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A quest to be the best

Jim McLaughlin saw what a lot of others saw in Krista Vansant.

But it was McLaughlin’s approach in recruiting the national Gatorade Player of the Year — her skills refined by years in the gym starting at age six — that led the outside hitter from Redlands, Calif., to pick Washington over numerous other top schools.

Now, two years later, that choice is paying big dividends for both Vansant and the No. 5 Washington volleyball team.

When Vansant came on her first recruiting visit to the UW, McLaughlin emphasized not what she could do for the Huskies, but what the school — particularly the coaching staff — could do for Vansant.

McLaughlin knew the sort of athlete he was going after.

“She’s completely consumed with being the best player she can be,” said Danny Scott, who began coaching Vansant on the Rancho Valley Volleyball Club when she was a freshman in high school.

In the meantime, she has contributed an awful lot to the Huskies’ success.

Last year, Vansant became the first freshman to lead the Huskies in kills and to win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year since Christal Morrison accomplished both in 2004. This year, Vansant leads the Huskies with 4.23 kills per set, is hitting .329, and ranks second on the team with 16 aces.

As a senior at Redlands East Valley High School, Vansant was one of the most sought-after volleyball players in the nation, and she was recruited by such powerhouse schools as Penn State, Stanford, Nebraska, and UCLA.

But McLaughlin was so intent on bringing Vansant to Seattle that he made the trip to Southern California not once, but twice, just to watch her practice. On his first visit, McLaughlin brought a 12-page plan detailing what Vansant could accomplish at Washington.

“I was just so blown away by that kind of stuff,” Vansant said. “Twelve pages, that’s ridiculous. … The fact that he sat down and thought that much about it really impressed me.”

Vansant was even more impressed when she and her mother attended their first recruiting visit to Washington, when they saw McLaughlin — always meticulous in his preparation — again detail his coaching staff’s plan for Vansant, complete with PowerPoint presentations and his famous whiteboards.

“[McLaughlin] was one of the only coaches that recruited me that didn’t say what I can do for the university, but instead what the university can do for me,” Vansant said. “That was something that no other coach told me, and that really stuck with me.”

As her club coach recognized, Vansant is consumed by the sport of volleyball. Her mother, Tricia Vansant, remembers Krista practicing in the backyard at the age of two. Krista would tag along when her mother, working her way into hitting lines at the age of six.

Tricia Vansant called her daughter “a student of the sport,” a girl who would go to as many collegiate volleyball games as she could while growing up. When Krista was dominating other teams with her powerful swing and decisive attacks, her mother — as her coach — saw first-hand someone who was years ahead of her age.

“When we were in the middle of games, the kid had vision as she was playing that coaches and spectators didn’t have as they were watching,” Tricia Vansant said. “She knew what kind of defense they were in. She knew where they were at all times. It was actually amazing to watch.”

As a high-school freshman, Vansant led her team to the California state volleyball championship, winning the title match with two aces in the fifth set.

While the adjustment from high-school-level volleyball to college has not always been easy, Vansant has demonstrated composure.

Though one of the younger players on this year’s Huskies, her success last season positioned Vansant to be a leader on this squad. So far, she’s followed through. The best example may have come against then-No. 4 UCLA on Sept. 26, when she posted a career-high 31 kills. It was the kind of performance that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

“She’s the type of player that shouldn’t have any weakness,” McLaughlin said. “I want her to grab onto it in the realest, most direct, deliberate way that she’s always got to get better, and that — indeed — improvement is always there. The great ones, the better you get, the harder it is; but the great ones find a way to keep improving.”

Tricia Vansant saw it in a young girl undaunted by the fact that she was serving with kids twice her age and unable to get the ball over the net. Scott saw it in the girl who called him to do service reps for an hour because she wanted to be the best. And now McLaughlin would like Vansant to see it, cherish it, take ownership of it, and run with it.

Greatness awaits.

Reach reporter Ryan Hueter at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ryanhueter

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