Huskies Back Home Ready For Dawg Fight
By Kirby Young
SEATTLE - One thing is certain: Jim McLaughlin isn't going to panic over one loss.
While many coaches may search for answers and make hasty changes, the veteran coach of the fifth-ranked Huskies volleyball team will go back to his trusted white board, but not necessarily for "Xs" and "Os."
In a conference that currently has five of the top seven ranked volleyball teams in the country, there is no time to worry about bumps in the road. While losses can be disappointing, the best teams find a way to battle through adversity.
"Very few teams go through undefeated, and in this conference no one does," McLaughlin said on his way to practice Wednesday. "You have to have the ability to get up from a punch when you get floored.
"It doesn't change what we do. You have to keep getting better and understand at a higher level."
The punch came from a then-fifth-ranked Oregon team (16-1, 7-1 Pac-12) fueled by a rowdy crowd of nearly 4,000 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene last weekend. Washington (16-1, 7-1) had chances, including two set points in the first set, but couldn't finish sets and eventually dropped its first match of the season in four sets.
The Huskies fell three spots in this week's rankings entering Friday's next challenge: No. 2 Stanford (16-2, 8-0) at 6 p.m. on Dads' and Daughters' Night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
"We missed some punches. We had them on the ropes and we missed it," McLaughlin said. "They are a really good team, especially at home."
Despite the loss, the Huskies were led by another strong performance by Krista Vansantwho added 14 kills on a .333 attack percentage. The stellar sophomore has had double-digit kills in every Pac-12 match this season.
Senior Amanda Gil, months into her return from two years away from the game because of knee injuries, was a force at the net as she continued her strong comeback season. Gil set a single-game Washington record with 14 block-assists against Oregon. She has been getting stronger and more productive with every match.
Mistakes on the road can be tough to swallow. However, negative experiences like last weekend's can be great learning tools that cannot be simulated in practice.
"You can match intensity in practice," McLaughlin said. "But, the game environment you are learning in and the emotional state you are learning in, is what you remember. We are learning how to not get shaken by the outside circumstances."
[The Pac-12] gives you a chance to be as good as you can be at the end of the year.
McLaughlin is excited to see his team's resilience after their first loss.
"The greatest teams I've coached figure things out at some point, they apply them, and they play at a high level all the time," said McLaughlin, who is in his 12th season leading UW and led the Huskies to their first national title in 2005.
"I think we are at a point where we are on the verge of doing that."
The Huskies will have a chance to prove themselves as they return home after a four-game road trip, looking to bounce back against the Bay Area schools. It has been two weeks since the team has played in Seattle, when they knocked off two top-five teams, UCLA and USC.
Friday's match will showcase two of the best middle blockers in the country. Stanford's Carly Wopat leads the Pac-12 with a 1.65 block average per set and will face off against Gil and her 1.63 average.
A win would push the Huskies into a tie atop the Pac-12 standings.
"The [Pac-12] is unbelievable," McLaughlin said. "First thing is there is never a night off. And second thing is that when you are playing at such a high level every night that the very slim weaknesses are exposed.
"I like it. I think it gives you a chance to be as good as you can be at the end of the year."
Life in the Pac-12 goes on. The ebbs and flows are continuous and the team that can best learn from their experiences will gain a great advantage for the long haul.
"The only thing you can predict about the [Pac-12] is that you can't predict. Everyone is good," McLaughlin said. "I think if we play well and they play well, it's going to be a dog fight.
"I'll be looking for the energy and the vibe to get after these guys. Show them the home-court advantage, which is real."
Comparing the raucous crowd his team faced in Eugene to the Dawg Pack at the Alaska Airlines Arena, McLaughlin simply said, "Ours is better."
Friday is a day to prove it.