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Saturday, December 17, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Volleyball Notes: Huskies aim to launch a legacy

Special to The Seattle Times

SAN ANTONIO — Washington has no shortage of motivation for winning today's NCAA volleyball championship match.

Six seniors, including All-Americans Sanja Tomasevic and Candace Lee, plus key contributors Brie Hagerty, Darla Myhre and Danka Danicic, will be playing their final match for Washington. Hundreds of family members and friends have followed players here to witness the event. (Christal Morrison leads the team with 13 relatives on hand.) The dream of an NCAA crown has served as the team's grail since practices began in August.

But Courtney Thompson, the two-time All-America setter from Kentlake High School, may have the best reason of all.

"I think Jim is going to win a lot of national titles here," Thompson said Friday of Huskies coach Jim McLaughlin. "But it would be neat to be the first — because no one else can be first after you've done it. And our program is just going to keep getting better and better."

Stand-up routine

Thompson and fellow All-Americans Lee, Tomasevic and Morrison attended Friday's Player of the Year brunch, where Nebraska junior Christina Houghtelling received this year's honor.

Unlike the Heisman Trophy, the pecking order of also-rans was not divulged, though Tomasevic, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, was believed to be a leading contender. One insider believes the committee from the American Volleyball Coaches Association took until 2 a.m. Friday before settling on a winner.

More than 30 All-Americans briefly addressed the crowd, many in entertaining fashion. Some sang parody tributes to their coaches.

Thompson recalled participating in one of McLaughlin's coaches' clinics: "Some guy asked, 'What do you look for in a setter?' So Jim goes, 'Court, stand up. First, she's not tall [5 feet 8]. And when I recruited her, she didn't have good hands. She couldn't jump, and she didn't know how to run an offense.' Before he got finished, some lady goes, 'So why did you recruit her?'

"One of the things I appreciate is how honest he's been with me. Despite all those things, he's always believed in me. If you're willing to work, you need one person to tell you that. And if it's the right person, like Jim, anything can happen. I'm very appreciative, and lucky, for that."

Nebraska's red sea

If you tune in to today's title match, you may want to adjust your settings for a blue court, an orange boundary and lots of red in the stands.

Husker Nation is expected to be out in force for today's much-anticipated matchup.

Consider: Last weekend Nebraska hosted a regional final at Omaha's Qwest Center. Nebraska's semifinal win over UCLA drew 14,489 fans, and the final against Florida pulled in 15,119, an NCAA record for a volleyball match.

Nebraska volleyball even has its own radio network.

"First of all, there's no pro sports in Nebraska, so this is a big deal in Nebraska," said Nebraska coach John Cook. "We have 1.7 million people in what we call the Husker Nation. They bleed red.

"Nebraska volleyball has been building for 25 years. Those fans are always looking for a place to go, because there's not a lot to do in Nebraska, especially in the winter. Those farmers, in the winter, they don't work. So they're looking for a good time, and San Antonio is a great place."

Notes

• Nebraska has been playing women's volleyball since 1975 and has been a power right from the start, going 34-8 in its first year. The Cornhuskers never lost a conference match on their home court until 1999. The team that broke that streak was Kansas State. The K-State coach? Jim McLaughlin, who coached the Wildcats (1997-2000) before going to UW.

• How evenly matched are Washington and Nebraska? Both have won all five postseason matches with sweeps. Both have four All-Americans on their rosters. Both faced a surprise, first-time Final Four qualifier in Thursday's semifinals. And check out the final scores: Washington beat Tennessee 30-25, 30-19, 30-21; Nebraska downed Santa Clara 30-24, 30-19, 30-21.

• What plans did McLaughlin have for Friday night? "Watch film," he said with a smile.

• If Washington wins, McLaughlin will become the first coach to win both an NCAA men's and women's title. He won the 1990 men's crown in his first year at USC.

• A Nebraska TV reporter has repeatedly posed questions about a quote attributed to Tomasevic in early November about "crushing" an opponent, ostensibly Nebraska. "I think I was misquoted there," Tomasevic said Friday. "That quote was before the UCLA match. I said if we played the way we could play, we could crush UCLA."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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