Sept. 1, 2011
During Jim McLaughlin's tenure as the head volleyball coach, the Huskies have had great success with transfers that had already achieved a great deal but were looking for something more out of their careers. Such was the case with Janine Sandell, who came to Washington in 2006 for her senior season, after being named Big West Conference Player of the Year the previous season at UC Santa Barbara. Sandell adjusted her game in many ways in her one season, and helped the Huskies return to the Final Four for the third year in a row. Since graduation, she has played professionally and still competes for Menorca Valeriano, which just won the Spanish Superliga title this past spring. Sandell, who was born in London and lived there until age 11, has also competed extensively for the Great Britain national team and is making plans to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. She was in Seattle last week following a stop in Vancouver, B.C. for her father's wedding, and she took the time to stop by a UW practice, then talked with GoHuskies.com about her recent career.
GoHuskies.com: So it sounds like you've got family all over the world now. Where all does your family reach?
Janine Sandell: My dad with his new family is in Canada, my grandparents are in Phoenix, Arizona, my brother is working in England, and most of my dad's family is in England, and my mom's too. My mom is there right now as well but she just got her green card so she should be coming to America pretty soon. And then I have another aunt in Scotland, I have an uncle in Miami which I'm hoping to get to this summer. And then my other family is in Jamaica.
GH: How many times have you been to Jamaica?
JS: A few. More when I was younger though. So that's on my list probably after the Olympics if I have plenty of time I wanna go chill out there for a little bit.
GH: And where's home for you right now?
JS: Probably wherever I'm at. But I would say the most consistent close thing I have to home would be my grandparents' house in Arizona because it's been the same house since high school and I have my room there which used to have all my high school type stuff and I have my UW stuff and my little husky from senior night and stuff like that so I would say that bedroom is my closest to home.
GH: And before Seattle, where were you before this?
JS: Before I was in Canada for the wedding. Before that I was in Phoenix and before that I was in England, but then I was in Menorca visiting my boyfriend before coming out here for two months, and then before that I was in England with the National team. Before that I was in Spain again and before that I was in South America with the National team in Argentina and Peru. And before that I finished the Spanish season as the champion.
GH: That sounds exhausting just to listen to, let alone live through it!
JS: Yeah, people are like "I don't know where you are or what you're up to" and I tell them "half the time, I don't know, I can't tell you exactly, I don't know where I'm going to be the next week" but I mean it's a pretty cool privileged life that I lead. But this is my vacation time so I need to see the people I don't get to see and take care of myself and go with the flow. Sometimes it's difficult because we're always told what we're doing and have a schedule so it's like when I have the time and the options I have to figure out what do I want?
GH: So your most recent pro team is in Spain still? And where are they?
JS: It's in Menorca, Spain. And that's an island on the outskirts of Spain, there's a few. Because there's Las Palmas, Tenerife, close to us there's Menorca which is the small one and Mallorca, and then Ibiza, and that's all in the same area. So every other weekend I fly to our matches because obviously there's no other team on the island.
GH: And then you've got the national team thing going on too. When did you first get involved with the British team?
JS: Right after we went to the Final Four here, it was a little bit of a shock to the system, going from U-Dub to the English national team that barely had any money ever; they were training in Sheffield and it was interesting to say the least but my teammates told me to pack my patience and I can do that. Because in England it's nothing compared to the American organization, how it's set up. The NCAA doesn't exist in England. I mean, we are spoiled, and I told some of the girls here enjoy it while you're at U-Dub because you get taken care of really well here. And it's really nice to be back around. It brings back memories.
GH: I'm sure, when you were just watching practice, were there any specific moments that just flashed back into your head at all?
JS: Oh tons, tons. The board with all the numbers, gosh we did lots of work. So many memories and thoughts. It was really cool how Jim (McLaughlin) talked about me in front of the girls and how hard we worked. It just reminded me of how comfortable I felt here and how everyone's on the same page and it's like a family because when you leave here it's nothing like it. And it was awesome to come back and feel a part of it and feel welcome again even though I've been gone for over three years now. Because sometimes it can be awkward when you leave and come back. But it was fine; it was just "Hey J!" or "J, are you staying behind the ball?" the same things I heard then.
