Competition Fierce For 2000 Huskies
The competition will be fierce as the Huskies head into the fall of 2000. A mix of new and veteran talent - and the largest roster in several years - means that the the Washington players will have already undergone a fierce battle for court time even before the team takes the floor for its first match.
Despite the fact that seven players with significant starting experience return to the 2000 Huskies, the lineup is not set as the team heads into the fall campaign. A wide array of options are available to Coach Bill Neville, who tinkered with a number of various rotations during the spring season.
Only two players from last season graduated - swing hitters Kristina Laffling and Sarah Allmon. Laffling, now a candidate for the Canadian National Team, ended her career as one of the top players in school history. Allmon, who played two seasons at Washington, suffered a career-ending injury midway through her senior season.
With only one starter gone, the Huskies have an unusual amount of experience despite having only two seniors on the roster once again in 2000.
"If you look at last year as a learning experience," Neville says, "it could be very valuable.
"My feeling is that we'll be a bit of an enigma," Neville continues. "We should have some very bright spots and if we put the right combinations together, those bright spots should really shine."
Neville points to this season's more liberal substitution rules as having a major effect on those combinations and allow for more use of back row specialists. With that in mind, Neville will try a number of different formulas, but, he says, "we have to make sure that what works on paper works in the match."
Neville also suggests that the Huskies may return to a style that saw them reach great success in 1996 and 1997, specifically relying on the two quick hitters for much of the offense.
"Emily will have to carry a lot of the load. She's going to specialize in the front row," Neville says of Seacat. "She had a terrific spring and she's as fit as she has ever been. She's hitting the ball harder and she's making a lot of shots. She has really solidified her game."
"Sabrina is also extraordinarily fit," Neville says in reference to Page. "She's very committed and is going to see a lot of time, but the defensive specialist positions are going to be very competitive this year."
One of the two middle players on whom Neville will rely is 6-foot-3 junior Lisa Underhill, who had an outstanding sophomore year and is set to take on even more of the offensive load.
"Lisa is central to our plans," Neville says. "She has all the tools, and she's very explosive. She's improved on a very steady, upward climb."
After Underhill, the player with the most experience is junior swing hitter Allison Richardson, who spent most of last season as the Huskies No. 2 swing alongside Laffling. As is the case with Underhill, the loss of Laffling would seem to mean that Richardson will have to carry an even heavier load.
"She's an extra-hard worker," says her coach. "Allison has been our best jump server and most consistent serve receiver, and she has also improved as a hitter."
Junior Britni Churnside spent all of last season as the Huskies' starting setter and will continue to compete for that role again in 2000. No matter what, Churnside's strong defensive abilities will be sure to earn court time.
"Britni may be our best defensive player," Neville says. "She's also emerged as a top serve receiver and is a very competitive person."
Neville praises junior swing hitter Malena Thompson for her outstanding natural abilities. "She's one of the top two or three natural athletes that we've had during my tenure," says the 10th year head coach. "She's another of our best defensive players, and she can hit all the sets."
The final member of the large junior class is swing hitter Kiki Maroutsos, who has played primarily as a reserve in her first two seasons. She has a chance to see more action on the court in 2000.
"Kiki made dramatic improvements in her hitting. She may now be our hardest hitter," Neville says. "She has positioned herself to play thanks to hard work."
The roster includes four sophomores, three of whom saw significant action as freshmen. All four will be in the running for playing time this fall.
Quick hitter Paige Benjamin became a starter midway through the 1999 season and will likely be the other middle player, along with Underhill. A Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention pick, her continued development should lead to continued success.
"Paige is one of our brightest bright spots. She's very motivated and intense," Neville says. "As she learns more and more, she will be more and more effective. I think she has a terrific career ahead of her."
Setter/hitter Gretchen Maurer is in position to battle Churnside for the starting setter spot. At 5-foot-11, she's tall for a setter and uses that to her advantage.
"She's the consumate bigger setter," Neville says. "She sets the middle really well, and using her and Britni together, we can get the best of both worlds."
Sophomore defensive specialist Elissa Ross saw action in nearly all of the Huskies' games as a freshman last year. She should see more of the same in 2000.
"Elissa may be our best all-around skills player," says Neville. "She brings maturity, stabilty and competitiveness. Despite her size, she can play the front row if she has to. She's a very smart hitter."
Swing hitter Janelle Grovey, relatively new to volleyball as a freshman last season, has an outstanding athletic pedigree as a multi-sport athlete in high school. She spent last year learning the game and has made strides in that regard.
"Janelle is an athlete," Neville says. "She has explosive power and she's going to contribute a lot."
Finally, the 2000 UW roster will include six freshmen, an unusually high number seeing as only two seniors graduated from last year's team. While court time may be scarce, Neville enters the year with an open mind and all six will be given a fair shake.
Swing/quick Kara Bjorklund could play at either spot. Like most of her teammates, she is described by Neville as being intense and competitive. "In club volleyball, she's been her most effective against the very best players," he says.
Alexis McDonald, also a swing or quick hitter, comes from an athletic family as her father played in the NBA and her brother is the starting point guard at Stanford. Aside from her natural abilities, Neville lauds her instincts.
"She's got very good blocking reactions," says Neville, "and I always like that."
Katie Grim, a 6-foot-2 opposite, is a left-handed hitter. "Katie has a lot of potential," Neville says. "She's athletic and she jumps well."
Egan Metcalf also stands 6-foot-2 and will play either opposite or quick. "She's a late developer," Neville says, "but she's a quick study, plus she plays hard."
Swing/opposite Diane Halvarson is a versatile player. "Diane jumps well and can play several positions," says Neville. "She's a good ball handler and she has a lot of room for growth."
Libba Lawrence could see action as another defensive specialist who brings the kind of intensity that Neville seeks in a DS. "She'll demand a high standard of play from herself," Neville says. "She's all business, all day."
Neville admits that there are a lot of questions going into the new season, but hopefully there are enough answers to go around.
"We're going to have the biggest roster we've had in years," he says. We have 12 on scholarship, but as I see it, a Husky is a Husky and if a walk-on wins a spot then so be it."
With that, the competition begins - first between Husky players and then against another strong schedule of opponents.