By Rich Myhre The Herald
In a program that expects success and pushes for excellence, Bianca Rowland was an absolute team leader in 2011.
A member of the perennially ranked University of Washington volleyball team, Rowland capped her college career with a outstanding senior season. The 21-year-old Lynnwood woman and 2008 graduate of King’s High School helped the Huskies to a 24-8 overall record, a 15-7 mark in the Pacific-12 Conference and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where Washington reached the second round before losing to Minnesota, three games to two.
The 6-foot Rowland, a middle blocker, averaged 1.5 blocks per set, the best mark of her career and the second-best in the Pac-12. She finished with 492 career blocks, the third-highest total in team history.
And when awards were handed out at the end of the season, she was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-America second team. She had been an honorable mention selection each of the past two seasons.
For her efforts, Rowland has been named The Herald’s 2011 Woman of the Year in Sports.
In a program with a proud history like Washington’s, how does Rowland compare with some of the school’s all-time elite players?
“She’s right at the top,” said UW volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin, who has coached the Huskies for 11 seasons. “I can’t lie to you, that’s a hard question to answer because you love all your kids. But in terms of being in the gym and working with her, she never had a bad day. We had tough days, but maybe that’s what made it great.
“And every day was great,” he said. “We really challenged her at the highest level, and that’s what makes me think she’s one of the best ones I’ve ever coached. Because I challenged her in every way, shape and form.”
Although she enjoyed a strong finish to her final season, the early days were sometimes a struggle, Rowland said.
Early in the season, she admitted, “it was kind of rough. My head was kind of out of it. So I finally went into the coaches’ office and said, ‘We have to fix this. I can’t just go out in my senior year and not help the team out.’ And we finally made it click.”
She became a stronger player at the net — “My blocking got a lot better,” she said — and her confidence began to grow. By the season’s end, she was playing perhaps the best volleyball of her UW career.
Being a Husky volleyball player is a special opportunity, Rowland said, “and it’s definitely an honor to be a part of that. You’re fighting to get better with your teammates every day at practice, and then in every game.”
So many good players have played at Washington, “and it’s definitely an honor that your coaches think you’re good enough to follow in those girls’ footsteps,” she added.
“The neat thing about Bianca,” McLaughlin said, “is that she keeps working to get better in every part of her game. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. And she gets a return on her work.
“So many people work hard, but you need to work hard and make progress towards an end. And she does that every day,” he said.
Having completed her college career, Rowland is looking for opportunities to play professionally in Europe, where pro volleyball is a popular sport. Though she doesn’t know where she will end up, she expects to leave later in the summer and return to the Puget Sound area early next spring.
Being a pro “will be a good challenge,” she said.
And McLaughlin has no doubt she can succeed.
“She’s developed the tools she needs to go on and be successful at higher levels,” he said.