Great Start For Huskies Is Just That - A Start
Oct. 4, 2012
By Sarah Jennings
SEATTLE - With all that has gone right so far this season, there is plenty for head women's volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin to be pleased about. His team is undefeated at 13-0, including a 4-0 start in a tough and talented conference and a No. 2 ranking in the country. McLaughlin has liked what he has seen so far, but as every coach knows and preaches, there is always room for improvement.
"I like the body of work and I think it's moving in the right direction," says McLaughlin--who is in his twelfth year at the head of a program where he has made winning a tradition. "But I think there is plenty of work we have got to get done. I like what we are doing, but we just have to continue to get better every day."
One large factor in the strong start to the season has been the play of Krista Vansant, the hard-hitting sophomore who was honored as National Player of Week after wins last week against UCLA and USC, both ranked in the top five of the nation. Vansant has been able to elevate her game between her freshman and sophomore years, which--according to McLaughlin--is a common theme among first and second year players.
"With the players I've seen, you make your biggest jump between your freshman and your sophomore year, and I think Krista is just beginning to understand the demands at a much higher level so she's changed her game and she's working much harder."
Maturity, McLaughlin believes, has made the biggest difference.
"I think she's just matured and she's doing every part of her game better. And after you get National Player of the Week, that edge has to stay there, and she's been working hard [to make sure that happens] this week and she's getting better."
The Huskies have also utilized the setter tandem of freshman Katy Beals and junior Jenni Nogueras. The two may differ in personality--Jenni being the outgoing of the two while Katy being the more reserved one-- however, McLaughlin believes they complement each other well and help each other get better. Although both have the ability to be the single setter on the floor, having the two of them out there in rotation is the best fit for the team at this point.
"Both are capable of running a 5-1," the McLaughlin contends, "But right now the way the team is and the way the girls are developing it just suits us well to have both of them playing."
After hard fought, emotionally charged wins last week, the danger of a letdown always looms. McLaughlin has challenged the team to avoid that by leaving each game behind and putting value in the next task, and taking advantage of the opportunities they are given. This means his team has to not just take it one match or one game at a time, but one point at a time and keep their edge and intensity up every time they step on the floor.
"You have to have that mindset that each play will take on a life of it's own and we preach that a lot and they are buying into that," says McLaughlin. "In practice the intensity level is going up, so I think the girls are understanding that and we've got to go out and [take advantage of the opportunity] again this week."
The Huskies have four straight road tests to start October as they look to upgrade each facet of their game.
With the success the team has experienced early on, it would be easy to become complacent and already feel a sense of accomplishment, but McLaughlin isn't worried about that with his players. "I know that every woman in the locker room understands that [we've got to get better]," says the Washington coach. Early success will mean little in the grand scheme of the season if the team becomes satisfied and doesn't strive to improve each and every day. With eighteen matches left in conference play, the Huskies are far from accomplishing their goals. Says McLaughlin, "I don't think there is one person that thinks that we've reached any significant level so they are way more responsible and accountable, and everybody has made progress."
For McLaughlin practice is where improvement starts. This week they've focused on upgrading their quick attack to the middle blcokers, and blocking, while focusing on the vital parts of their serving and passing game. Most importantly they've worked hard on the individual aspects of everybody's game, because McLaughlin believes the best way to help the team is for everyone to do their job, do it well, and keep improving.
"Everyone of the women on the team knows what they need to do to keep making progress towards that end, and practices have been good and the games just have to reflect that."
McLaughlin is happy about the strides that have been made both individual and as a team, but doesn't think that his players are close to where he knows they can be. Helping his players reach their full potential is about changing their mindset, and getting them to believe that they are capable of more. As a coach, McLaughlin has discovered that as his players learn how to change, they start to develop confidence and their expectations rise. In turn the girls start reaching for things at a much higher level, which becomes the key to improvement. Ultimately it will be this improvement and the ability to finish that will help the team accomplish its goals.
"That's huge, that mindset, we talk about finishing everything we do and providing more octane to it and just going harder--mentally, emotionally and physically--and thinking the right thoughts and learning how to finish and make plays," says McLaughlin. "It takes a maturity to understand how to do that and I think our girls are evaluating practice and starting to see that we are making progress and we are becoming a better team."
And a better team is what they will need to continue to become if they want to finish the season how they've started it.