Wade and the Huskies have road battles this week at No. 7 USC and No. 6 UCLA, both live on the Pac-12 Network.
Oct. 26, 2012
Heading into the season, Washington brought in four highly-rated recruits, all ranked in PrepVolleyball.com's top-50 Senior Aces. Katy Beals, Cassie Strickland, and Lianna Sybeldon all made quick impressions, but the highest-ranked of the group according to the website was Melanie Wade, an athletic 6-foot-5 middle blocker from Palo Alto High School, just a stone's throw away from Pac-12 rival Stanford. Ranked 17th overall on the Senior Aces list and one of the top middle blockers, Wade was a consensus First Team All-American, winning state titles as a junior and senior. Unfortunately, right before the start of her freshman season, Wade badly sprained her ankle, missing a chance to get into some matches early. But rather than redshirt her, Head Coach Jim McLaughlin saw enough in practice to convince him to get Wade into the mix. Last week against Stanford and Cal, Wade started and made a big impact, averaging 1.625 blocks per set to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Wade talked to GoHuskies about playing against the teams she grew up watching and her wishes for a cross country career.
GoHuskies.com: You sprained your ankle right at the start of the season which might have cost you some early playing time. How big a setback was that?
Melanie Wade: It was tough in the beginning. Anytime you miss practice you obviously get behind. (Athletic Trainer) Mike (Dillon) really helped me get back really quick. I wanted to get to practicing as soon as possible and I think I did a pretty good job of keeping up even though I had been out for so long. It was really tough but my team was super supportive throughout that, too.
GH: Were you worried you had sort of missed your chance at that point since the team was playing well?
MW: People are battling for their spot on the court. If you have a great week at practice you can get rewarded for that. Really you just have to take it one day at a time.
GH: Your first appearance was in the Pac-12 opener against WSU. Was it nerve-racking going straight into Pac-12 play?
MW: Obviously I was nervous, but that's really good. Even when I wasn't playing I was nervous for every match. But I think whatever match you are in you have to treat them all the same. It doesn't matter who is on the other side of the net, we have to play our game.
GH: How would you assess your performances last weekend?
MW: The more you are out there the more confident you get, but you have to keep your head right and keep thinking good thoughts and stay on track. You can't drift from the fact that you have to get better from every single opportunity you have. Coming into practice these next couple weeks, it is just as tough a battle. You have to keep getting better. You are never guaranteed a spot to play so you have to keep improving.
GH: This was your first chance to play Stanford and California, your high school was right across the street from Stanford so you must have watched them a lot growing up.
MW: Yeah, growing up I obviously idolized the Stanford and Cal teams. It is cool that I get to play against them and we are at a program at their level. Growing up I never thought I would be in this position, but now that I'm here it's just so fun to be that college player now. I'm not just watching them.
GH: Were you heavily recruited by those teams?
MW: I talked to them a little bit but I was interested in getting farther away from home. As soon as I visited Washington I knew I wanted to come here. After I visited here none of the other schools appealed to me.
GH: This was really your first full week and you pick up a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honor. That's pretty cool.
MW: It's a really good award. It is a team effort every time. I can't get 20 solo blocks, it takes everyone to get a block; it's not just one person. It's really a testament to how much we have been working on blocking as a team.
GH: All the freshmen talk about the changes you have to make in your game and in your approach this first year. How has that process gone for you?
MW: It has been a really fun change. I have enjoyed every minute of it. It has been a huge commitment but we all love playing volleyball. So it is something we are really willing to do. You have to stay focused on getting better every day and you have to be mentally in the game constantly. It's more about the mind than it is about the body. That's a change that I've had to deal with. Being more aware of what I'm doing and how that is affecting everything around me.
The Husky block has been dominant, leading the NCAA in blocks per set. Wade celebrates here with Gabbi Parker
GH: Is there a part of your game you think has made the most progress?
MW: My serve. I have made a lot of changes that have helped me with my serve a lot. And then blocking also. I've improved in everything but I am nowhere near where I need to be. It's a continuum. I have to continue to get better at everything.
GH: It seems like you and Lianna (Sybeldon) have spent a lot of time together after practice working with Keno (Gandara). How does it help having another freshman middle to work with?
MW: We are great friends. We hang out all the time off the court. We are in the same dorms We get a lot of extra work in together. We can come talk to each other on what we are working on and what we are struggling with in practice.
GH: How did you first get into the sport? Did anyone else in your family play?
MW: Not at all. My mom signed me up in the sixth grade because I was tall but she didn't want me to play basketball. I loved it from the start. I almost didn't play volleyball. I wanted to run cross country and I was really mad when she signed me up for the volleyball team but thank god she did because I wouldn't be here today if she didn't.
GH: When did you start to excel in volleyball?
MW: I would say eighth grade. I got my first college recruiting letter. I never really thought about playing college before that. I didn't even occur to me that I could play in college. But then in high school when you get recruited, you become aware of everything way earlier than everyone else at school.
GH: How have Amanda Gil and Kelcey Dunaway helped you out as the seniors in the middle?
MW: Kelcey and Amanda are great. They are so supportive and they are always trying to help us. Improving our blocking and just watching them block you learn a lot and watching their presence on the court. That helps me become a better player just watching and learning from them.
GH: Are classes going well so far?
MW: Yes, I love my classes, although I have absolutely no idea what I want to study.
GH: Has your family been able to make it to many matches yet?
MW: They have been watching it on TV a lot and they came up for USC and UCLA. They are going to be down in LA this week and when we go to Stanford and Cal I'm going to have a ton of people there. I'm excited to go home and visit.