It's funny we were talking about it, because I'll talk to Keno (Gandara) on Skype sometimes and I remember one time when I was struggling one time he said to me, "Are you waiting to see what kind of set it is?" And I was like "yeah..." And he said, "Is the ball in front of you?" and I realized, darn it I need to wait longer. They helped me from the other side of the world, so it was awesome, I mean this is an amazing program. And it was cool to hear from Jenni (Nogueras)--a couple of people talked to me after the fact--and she said I was a big reason why she came to this school, and I'm like "really?!" But I have no doubt or hesitation about it because I only like to talk about things that I believe in, and I have no doubt that whoever comes here that they're going to be happy. It's not going to be easy, and I told them that. If what you want to work towards is volleyball this is the place to do it.
GH: Evan Sanders, a player on the team this year, is in a similar situation that you were where she just had one year and decided transfer. She said she could have gone other places and been guaranteed a starting spot, but she thought even if she gave up playing time she'd be better off for coming here.
JS: And that decision, that feeling, I don't know where we got it from or where she got it from, but it's completely right because I remember it came down to two schools for me and there was one easy option. I knew people there, I knew I was going to start but I knew the main reason I left was for volleyball and I wanted to get more out of volleyball and I knew that that was going to happen here and I would be pushed here. And I don't regret my decision. I just wish I would have come the year before, my sophomore year, then I would have had more time to transition eleven years of playing one way to Jim's way.
GH: So how drastic were some of the changes that they asked you to make here?
JS: Huge. Well, not huge but yes, when you do something for seven or eight years and then you change it obviously it's going to be difficult. If it would have happened now, with me having more experience and me being more comfortable with my body it would have probably been easier but I was still young back then and I didn't know as much as I know now. But it definitely helped give me a better base and a better understanding of volleyball. But it also spoils us too. Because Jim leaves an open base to ask questions so you fully understand, but if a coach isn't like that, if you're questioning something, they think that you're questioning their authority but I'm just asking a question to understand. Because that's okay here.
GH: It sounds like you have had issues with that?
JS: Yes, because some coaches are just like, "Do it because I said so." But I want to know the why, I've been told a certain way that I believe in, and I fully understand because I've been explained to and given numbers to show why that's the right way to do things, but that doesn't happen out there. It's another world, the professional world.
GH: How long have you been with your current team?
JS: This is about to be my third year with them. They're a pretty good professional team, they pay, which is the most important. We have pretty good facilities, they take care of the players pretty well but nothing in comparison to UW. Nothing. And I don't think anywhere will.
GH: How big is the league? And you won the championship, what's the structure like there?
JS: There are twelve teams. And it's basically a home game and then an away game. And then last year it was just every Saturday, but this year because the season's shorter because of Olympic tournaments like where the USA girls are right now, there are going to be a lot of Saturday-Wednesday weeks which are going to be brutal, and then I don't know where they are going to fit in the European League. When you do well you normally play in the European League as well. We qualified for the Champions League which is the top one, but we didn't have enough money to play in it because you had to have a minimum amount of people in the stadium and who knows what else. So it goes: Champions then Challenge then Sub Cup, and then I believe they had an opening in the Sub Cup so we're going to play in one. I don't know how they are going to fit in the matches because if we're playing Saturday-Wednesday, it's not like it's down the road, you have to travel to these places. A lot of living out of a bag. I'm an experienced traveler to say the least. On those trips because we're sponsored by an Airline, Air Europa, it's cheaper for them to send us on two or three flights instead of one long one. So my iPad and my iPod are my best friends.
GH: It must take a lot of dedication to stick with that.
JS: No it's not an easy life, playing professional. And each day I learn there's only a small amount of athletes that can do it. Myself and Courtney (Thompson), and Sanja (Tomasevic) are maybe the oldest ones who are still playing. Makare (Desilets) from way back when she played here, she's still playing. But there's a very select few who continue to play. It's not easy. And I'm realizing that more this summer that each year people move on with their lives and things change and you have less in common with these people and it's more difficult to keep in communication. But each time you change a team or a country, I get to start all over. I get to make a whole new Janine if I want to. So in some aspects it can be fun, but it's not easy.
GH: Are you fluent in Spanish now?
JS: Finally, yeah. When we went with the national team in Argentina I was translating for everyone. It wasn't easy. This year an American from Cal Poly joined the team and I had to start translating for her, so it wasn't only like trying to understand video, it was trying to understand my video, my scouting report, translating to her and understanding her position and learning to change the chip really fast, like English to Spanish that was really difficult but now I've got it. I've got enough to have a conversation. And now my dad just got married to a lady from Peru so I'm able to use it with my family so hopefully I won't forget. It's funny how life works, isn't it?
