Season Preview: Outside Hitters
Aug. 27, 2010
Giving the Husky offense its bite this season will be a deep, talented, experienced group of outside hitters. Washington thrived on a balanced attack last season, and the potential is there for another season of spreading the wealth around, as senior setter Jenna Hagglund places the ball around the court.
But the two outsides expected to lead the way are seniors Kindra Carlson and Becky Perry. Two of the biggest hitters in the Pac-10, they will put four years of work with Hagglund to the test and make a Final Four push in their last seasons as Huskies.
Carlson, the Eaton, Colorado product, came into her own during her junior season, becoming one of the best opposite hitters in the nation. She led the Huskies with 4.00 kills per set, and raised her level even more in Pac-10 play, when she had double-figure kills in ever match. Carlson was named to the All-Pac-10 Team for the first time, and earned AVCA All-America Second Team honors. If the best is yet to come for Carlson, it will be a memorable season.
"You can always improve, and knowing that you need to improve is maybe the most important thing you have to understand. Either you're getting better or you're getting worse, you never stay the same. I think Kindra knows that," says Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. "She works extremely hard. But there are some parts of her game where change has been hard, and she has to make those changes. She's got to break some habits, and develop new consistent habits. But she's a good kid with a good heart, and she operates at a high level intensity-wise. She's revving at a very high level all the time, which is the most important thing you can have. She will compete as hard as anybody."
Carlson has become a more complete player, and she could be UW's most dangerous server, as her jump serve became a big weapon in Pac-10 play last fall, racking up 25 aces total. She could see more time as a primary passer this season as well, another area the coaching staff has worked hard on with her.
"She now sees maybe she can take her game to a new level, and I think she will this year," says McLaughlin. "Her serving is getting better, her passing has improved, her defense is good. She's got to not be in such a hurry blocking because she's so fast, you've just got to see the game and respond to it. I love coaching her."
One of the most athletic and powerful hitters to play for McLaughlin, Perry also is looking to prolong her final season as long as possible with a deep tournament run. The 2008 All-Pac-10 selection had an up-and-down junior season, earning a pair of non-conference tournament MVP honors before an ankle injury disrupted her Pac-10 season. But she ended the year strong, leading the team with 4.0 kills per set in NCAAs, hitting over .400 in each match.
"Beck is close. The hardest part is to take your game to that elite level," says McLaughlin. "She's fast, she jumps high, she's got the arm, she can pass. Now it's the ability to focus on the game, and see the game, and stay focused on the things that tell you what to do. She's got to have some patience in certain situations where we've got to play the game a little slower. She wants to go one speed all the time. But she's developed her game, and she's matured as a person every year she's been in this program, and I'd just like to see her get the full return, and then take her game to a new level. But I'm excited for what's in store for her this year, and I'm excited to see her be put in some tough situations and see how she responds."
The Huskies should receive a big boost by the long-awaited debut of Kylin Muñoz, the 2008 Washington State Player of the Year from Monroe, who was forced to sit out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Muñoz committed to BYU originally before changing her mind and staying home to be a Husky. McLaughlin seems most anxious for her debut, and in UW's first fall scrimmage Muñoz impressed with the way she attacked the ball, taking numerous big swings and moving well around the court.
"Ky has learned how to learn, and she is making changes every day," McLaughlin says. "I was so impressed with a 45 minute segment of just passing, where she made a big upgrade and then it carried over into the afternoon practice. For kids, you have to learn how to move, and you've got to do it in a small activity, then you've got to do it in a somewhat live activity, then you've got to do it live and learn to go do it on gameday. And she's making that progress. Every day she's a little better. The sky is the limit based on her speed and her length; she has all these good things going on, and she has an unbelievable head. She is a really good girl that thinks good thoughts. Sometimes I wish she'd be a little meaner on the floor when she puts on the purple. But she's a really quality person with unbelievable character."
Out of the three freshmen on this year's roster, it's outside hitter Gabbi Parker from Eugene, Oregon that looks to have the best shot at making an impact in year one. A two-time All-State selection in Oregon, Parker is a great fit on and off the court and Coach McLaughlin is very high on her attitude and ability to develop.
"I'm impressed with Gabbi and just her character and personality and ability to fight every day, her perseverance, all those things you have to have. The kids on the team love her, they love everything about her. She's got a really good arm, she's learning how to pass, she's processing a lot of information in a short period of time. She's only going to get better and better. She could contribute this year, but for sure she's going to contribute and make a bigger and bigger contribution as she develops. Going into practice with her is a joy for me. I love being around that kid and coaching her."
That's all four of the Huskies with the "OH" next to their names on the roster, but UW could gain even more firepower from between the pins, as middle blocker Bianca Rowland is expected to see some time on the outside this year. As Coach McLaughlin discussed in the preview of the middle blockers, how much time Rowland sees on the outside depends in part on how well the other middles can fill in. Mixing Rowland in even for just a few points a set though should make UW's already strong group of outside hitters even more potent.