May 30, 2011
Two years ago, while leading the Colorado State Rams to an upset over the visiting Washington Huskies in the second round of the NCAA tournament, first-year setter Evan Sanders probably did not think she was catching a glimpse of her future across the net. An All-Mountain West Conference selection the past two years while the Rams were consistently ranked in the Top-20 nationally, Sanders still began to feel that her game was stagnating. With just one year of eligibility remaining, she decided to make a change, and was surprised and thrilled to get a call from Husky Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. Now, the native of Lafayette, Colorado is adapting to numerous changes, living far from home for the first time and learning a new system with a new group of teammates that she just spent the spring practice season working to develop chemistry with. Sanders talked to GoHuskies.com about how she came to Seattle, the progress made during spring practice, and her plans for the summer.
GoHuskies.com: How has the transition to Washington gone for you, with everything that entails as far as moving, changing teams, changing classes etc.?
Evan Sanders: It has been tougher than I imagined, just because I'm a very independent person so I didn't think that moving away from home and having to meet all these new people and become part of a new team would be that challenging for me. But it has been incredibly challenging. I would say, more than anything, it's leaving my family. I'm a very family-oriented girl so that's been tough for me not having that constant support with all these new things. I've had to learn how to deal with it all on my own. Luckily, the other girls have been great. Coming in with Summer (Ross) was really nice, even though she's a freshman, so I can't imagine how she feels because here I am 21 years old and missing my family like crazy. But it was nice having that transition with another person. I think, sometimes, even the girls forget that we're new because they're still in there with their routines and none of their habits have really changed because there's two new girls on the court. It's been really nice having Summer and we've kind of dealt with some of our homesickness together. I got very lucky with the girls that I live with. I live with two track girls - Alana Alexander and Caroline Soules - then Maggie Wagner on the softball team. So when you're moving in to a place with three girls who you've never lived with before, it's very scary because girls can be girls. But they are so similar to me in personality, they're people I can go to that I can always talk to. So I got very lucky with the people that I am surrounded by here to help me with the stuff I would normally just run to my family for.
The volleyball part has been challenging in the sense that I've had to create a whole new work ethic. The expectations here put on you by the coaches and your teammates and eventually yourself were a lot higher than I've been used to at CSU. Not because we weren't expected to be good or play well but just because we caught a lot of breaks there. So, here, you're held accountable for everything and, because of that, it makes you want to be a better player. I didn't really have to change a ton of my fundamentals when it comes to setting, so that was really nice, because I was afraid they were going to break down everything I did and say I did this, this, and this wrong and here's what you need to do. Luckily, they just molded the things I had already done to make it more of the style they're looking for and the way they train here. I've had great coaches throughout my life who have taught me great fundamentals and basics so I feel like it was easier for them to work with that and made it easier for me to make those little adjustments.
GH: Some people might not be aware but you're still pretty new to the setter position. This will be only your third year setting full-time. Do you think there are some things you are still learning about the position or do you think playing other positions gave you a better understanding of what a setter should do?
ES: I like to think that it gives me an advantage. I definitely have gained way more appreciation for every single position and I feel like I have an understanding of how each position impacts others, which I think sometimes players lack. Not because they consciously want to think, `Oh your position doesn't do a lot for me' but just because they don't really know the effort and the mindset that goes into different positions. Because it really is different from position to position and that's something I've had to learn. Jim [McLaughlin] even now has been really good with me. I have a total outside hitter mentality and setters and outside hitters have completely differently mentalities and different jobs on the court. They have different relationships with the other players on the court. So, I think that as far as the skills of setting and the fundamentals go, it's almost nice that I'm newer to it because they don't really have to break me down. I don't really have bad habits because I haven't had the time to really develop those. There's definitely little things I do from learning from the setters I have been surrounded by, whether that was in club or my first year at CSU when I didn't set, so it's kind of been picking up things from other setters. But, in the long run, I think it's been good because anything new I'm learning, I can pick up quicker because it's so new to me. So I don't have to force myself to go against everything I've ever learned because I haven't really learned or known as much as a lot of other setters my age.
