Salvo Does The Little Things That Make For Big Wins
Oct. 7, 2009
By Michael Jeremiah
The emotional intensity of a Husky volleyball match rivals any sporting event out there. With raucous fans and a high octane attack featuring power hitters Becky Perry, Jill Collymore and Kindra Carlson, there are plenty of crowd pleasing kills.
So when the match is over, and the energy finally dies down, it might surprise the casual fan when Coach Jim McLaughlin points to a hitter that relies more on positioning and court smarts as a standout player from the match.
Senior Airial Salvo doesn't always crush the ball with as much ferocity as her teammates, but still leaves the opponent worse for wear.
"If you just watch her, you see that she makes a lot of good plays in a lot of situations," said McLaughlin. "We're always talking about the most important things we do is to serve and pass, and she does that well. Being in the right place and staying focused is important and she's able to do that. She makes a lot of plays that you just don't see."
The stat sheet doesn't show the whole picture of what Salvo brings to the Huskies. She rarely leads the Huskies in kills, but unlike most outside hitters, her value isn't measured in kills and hitting percentage.
Instead, her passing, defense and general feel for the game of volleyball are the positive attributes that make her such an important part of the Huskies' bid for a conference and national championship. The mention of a national championship and the ring that comes along with that achievement stirs a fire in a normally calm Salvo.
"That's the ultimate dream," said a smiling Salvo. "It's why I wanted to play college volleyball. It's the big kahuna."
Although Salvo was new to the Huskies last year, her talent has been well-known in college volleyball throughout her career.
She was a force during her first two years of college at Utah, where she was named a second team All-American as a sophomore and tabbed as the Mountain West Player of the Year. After two years at Utah, Salvo decided to transfer to Washington and sit out a redshirt year between her sophomore and junior seasons.
During the 2008 season, Salvo showed why she was worth the wait. Salvo shook off any rust from a year away from real live match play to start in 30 matches and play 107 sets. A vital part of the Huskies' run to the NCAA Quarterfinals, Salvo showed the all-around talent that had the coaching staff excited to bring her into the fold.
McLaughlin is quick to point out that all of his players, including Salvo, are constantly developing their game. As Salvo hones her all-around game, she is going from jack-of-all-trades to one of the most effective players on the floor for Washington.
"She's quiet, but dangerous. Sometimes those are the hardest people to defend against. She can do everything. I always tell her that you have to have an identity, you can't be weak at anything but what are you great at. She's becoming a great attacker and a great passer. She a great digger and a great blocker and I don't think people see that," said McLaughlin.
Her versatility and ability to adjust to Pac-10 play didn't just resonate with Coach McLaughlin and Husky fans. Salvo was an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 selection as a junior.
It's a big time change to go from the top player in the conference to being part of a platoon of outside hitters at Washington.
"I don't feel like all the pressure is on me," said Salvo. "I think it's distributed well between everyone here."
That change does come with the advantage of playing for one of the top volleyball programs in the country. The third-ranked Huskies (14-0) are proving that they are serious contenders for a national championship.
A share of that proof and recognition should be attributed to their unsung hitter who affects the game in more ways than the crowd will ever see. For Salvo, acknowledgment is not the goal for the rest of the season. Her goal is one with the team's aspirations of raising a banner to the rafters of Bank of America Arena to match the one from 2005.
"It's something that we want and are striving for," said Salvo. "To see how much we get better each week is really exciting. It's something we all want and we are going to do whatever we can to get there."