SEATTLE — On Oct. 6 Lauren Sanders did something that had never been accomplished in the illustrious history of the University of Washington women’s volleyball program.
In Washington’s match against Utah the Snohomish native and Glacier Peak High School graduate registered 17 kills and just one error on 21 swings, good for a .762 attack percentage. That was the highest single-game percentage for a Huskies player with that many kills since the inception of rally scoring in 2001.
And not only did Sanders set a new standard, she did it as a freshman.
It may be Sanders’ first year in college, but she’s already made herself a crucial member of a nationally-ranked team.
“It’s really exciting and really fun,” Sanders said about her first season with the Huskies. “It’s a lot of new stuff, but the best part is just learning as much as I can, learning how to play at this level.”
It didn’t take long for Sanders to discover how to be a factor at the collegiate level. The 6-foot-4 middle blocker has started all 21 matches for a Washington team that’s No. 12 in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball RPI, ranking third on the team in kills (135) and leading the team in blocks (119). Her efforts against Utah helped her earn Pac-12 Volleyball Freshman of the Week honors for Oct. 2-8.
Not bad for a player who this time last year was still doing the rounds at high school gyms.
“I had hopes that she would start and play and be able to compete,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said about Sanders’ instant impact. “I thought that was within her grasp, and I knew that she could have some good nights here and there. I didn’t know she would consistently night after night do the things that she’s been doing. That’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Sanders finding success right away in college isn’t a complete shock. She had a decorated career in club and high school volleyball, helping the U.S. Junior National Team win a silver medal at the NORCECA U20 Continental Championships in 2016. She was considered by multiple outlets as one of the nation’s 50 best players from her graduating class.
But Sanders also helped her cause by getting an early jump on the transition to college. Sanders graduated a semester early from Glacier Peak, allowing her to enroll at Washington in March and join the volleyball team for spring practices. She also participated in Washington’s June trip to Europe, when the Huskies spent two weeks traveling through the volleyball hotbeds of Italy, Croatia and Slovenia to play matches against national teams and professional club teams. The preview of Huskies volleyball helped Sanders hit the ground running when the college season began.
“When we went to Europe this summer we got a chance to play a lot of different lineups and a lot of young players against international competition,” Cook said. “That’s when we first kind of saw, ‘OK, she can hang, she’s doing a really good job, she’ll be fine.’ Then preseason started and she was the best middle in the gym.”
It also helps that Sanders is so tall. At 6-foot-4 Sanders is, along with senior outside hitter Carly DeHoog, the tallest player on the team, and her height and long arms allow her to play well above the net. Her contributions as a blocker have helped Washington rank third nationally with 3.21 blocks per set.
“There’s a lot of tall kids who can’t block worth a lick,” Cook said. “I think she moves well for her size. She’s 6-4 and she moves well and she’s also pretty technically sound. We’re asking her to do a lot and it’s not just that she’s tall, because there’s a lot of tall kids out there.”
Given what Sanders is doing at an early stage of her college career, Cook believes Sanders has the ability to reach some lofty heights.
“Being All-American is certainly within her reach,” Cook said. “She’s probably one of the players who has Olympic aspirations to play for the national team, and at times I certainly feel the weight to try and get her there because she has the potential. She has the length where her ceiling is pretty much limitless. She has a lot of work to do of course, but when you look at her size and her speed and her ability to score, you’re thinking All-American and beyond for sure.”
But before that Sanders is concerned with what the Huskies can accomplish this year. Washington is 16-5, and at being 6-4 in the Pac-12 at the halfway point of the conference schedule makes a third straight conference championship a tall order. But with players coming back from injury, most notably senior setter Bailey Tanner, Washington has high hopes of making noise in the postseason.
“I think we’ve done really great,” Sanders said. “I think we’ve had a lot of adversity, we’ve had some injuries. But we’ve had players step into roles and take over and it’s been really fun to be part of this team.
“One of our goals is to win a Pac-12 championship, and eventually we always want to win the national championship and do well in the postseason.”
And if the Huskies accomplish any of those, no doubt a certain freshman will be right in the middle of it.
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