There will be a new-look Washington in 2018.
“It’s going to be a big transition from one generation to the next,” said Keegan Cook, who will start his fourth year as head coach at UW after two years as an assistant.
The Huskies, who tied for second in the Pac-12, lost a remarkably strong and experienced senior class that included Courtney Schwan, Marion Hazelwood, Carly DeHoog, Bailey Tanner, Tia Scambray, Jade Finau and Crissy Jones. That’s a ton of court time leaving the program.
On the other hand, the cupboard is hardly bare in Seattle.
Start with 6-foot-4 middle Lauren Sanders, who made the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. The other middle will be 6-foot junior Avie Niece, while senior Destiny Julye and junior Kara Bajema are ready to take over as outside hitters. Sophomore Natalie Robinson has been waiting for her chance to set and junior Shayne McPherson was the libero two years ago and will likely get the job back this season.
There are five incoming freshmen plus 6-4 outside/opposite Maryland transfer Samantha Drechsel, who will be a sophomore.
“It will be one of the best recruiting classes we’ve had in a long time,” Cook said. “Five players and all of them are in the top 100 and a bunch in the top 30. This is somewhat the future of Washington.”
Cook said the freshman most likely to make an impact is 6-foot setter Ella May Powell from Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“When you go out looking for a setter, she’s the kid you’re looking for,” Cook said. “She can run a 5-1, defend the net at her position, affect the game in all kinds of ways, and she’s a leader. She’s a pretty special kid coming a long way. She’s likely going to get a lot of coaching from me in those early months.”
Washington won its NCAA Tournament opener over LIU Brooklyn but then lost in five to red-hot Illinois to finish 25-8.
The Huskies probably expected a better overall season, but were plagued by injuries all year.
“I stopped thinking about expectations, to be honest,” Cook said with a laugh. “After last season expectations can rob you of a lot of joy, they can rob you of focus in terms of doing what you need to do every day to get better.
“If there’s any lesson I learned from last year, it’s just because you’re one year older it doesn’t mean that anything’s guaranteed to you. You’ve got to go in each day and focus on getting better. So there’s a little bit more lightness with this next group coming in. There’s enthusiasm, but we don’t know how good we’re gonna be. We could be quite good.”
Those other freshman include 6-1 outside Dani Cole of Leander, Texas; 6-2 outside Shannon Crenshaw of Winter Park, Fla.; 6-4 outside/middle Marin Grote of Burbank, Calif.; and 6-2 Claire Hoffman of Eugene, Ore.
“They’re from all over the country, which was one of my goals when I first got to Seattle to expand our recruiting footprint a little more nationally,” Cook said. “A lot of miles on airplanes in this class.”
And they’re big.
“We’ve got some great size on our team and some young experience and some enthusiasm, but in terms of what I expect, just that we have some kids who are ready to learn,” Cook said. “And some coaches who are ready to teach.”
Having basically a new group represents a different challenge, but is also intriguing.
“You have kids who aren’t tired of your voice yet,” Cook said with a laugh. “You feel like you can’t teach them enough in a day.
“The kids we lost are all very special to me. I spent five years with three of them, I spent four years with four of them, so I’m excited about the chance to do it again knowing how much I’ve learned in those four or five years.”
He laughed again.
“I’m not a dad, but I imagine a lot of parents think they’re pretty good the second time around compared to the first.”
That being said, Julye is the team’s only senior and the first one Cook will take all the way through as head coach. And they both know what to expect in the Pac-12, which had another strong season with league-winner Stanford making it to the national semifinals and six teams in the final AVCA top-25 poll.
“I don’t think people realized how good it was last year,” Cook said. “We got to see it because we didn’t play Arizona and Arizona State twice. There are two teams each year you only play once. For us last year it was them. We had to play everybody else every single week and pretty much everyone else besides Cal was a tournament team.
“It was incredible. By the end 15 or more of our 30 matches were against top-25 teams. And this year you’re about to see some young players fill in the voids.
“We lost some really great players like (Oregon State’s) Mary-Kate Marshall and (Utah’s) Adora Anae, and of course, the players from Washington, and (Stanford’s) Merete Lutz, and USC lost quite a few really impressive seniors from their team. I don’t think people realized that.
“But I think you’re about to see some young players step up. UCLA should be quite strong, Oregon lost Taylor Agost but has great young talent. I see a big transition for a lot of these teams. Some new faces and some new impact players that fans should be excited about.”