GH: How would you analyze the early differences in the systems and are you asked to stay within a system more at Washington? Other teams might have their setters attacking more than the Husky setters typically have over the years.
ES: Here, you definitely know your role and you're expected to take care of your job. It's not really your responsibility to try to be better than that or go beyond what you're expected to do. Here, the number one job for the setter and I would assume for any setter at any university is to set. So that's the primary focus, no matter who you are, what background you have with volleyball, or how good you are at jumping, defense, blocking, serving, whatever - your first job is to set. So much of what Washington does is bigger than just the basic roles of each position so, while setters need to set, outside hitters need to put away the ball etc., there's a huge emphasis on the skills that every position is going to do like blocking, serving, and defense. There is a huge emphasis and focus on those specific skill sets and it's not really in the players' hands to create something more. Whereas, at CSU, I had to have the mindset that I was an offensive threat and, while it's not that I just can't be an offensive threat here, I more have the mindset that I have two or three amazing hitters and even when I'm front row, I have a back row hitter that can put away the ball. So I more have the mindset that the success of our team is going to be higher if I look at my hitters as the number one options rather than getting our team out of a funk looking at myself as the number one threat. I feel like I can rely on my hitters to generate something where they're going to get us going, rather than me having to worry about that. And I don't think that it's a bad thing at CSU that I was an offensive threat, because that was a huge part of our team. I had coaches come up to me and tell me they hated scouting us because they'd say `Ok, if it's close enough, we have to watch the setter'. So I think it just depends on the personnel of your team. I think sometimes at CSU we may not have had the personnel to always rely on our hitters to get us out of everything. I definitely had to have a different mindset at CSU and I didn't mind that at all. I loved being an aggressive, offensive setter. That was a huge reason why I feel like I had success as a setter so quickly. And my outside hitter mentality translated over to setting really easily because of that. Now my mentality is kind of switching and has to make a more drastic change because Washington isn't known for setters who jump a ton but they're known for setters that look alike in what they do because we're so fundamentally sound. So even though Jenni [Nogueras] and I are two completely different athletes, we're going to set the Washington way because it's what works.
GH: Heading into the spring practice season, what were you looking to take away from it and how do you think it went?
ES: For me personally, my mindset every spring is that it's a time to get better. So I don't beat myself up if I'm not at the level I want to be just because I know there's so many different things I'm working on. That would've been the case at CSU without having changes I had to make. So, for here, I basically wanted to get the hang of setting and I was fortunate enough to get the hang of it pretty quickly and the coaches were actually impressed by that, just because the few bad habits I had developed were being fixed. The things they wanted me to change revolved around those bad habits. So I thought it was going to be a bigger challenge there. So, in my mind, I just wanted to get setting down without having to be conscious about it. So when I got here I was constantly thinking `What is my body doing? Etc.' and obviously you can't play like that. So, now, at the end of spring it's gotten to the point where I feel like I'm able to do all the right movements without being mindful. I can be mindful about the things I need to be mindful about rather than my body, and my hands, and the result of every set. So, I just wanted to be able to respond to the feedback they were giving me and start to make the changes. I still have adjustments I have to continue to work on throughout the summer. But it's kind of nice for me knowing that even girls going into their senior year have adjustments they have to make and they've been a part of the program for 3 years. I really just wanted to get the hang of things and feel comfortable with the team because, as a setter, that's a huge part of the team dynamic - the responsiveness to the setter and the way the setter can react to the players. So I just kind of wanted to make sure I was comfortable by the end of spring and getting the hang of things, which I feel like I've been successful with. So I'll just continue to use the summer to get to know the players and understand them as people and teammates, both on and off the court and then just keep working on the little things that will eventually get me through to the next level.
GH: Now in matches and practices a lot of times it's the setter that's a vocal presence in getting the team fired up and on the same page, but at the same time a newcomer to any team is naturally going to be a little quieter at first when they're still getting used to the team. How did you manage that this spring?
