else,” says Condie. “They come in and work hard and they know it doesn’t matter that they’re freshmen, they need to work just as hard, and they’ve done an awesome job.”
McLaughlin makes it clear that everything is up for grabs with the August 29 opener against PortlandState creeping closer each day.
“We’ve got depth, and we’re going to have some people fighting for positions, and there are no givens,” he says. “I don’t know who’s going to start. We’ve got another week and a half to figure it out. People are changing and developing, so we’re on a good trend right now.”
Sybeldon says, “I don’t think anyone feels like for sure they have a starting position, so just the desire to play pushes us for sure.”
The team has been up to the physical challenge early on thanks to a hard summer of conditioning drills that are paying off now and hopefully will continue to give the Huskies legs to stand on into December.
“I think definitely we’re in good shape, Henry does a great job” said Sybeldon, referring to UW’s Strength & Conditioning Coach Henry Ruggiero. “We had workouts every day over the summer, and we’re all committed to being the best athletes we can be so everyone holds themselves accountable. We have such great resources here to know how to do that. They feed us and train us, it’s not even our doing really,” she says with a laugh.
“We were in the gym every day at six working out over the summer,” says Condie, “so it’s good now because the gym’s really hot and practice is hard but we’re staying strong because we’ve worked hard all summer.”
It's a long road ahead but the Huskies are off at a quick pace.