GH: So where else before Menorca did you play professionally?
JS: In Albacete, Spain. And I think I was in Kazakhstan at the time with the national team, and my agent came at me with this offer, and wanted anything so I knew I have a light at the end of the tunnel. And I just ended up in Spain, we didn't have a really good team but we ended up doing the best in the club's history. But the club folded so I had to go looking for another team Probably after the Olympics if I'm still wanting to play more volleyball I kind of want to go to Italy or maybe somewhere different.
GH: What's the fan support like in Spain?
JS: In Menorca it's really good. It's an island, there's not very many people and obviously that we won so I'm pretty sure that it's going to be better. But I mean when they fill the place out it's not even half as full as it is here. It's good enough and it depends on where you go, there are some gyms that have more or less but normally the more fans I see is when we go other places. Peru, when we were playing against the national team with my national team, I've never seen anything like it. They were screaming for people like they were Beyonce and I have never heard or seen anything like it in my life. When we played in the Latina Cup, the guy was having a hard time saying the names so he let me be the announcer and it was really fun. I was like "¡Hola, Peru!" and then I'd just say, "¡numero, diecisiete!" and say the name in English and the fans really liked it. And Azerbaijan. Packed. A bunch of men in the military. It was kind of strange, but yeah it just depends. Germany has some good fans too. Poland, they were pretty decent. Yeah, I need to start writing these places down because I tend to forget.
GH: Well, talk a little bit about the Olympics coming up. You must have been looking forward to this for a long time. Is it starting to get more and more serious?
JS: Yeah when I was in England we celebrated the one year mark until the opening ceremonies, so it's less than a year now. So all my energy right now is going towards the Olympics and trying to enjoy the journey towards that and doing everything in my power to feel like I did everything to get there and to be as healthy and in the best shape as possible. But yeah, it's cool and exciting. They're building stuff in London getting ready for it. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a little more nerve-wracking as it gets closer but I'll just do what I normally do. When you're playing you have to train the same way and just try my best with each ball that comes my way. That's all you can do, and in time it gets better. Because if I think too much in the future it doesn't help me. Jim always says that. One thing at a time. Consistency is good.
GH: One thing from your senior year bio I noted was that they asked you questions about your teammates and one was who will surprise this year? And you answered Tamari Miyashiro starting her freshman season. And fast forward to now and she's on the USA national team.
JS: No doubt in my mind that girl knows how to play volleyball. And I'm thoroughly happy for her that she's a backup for the USA national team. And I'm pretty sure she'll get her shot one day. Imagine if we played each other in London! It would be super crazy. I'd be hitting the crap out of it toward her.
GH: Any other memories from that season that really stand out? Going to the Final Four? Or the Elite Eight match here against Penn State?
JS: That and winning the national championship in Spain are the highlights of my career. Beating Penn State with all the people that were here (in Hec Ed) and then running around the arena afterwards. Jim was talking about that match with me yesterday, saying "You and Courtney just had that look in your eyes, just nothing was going to stop you." I was looking like I was going to kill somebody because I was blocking Megan Hodge and I shut her down and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have a switch that when it's important, if that goes on there's no stopping me or getting me out of focus. If I'm on it, I'm on it. That is not something I can turn on but I wish I could all the time. I'm glad it came out when it came out.
GH: At some point if it's after the Olympics or if it's a few years after that and you have to start looking at something after volleyball, would you want to go into coaching?
JS: It's an idea. I've been thinking about that. I have a degree in accounting. But I don't know if I'm quite ready for a 9-5 at a desk. I love sports, so maybe I could do the numbers in and around sports. That would be ideal for me because I like stability. So I'm looking into that, that's a big question.
GH: Are there any specific lessons that Jim impressed upon you that still carry over to today?
JS: Control the controllables and don't worry about the uncontrollables. And things that he says and continually repeats, I'll say to myself. I even have some of the UW stuff, the booklet from camp that I go back to from time to time. All the things that he teaches, they're amazing. He remembers and he's so positive with his girls. Coming back and seeing it all it seems so surreal but I remember I lived this, and then around it because he takes care of his athletes really well. The whole set up is just amazing. I don't know how he does it. And I told him, you guys work so hard. And I hope the girls appreciate it. I think that they do. But the coaches put so many hours and work into this program it's amazing.