by Jessica Farney
Who is that girl?
Washington volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin's head flipped around to take another look at the tall blonde making plays all over the court. McLaughlin had traveled to Belmont Secondary School in Victoria, B.C., to recruit another player, but it was a little-known senior, Darla Myhre, who was capuring most of his attention.
"I saw quickness, the ability to block, good presence on the floor, and maturity," McLaughlin said of Myhre. "I realized I was there for the wrong person. I said, 'This is the girl I want.'"
The last-minute realization was a surprise not only for McLaughlin, but for Myhre as well.
One of five players picked by Sports Canada to receive a full scholarship to any Canadian university, Myhre had already given a verbal committment to the University of British Columbia, based largely upon its strong academic reputation. The thought of playing for a major U.S. college was furthest from her mind.
"I wasn't seriously looking at American universities," says Myhre. "Then I talked to Jim at one of our practices and he offered me a scholarship."
Myhre had some knowledge of the UW's facility, having competed in the Emerald City Classic at Hec Edmundson Pavilion during her sophomore year of high school.
"I remember thinking 'Wow, this school is amazing!" she says. "This is where I want to go."
Two years later, though, and without any further contact with Washington, the memories had faded, and UBC was her choice. That was, until the day that McLaughlin showed up at practice.
Suddenly presented with options, Myhre felt pressure to honor her commitment and stay in her home country, especially after playing for the Canadian National Team, which has little enthusiasm for losing its best players to the United States.
"It was a hard decision," Myhre says, "but I definitely made the right one. Washington has great academics, it's close to home, it's Pac-10 - it's everything I wanted."
As it turns out, Myhre was everything McLaughlin wanted as well.
According to the coach, there are three tools the coaching staff looks for in its potential players - athletic ability, competitiveness and character.
Athletic ability? Myhre is 6-foot-2 with outstanding speed, and with her arms in the air can reach up to 10 feet.
Competitiveness? In high school, Myhre led Belmont to a second place provincial finish as a junior. Not satisfied with second, she came back as senior to earn MVP honors and a provincial title, while captaining the Canadian Junior National Team in the off-season.
Character? Myhre is one of the hardest workers on the team. She is quietly confident - quick to accept responsibility for mistakes, and to deflect praise onto her team.
McLaughlin saw these strengths and thought Myhre would be perfect for a Husky volleyball team in need of an infusion of energy. He was right.
As a freshman in 2002, Myhre made an immediate impact, leading the team with 1.24 blocks per game and adding 1.50 kills per game. Despite earning honorable mention to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, however, Myhre was replaced in the starting lineup late in the season by Kara Bjorklund, a more experienced player.
"Darla has a great competitiveness about her; she'll fight for what she wants," McLaughlin says. "She knows how to handle adversity and is not content to sit on the bench. She's come back strong this season, is back in the starting lineup, and has much more of a drive in her. She is now one if the best blockers in the Pac-10, and in the country."
Myhre, as always, turns the attention away from herself.
"I really focus on Jim's game plan," she says. "We want to win the Pac-10 and then the national championship. That's the ultimate goal."
And not an unrealistic one at that. Currently ranked 10th in the nation with a 15-5 record, the Huskies have yet to lose to a team ranked lower than 11th overall, and recently swept the archrival Washington State Cougars in a home-and-home series. The team's national championship potential will truly be tested on Oct. 31, when face the top-ranked USC Trojans in Los Angeles.
"USC is obviously a very good team," Myhre says. "If we keep training the way we are, though, we can beat them."
No doubt the fate of the Huskies will rely heavily on Myhre, who ranks eighth in the Pac-10 with a team-leading 1.16 blocks per game. She also leads the team with a .429 hitting percentage, third-best in the Pac-10, and is only three attacks short of being eligible for the NCAA rankings in hitting percentage, in which she would rank fifth.
"You win with good people, and Darla is a great kid who is very mature for her age," McLaughlin says. "She works extremely hard and has a rare humbleness about her. We've asked her to change her offensive mechanics and she has readily accepted the challenge. She just keeps getting better and better, and has the opportunity to be an elite player."
Who was that girl? That was Darla Myhre, a name Pac-10 opponents won't soon forget.