ES: I don't really have a choice. Part of me kind of felt like I was a freshman again. Even though I have years on some of these girls, they have years on me in this program. So I really wanted the girls to feel like I was earning what I was getting and receiving here because I don't think anyone is really given anything here, regardless of whether you're a brand new senior here like myself or if you are a brand new freshman like Summer or you've been in the program a few years. So I wanted to make sure the girls were understanding me as a player. It's hard because I'm very competitive so I didn't want to come across as `Oh I'm day one getting on this girl who's been in the program for three years and here I am and haven't proved anything'. So I had to be careful and that was me just trying to get to know the players because I don't want to be misinterpreted as a new player and new setter. But I think that, luckily, coming into this program, they're all so competitive so they understand that if you are a part of University of Washington volleyball, it's because you have the competitive nature they look for. So, that became easier. I would still say I'm a whole lot quieter than I usually am but that's just me trying to adjust and adapt to my surroundings, new environments, and new players and just making sure that everyone understands my reasoning for coming here and I have the same goal as all of them. I think that it'll take time for everyone to understand that and that it has been going as well as it can.
GH: After having success at Colorado State, can you talk a bit about what prompted you to feel like you wanted a change, and how did Washington first come up as a possibility?
ES: As far as CSU, I was incredibly happy with the university but there was definitely something missing with volleyball. I just became very unhappy with volleyball and was deciding whether or not I wanted to transfer or wanted to stay at CSU and just quit volleyball. When I started telling people those were my options, anyone who knew me thought I was crazy because they know how much I love volleyball. I knew in my own heart that there was no way I could be burnt out. So I just got to the point where, with the coach-player relationship just in general, people can only put so much effort into making something work and when it clashes, it clashes. I feel like effort was put in on both ends to try to make it work with me staying there, but it was just constant butting heads. At CSU, it really got to the point where I stopped having expectations for myself and I thought I reached a plateau as a player. The situation was effecting me as a player and a teammate and I was becoming unresponsive to my own teammates and I just became a player that I never thought I'd become and really didn't want to be. So, just everything about the situation I was in told me that wasn't where I belonged and that wasn't what I wanted to spend the next year and possibly last year of my volleyball career doing.
More importantly, I wanted to get better as a player. That didn't have anything to do with the coaches, the coaches were amazing, it just got to the point where some of the communication didn't allow me to interpret everything correctly and, because of that, there was no opportunity for growth anymore.
So, with my decision to transfer, at first, I didn't know if a single school would want me. I had no idea how transferring really worked and I kind of threw myself into the situation hoping for the best. We actually played Washington my sophomore year. Fortunately for me, I came out with a victory. But I just know, anyone in general who talks about Washington volleyball talks about how when you look across the net, you just respect everything they're representing. I feel like everything they do, they do with pride and they give it their all. So, I just had this respect and had always heard so highly of them that I knew that was the type of program I'd be successful in and that I'd gain a lot of experience from. It's no secret that Washington has a great volleyball program and anyone that knows volleyball knows that. So it was just a matter of getting incredibly lucky by ending up here. Jim said he randomly went to the fax machine, never goes to it, and my transfer letter was there. So he and I always joke about that, that it was a sign that he found it. He randomly went to the machine and I think he said it actually fell off. So, in my transferring process, I was just calling schools left and right saying `This is who I am, this is where I was, this is why I left. Do you need a setter, want a setter?' I had some offers. I was honestly probably two days away from making a decision and had it down to my final four and then Jim calls me on the phone and is like, `Hi, this is Jim McLaughlin from Washington' and I was just like `What?!' So it was really exciting. Then when I came out here on my visit and met some of the girls, it was just a very welcoming experience and visit and it was not a very difficult choice to make from that point on. Some of the girls were like `Did we play them?' They couldn't remember if it was CU or CSU they played and I was like `Yeah, sorry'. But they're all good sports about it.
GH: Did you know (Colorado native and 2010 grad) Kindra Carlson and did she give you any input?
