Washington middle blocker Lauren Sanders said developing her “slide attack” has been a three-year project.
If the 6-foot-4 junior’s performance Saturday in the Washington volleyball team’s straight-set victory over South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament is any indication, she has learned it quite well.
Sanders had six kills on eight hitting attempts for a remarkable .750 hitting percentage, and she had two blocks. The Huskies could use similar performances from her this weekend as UW (26-6), the No. 8 overall seed in the tournament, plays No. 9 Kentucky (25-6) in a Sweet 16 matchup in Waco, Texas. A win would set up a possible match against host Baylor, the top seed in the tournament.
“She was really good,” UW coach Keegan Cook said of Sanders’ performance against South Carolina, while also giving credit to setter Ella May Powell for setting up those attacks. “Lauren was in a good rhythm. The kid is working hard every day to be good on the slide, and Ella has worked hard to hit her from all over the court. Really efficient the entire match. … You’ll take her hitting .750 every time.”
On a slide attack, the hitter approaches the ball at an angle, rather than head-on, and the takeoff is on one foot, similar to a basketball layup. Slide attacks can be tougher to block, which has been evident in Sanders’ hitting percentage this season, which at .318 is the highest on the team among players with more than 20 kills.
“I knew going into the game (against South Carolina) that the high deep angle shot was going to be my golden ticket, that’s what Keegan said, so I just focused on getting really good at that shot,” Sanders said. “And Ella has been super-good at locating me wherever she is on the court. … I’ve been working on the (slide attack) consistently every year. The improvement I have made from freshman year to now, where I can hit more balls and have a bigger window for Ella to set me, is a testament to that.”
Sanders, who grew up in Snohomish and went to Glacier Peak High School, attended UW volleyball matches growing up but didn’t know playing for the Huskies was an option until former Husky coach Jim McLaughlin reached out.
“I wouldn’t say that Washington was always No. 1 on my list, but this program stood out to me as always being historically good in volleyball. It was close to home, the coaches were awesome and the girls that I knew I would be playing with were the kind of people I would want to be friends with the rest of my life,” Sanders said.
Sanders has been a starter since her freshman year and has improved her hitting percentage each season. She is fourth on the team in kills with 193 and second in blocks with 137.
Sanders has the same work ethic in volleyball that she brings to the classroom. She had a 3.96 grade-point average in high school, and has a 3.55 GPA in her major, speech and hearing sciences. She would like to be a speech therapist.
For the past two summers, Sanders has played on the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team, and she has also found time to work with kids at summer volleyball camps. Two summers ago, she went to Peru to help build a sports court in an impoverished area.
Sanders has a lot going on, but she is laser focused now on volleyball and the opportunity her team has. Last season, the Huskies lost in the Sweet 16 to Penn State. The goals this season are much higher.
“We were in this position last year, and it’s such a blessing that we are here again,” she said. “I think we have such a good shot at going far in this tournament.”
Sanders is convinced that the Huskies have yet to play their best volleyball.
“I think we have unlimited potential on this team,” she said.