Rowland Living Out Dream Playing A Vital Role For Huskies
Sept. 24, 2009
Bianca Rowland dreamed of being a Husky throughout childhood. Her father played football at Washington and her mother was a Husky cheerleader. So when her first recruiting letter from any school was from Washington, Rowland was excited. But for most Husky fans, the sender may come as a surprise.
"I got my first letter from here, for basketball," said Rowland.
The sophomore middle blocker from Lynnwood, Wash. was a highly sought after recruit as a basketball player as a prep, even while balancing club and school volleyball with AAU basketball, school basketball and other school sports. Her talent in both sports dominated her time and hindered development. It wasn't until after her junior year that she decided to drop basketball from her slate and focus on volleyball.
"I wanted to play basketball in college up until my junior year, but I think that volleyball came more naturally to me," said Rowland. "I could go further with volleyball than basketball."
Focusing on volleyball and her academics, Rowland earned a scholarship to Washington. Full of potential at a needed position, Rowland quickly became a starter beside Husky stalwart Jessica Swarbrick. The youngest player on the court in most matches, Rowland played beyond her years, helping the Huskies to within a couple points of the Final Four.
With a coach, Jim McLaughlin, that stresses flawless mechanics and a roster full of veterans that were counting on her meant that Rowland had to adapt quickly. Talented enough to play, Rowland had to adjust to more subtle differences than skill level.
"It was different because the speed of the game is just a lot faster so it was hard getting used to the system but once the girls got comfortable and I got comfortable it was a lot more fun," said Rowland.
Rowland turned potential into performance in 2008 when she was a Pac-10 All-freshman team pick. Now as a sophomore, Rowland is the veteran in the middle for Washington. Redshirt freshmen Kelcey Dunaway and sophomore Lauren Barfield will fill the void left by Swarbrick, both in the same position as Rowland last year of adapting to college volleyball on the fly.
"I need to be more of a leader. Lauren and Kelcey have definitely improved a lot. So just kind of be there and help them because I know it's their first year getting a lot more playing time. I think that the team needs me more this year now that Jessica is gone. I think that I can make more of an impact," said Rowland.
Extra responsibility comes with being a veteran, and Rowland has shown that she is ready for the added expectations. Rowland is currently second in the nation in hitting percentage at .549 and tops among all Pac-10 players. The surprise of being among the best in the nation gives Rowland the determination to keep that statistic up.
"At first it didn't hit me, in the nation, that's out of everybody," said Rowland. "It's pretty cool. I just got to keep working hard and hopefully I can keep it up."
The Huskies (10-0) will need Rowland to keep up the good performances. Currently ranked third in the country, Washington enters the Pac-10 portion of their schedule. With the highest current ranking among the league teams, every opponent will be looking to make a statement against the Dawgs, starting Friday when UW visits No. 7 Oregon.
"The Pac-10 is the hardest conference," said Rowland. "I think we've established that for volleyball. Every game is a tough game. It doesn't matter if it's the worst team in the Pac-10; it's still a tough game. Just going into every game thinking we've got to play our style. We can't slack at all."
Complacency has not been a problem so far for the Huskies. According to Rowland, the team is committed to working hard every day for each other. The preparation is showing in matches, as the Huskies have yet to drop a set and earned wins over No. 9 Minnesota and No. 4 Florida on a recent trip to Tampa. Against the Gators, Rowland and the Huskies were looking to prove that Washington belonged near the top of the rankings.
"It felt really good," said Rowland. "We just came in and played our game. Everyone just really wanted to beat them to prove that we should be there."
Rowland and the Huskies are on track for another great year of Washington volleyball. With a perfect non-conference record heading into Pac-10 play, the Huskies look they could be national title contenders this year, and Rowland's decision to hit over the net rather than shoot through it is looking smarter every day.