Washington volleyball rises to No. 2 in poll

SEATTLE — After one of the more impressive knockout combinations in the recent history of the University of Washington volleyball program last week, the Huskies found out Monday that they had a new number of their own.

UW moved from fifth into a spot as the nation’s co-No. 2 team after home wins over fourth-ranked UCLA and third-ranked USC last week.

“This was our first real test against top teams,” senior Kylin Munoz said of UW’s sweep of the Los Angeles schools, which marked the first time since 2006 that the Huskies have defeated two top-five teams in the same week. “It gave us faith to keep building on that because we’ll have a harder time down the road.”

Head coach Jim McLaughlin was quick to point out that the Huskies have a long way to go in the ultra-competitive Pacific-12 Conference, but the sweep of UCLA and USC is a good start.

“It’s a step,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a step in the right direction. You’ve got to get some results, some good wins under your belt. We can talk about what we want to do, but at some point you’ve got to get the W against some good teams.”

The Huskies (13-0) continue to rise from their preseason rank of No. 14 despite rather moderate national expectations heading into the season. McLaughlin has relied on a relatively new 6-2 system that utilizes two setters on the court together to bring out the best in this year’s team so far.

“It’s just a system that fits our personnel right now, as the kids develop,” McLaughlin said. “As kids expand their abilities, things could change. … Both on offense and defense, we’re scoring more points with it.”

After coaching All-America setters like Courtney Thompson and Jenna Hagglund through much of the past decade, McLaughlin has found a way to strive without that element this season. He began tinkering with the 6-2 system midway through the 2011 season and has continued to use it in an effort to keep strong hitters like Krista Vansant, Kaleigh Nelson and Munoz on the floor together for long stretches.

“I think it’s great because it’s harder to defend; we always have three hitters in the front row,” said Munoz, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter who was the Gatorade national player of the year as a senior at Monroe High School. “So I think it’s worked well.”

McLaughlin has one of his deeper teams this season, with a group of role players that have fit together and endured his demanding practices — both mentally and physically — to rise up in the rankings.

UW is currently tied with Oregon for No. 2 in the nation, trailing only 14-1 Penn State in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. The Huskies received five of a possible 60 first-place votes this week.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in that,” McLaughlin said of the national rankings. “It’s nice, and it’s fun, but it’s not the most important thing.”

Munoz, an outside hitter from Monroe, shrugged at the news that UW had moved up to No. 2 in the nation this week.

“Our goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season,” she said.

Based on how the Huskies have fared thus far, that goal is looking more and more possible.

“Every year, that’s our goal,” Munoz said of a national title. “We come in fighting for that.”

Notes: The Huskies earned a rare sweep in Pac-12 player-of-the-week honors, with senior Amanda Gil earning the defensive award and Vansant being named the conference’s offensive player of the week. … UW plays two road matches this weekend, facing Utah on Friday night and Colorado on Sunday.

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