Samantha Drechsel was ready to come home.
The University of Washington volleyball team was more than happy to accommodate her.
The former Cedar Park Christian High School star is back where she belongs in the Pacific Northwest, and she’s helping lead a Husky volleyball team preparing to play in its 17th straight NCAA tournament.
Washington, which is 18-12, travels to Omaha, Nebraska, this weekend to face Saint Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. If the Huskies beat the Gaels they’ll face the winner of eighth-seeded Creighton and South Dakota on Saturday.
Drechsel played a central role in a youthful Washington team — the Huskies have just one senior and start two sophomores and two freshmen — extending the school’s postseason streak. The 6-foot-4 sophomore outside hitter is in her first season with Washington after transferring from Maryland last winter. She currently ranks second on the team in kills with 347 in 30 matches, and she’s been one of the Huskies’ most consistent performers.
“She’s actually a much more skilled player,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “A lot of opposites (where Drechsel is currently playing), we call them big goons, they’re out there just kind of hitting and blocking. Sam’s a skilled player. She was serving for us at a really high level earlier in the year, she passes for us at times, she can block on the left or the right, so she’s not just a big goon out there. But she is known for hitting the ball really hard, she’s got the heaviest arm in our gym. It just sounds a little different coming off her hand.”
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And it’s a hand Cook was thrilled to get a second chance at bringing into the fold.
Drechsel was one of the top players in the country in her high school days, being ranked No. 23 in the nation as a senior by PrepVolleyball.com. However, she was never recruited by Washington because she committed to Maryland as a sophomore.
“I kind of had this idea that I wanted to go away (for college),” Drechsel said. “I’m from a small town, I went to a small Christian school, I wanted to see what else is out there.”
Drechsel had a good freshman season at Maryland in 2017, finishing third on the team in kills as the Terrapins just missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament. She also enjoyed being just seven miles from Washington D.C., which afforded her the opportunity to hop on the tram and visit the capital’s sights on her off days.
However, she felt the tug of home, and when Maryland coach Steve Aird left following the season to become the coach at Indiana, she knew what she wanted to do.
“A lot of (the decision to transfer) was because I was really far from home,” said Drechsel, who was only considering Washington as a transfer destination. “Some family stuff happened and I was like, ‘You know what, I think I just need to come home,’ Keegan was awesome, he was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to find a way for you to come home and play here.’”
Cook, who only had one scholarship available in 2017 and ended up using it on Drechsel’s club teammate and good friend Lauren Sanders from Glacier Peak High School, jumped at the second chance to recruit Drechsel.
“We tried to be the first person to call her,” Cook said. “We played (Maryland) a couple years in a row, so we’d seen what she could do. And we knew what kind of person she was, she played with Lauren, she played with Kara (Bajema), everyone said great things about her. So it was the easiest transfer we’ve probably ever had in our career.”
Drechsel was thrown straight into the fire at Washington. She enrolled at the start of the spring quarter, and three days after arriving on campus she was on a plane to California with the beach volleyball team for a tournament.
“It was crazy,” Drechsel said. “I had never really played beach volleyball before, so I had no expectations.”
Fortunately Drechsel had several familiar faces, like former teammates Sanders and Bajema, as well as other local products Avie Niece, Shayne McPherson and Natalie Robinson, to help ease ease her transition. And by arriving in the spring she was able to hit the ground running when the indoor season began.
Drechsel began the season as a left-sided hitter. However, the Huskies went through a swoon from Oct. 13-28 in which they lost five straight matches. In the middle of that stretch Cook moved Drechsel to the opposite position, which switched her from the left to the right. The move paid off as Washington followed with five straight victories, including big road wins at USC and UCLA. Drechsel had 30 kills versus just five errors in those two matches, earning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Now the Huskies are hoping to make some waves in the postseason. While this Washington team may not come into the NCAA tournament with the credentials of past teams, the Huskies believe they’re trending upward.
“I think we’re all really excited,” Drechsel said. “We’ve seen glimpses of really great play, and right now we’re just trying to keep that going.”
And for Drechsel, it’s all the better that she gets to do it from home.
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