One of the all-Pac-10 performers on the Washington volleyball team is an ice-cream lover whose favorite flavor is classic vanilla. But there is nothing vanilla about the game of...

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One of the all-Pac-10 performers on the Washington volleyball team is an ice-cream lover whose favorite flavor is classic vanilla.


But there is nothing vanilla about the game of Candace Lee, the Huskies’ libero. You can find her diving, sprawling and acrobatically keeping the ball in play.


“At some point, she will be the biggest name in USA volleyball,” UW coach Jim McLaughlin boldly predicts. “Candace Lee will be the libero for the USA team some day, just mark my words.”


As a libero, Lee is a defensive specialist whose job is digging smashes from opposing hitters, receiving serves and passing. (A “dig” is keeping a ball in play that has been “attacked” by the opponents.) Liberos wear distinctive jerseys and play on the back row.


“I tell people, “I’m the person who wears the different-colored shirt,’ ” Lee said.


Quickness, coordination and a disregard for one’s body are requirements for the position. Lee, who once suffered bruises jumping off a three-story waterfall in Oregon, qualifies.


Tomorrow, Lee and the Huskies (28-2) will face Stanford (28-6) in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, at 5:30 p.m. in Long Beach, Calif. USC (23-5) will face Minnesota (32-4) in the other semifinal at 7:30.


















Tomorrow


Stanford vs. Washington, 5:30 p.m.

The match could hinge on what level of success Lee and teammates have handling the spike attempts of Stanford outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani, this season’s Pac-10 MVP and a member of the U.S. Olympic team that played in Athens. Nnamani led the Pac-10 in kills (5.88) and points (6.55).


Lee, whose parents are elementary-school educators, helped the Huskies reach their first Final Four with a career-high 40 digs in a dramatic 3-2 victory over UCLA in the regional finals last Saturday.


The 20-year-old junior has 1,531 career digs, which are a school record and fourth on the all-time Pac-10 list. Her 632 digs this season are also a school record.


When McLaughlin was hired four years ago, one of the first telephone calls he got was from a volleyball savant who said, “You’ve got to check out this kid in Eugene.”


But Lee wasn’t highly recruited. One reason for that was she lost time in 2000 because of a rare blood disorder that prevented proper clotting.


“I was bruising real easily,” she said.


Doctors finally decided to remove her spleen. But during surgery, they discovered she had three spleens instead one. The excessive amount of spleen tissue had been eating her platelets and causing the disease.


Lee was a 4.0 student at Springfield High School (just outside of Eugene, Ore.), where she also was a state-caliber tennis player, a sport she thinks improved her quickness and hand-eye coordination for volleyball.

















Candace Lee owns UW’s career digs record.
She carries a 3.78 grade-point average at the UW, but some of the grades that matter most to Lee are her volleyball grades. Coaches grade the Huskies on every play. Lee’s passes can earn a 3, 2 or 1 grade.


“I want to get 70 percent 3s,” she said.


No one appreciates Lee’s good passes more than sophomore setter Courtney Thompson, who uses them to set up the Huskies’ powerful hitters.


“She is unbelievable,” Thompson said. “That girl deserves more credit than anybody. She is so much fun to play with. She’s focused, she’s making everyone better. She is just a competitor, just the type of person you love to be around on and off the court.”


Lee, an English major, is taking Italian because she someday wants to teach English in Italy. She has an interest in international life plus a well-traveled boyfriend — Huskies tennis player Alex Vlaski, from Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


This week, Lee is doing the traveling — to the Final Four. It could turn out to be more fun than a big bowl of ice cream.




Notes


• Freshman outside hitter Christal Morrison tested her knee and foot injuries with 15 jumps yesterday and appeared to come through the drill well, according to McLaughlin.


• ESPN2 will televise the national semifinals on a tape-delayed basis. Tomorrow’s UW-Stanford match will be shown at 8 p.m. The USC-Minnesota match will air Friday at noon. The national championship match will be live on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Saturday.


Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com