ES: Yes, Kindra and I played for the same club and before my visit to Washington, I called her to ask her for her two cents. She was very honest with me about her experience here and her opinion about the coaches, the players, the university. Coming from Colorado, she told me about the transition and how it was for her. Obviously, Washington is quite different than Colorado. So it was really nice having somebody who grew up with a very similar volleyball world. She was from a smaller high school and so was I and then we played for the same club. So, that was really nice and her input helped a lot in actually deciding to come here and visit. So, it was nice knowing someone. I'm a little bummed she's not still here, that would have been fun to play with her. But, she helped out."
GH: Now obviously one of your teammates is Jenni Nogueras, who is probably hoping to see a lot of playing time next year as well. Did the fact that you could be in a battle for a starting spot ever make you second guess coming to Washington?
ES: Every school except two, I want to say, guaranteed me I would start. So, it was definitely part of my thought process. You can't avoid throwing that into the scenario. It finally came down to me remembering that I wanted to get better. At CSU, for the past two years, I haven't had anyone battling with me for the position. So I felt like having someone pushing me was really going to be one of the only ways if not the only way to get the most out of myself and for my teammates and coaches to get the most out of me. So, Jenni and I are definitely in a battle. It's actually incredible how even we've been in a lot of our competitions. It's great because we leave that whole setter battle on the court and off the court Jenni and I are great friends. There's definitely things she brings to the table that I lack and vice-versa and Jim's been very upfront with us about who's contributing what and who needs to pick it up in some areas. It's not a secret. He'll tell all the players. That's the nice thing, you never really have to wonder where you're at because they're going to shoot it straight to you and they're going to be honest. It's been nice; it definitely made me nervous coming in. I've had a lot of people on the outside, some who have been unhappy with my decision of leaving CSU, who have been doubting my ability to see playing time here and that was definitely in the back of my mind, because a lot of that had happened before I even made my decision. So that stuff gets to you and I kind of came to realize if I didn't see a second of playing time my senior season, I now know for a fact I will be a better volleyball player when I leave this program, regardless of how much time I put on the court. Obviously I'm not making plans to be sitting the bench all year. I don't think any girl on the team would want to go out that way. I don't think anyone wants to be like that their sophomore year, let alone senior year. So, with my last year, I want to have an impact on this team and I'd love to be playing but I definitely want to earn that position. I know that if I don't and Jenni beats me out, I'm still going to have a lot of options coming out of college. Jim knows a whole lot of people in the volleyball world and so does Tui [Leslie Gabriel]. I've already gotten better in the two months I've been here so I can't even imagine the steps I'll continue to take in the next year. So, I'm looking forward to it and it's been a very healthy battle between Jenni and me.
GH: You're majoring in early childhood and family studies? How has the school switch gone considering you're already well into a major?
ES: It's been a very easy transition. I was in a program at CSU and they only accepted 25 students into it. It was a very rigorous application process and a very strict, organized major. Here it still requires an application process but it's much more open and broad than it was at CSU so my classes have been easy compared to CSU. I'm a little disappointed in some of the differences between the programs. CSU offered a lot coming out of that program whereas here, it's growing so much that it's becoming a general major. So, I'm a little bummed out by that but school's never really been a struggle for me. I guess I don't really have any complaints. It offers a lot of the same things. I needed to find a University that had what I wanted to do, so it worked out.
GH: Do you know if you'll be staying around Seattle this summer or going elsewhere?
ES: Yeah. I have no finals during finals week so I get to go home for an extra week, which I'm so excited about. Then, I'll be back. We've all talked about how we just want to be training throughout the summer so I will be here all summer. [This summer,] I'm living with a girl studying abroad who will be back at the end of the quarter. So it'll be me, Ky, Amanda, Jo, Kaleigh and then a basketball player. So we're moving into a house. That'll be nice for me too because I do really want to start getting to know some of the players better and I think what better way to do that than to be living with four of them.
GH: Away from school and volleyball, what are some things you like to spend time doing?
ES: Shopping. No, I've been better, I don't shop that much anymore. I'm really a very laid back girl. I love hanging out with friends, movies, shopping, whatever. Singing, in my car by myself. I used to be in honor choir back in the day. But, I love singing just not in front of people. I'm a little shy when it comes to that. [If you were singing in your car what would you be singing to?] I have such a large variety of music. Beyonce. She has some good diva tracks.