The University of Washington volleyball team, coming off a second-straight Elite Eight appearance (yay) and a third-straight year of being eliminated by Nebraska (not yay), added a highly-touted graduate transfer this weekend. It was announced by Marion Hazelwood herself on Twitter; you can see the retweet by the @UWVolleyball account. She is a 6’3” MB from Beach City, Texas who will graduate this spring after just 3 1⁄2 years at OU. The list of accolades she brings to Washington is impressive:
- 3-time AVCA honorable mention All-American
- 2-time first team all-Big 12
- 3-time AVCA all-Southwest team
- 2014 AVCA Southwest Region Freshman of the Year
Having graduated both multi-year starting middle blockers after the 2015 season, the Huskies turned to a talented but inexperienced duo last year. Kameron McLain, a grad transfer from Boston College, played a fair amount early in the season, but nagging injuries forced to the bench for most of the conference season. True freshmen Kara Bajema (Lynden, WA) and Avie Niece (Bellevue, WA) combined to play the vast majority of the points at MB during the conference season and postseason. For Bajema, that was an entirely new position: although Bajema clearly has the height and length to play MB (6’2”), she had been an outside hitter for her entire high school and club career. She transitioned to the middle remarkably well, but the long-term plan was to move her back to outside hitter once there was more depth at the middle blocker position in the program.
I had previously thought that there would have to be one more season before the Huskies could make that switch. High school All-American Lauren Sanders, a 6’5” MB from Glacier Peak (Snohomish, WA), enrolled early this spring at UW and will be a key member of the squad in fall 2017. Although only 2 middle blockers play regularly, a team should have at least 3 players to count on in case of injury. Before the addition of Hazelwood, that group of three appeared to be Niece, Sanders, and Bajema. With another MB committed in the 2018 class, it appeared that Bajema would then be able to switch over to OH starting in her junior season.
However, with Hazelwood in the fold, this changes the scenario dramatically. I’m not totally sure that this is what coach Keegan Cook and his staff will do, but it would seem to be the most logical solution based on what I know at this point, as a very dedicated UW volleyball fan (but one without any inside knowledge or media credentials - sad face):
Hazelwood would be the primary middle blocker, with Niece and Sanders sharing time as the secondary starter and the backup. Bajema would still be available as an emergency backup in the middle, but this would open up a move back to the outside one year earlier than anticipated. There is plenty of depth at outside hitter this year, but with 4 outside hitter all graduating after this coming year, including reigning Pac-12 player of the year Courtney Schwan and fellow All-Americans Crissy Jones and Tia Scambray, I expect to see Keegan Cook tinker with the rotation in non-conference play to test out different lineups and how they work together.
Next year has been viewed as the Huskies best shot for a national championship for a few years, as the Huskies only graduated seldom-used McLain, added a HS All-American in Sanders who should have an immediate impact, and many of the Huskies’ best players are back for their final season in purple and gold - the aforementioned trio of outside hitters, as well as star setter Bailey Tanner.
A large number of top teams graduated key members of their teams, with Big Ten powers Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin getting hit the hardest. Defending national champion Stanford and runner-up Texas both went through growing pains due to young rosters early in the season before going on a roll late. I expect to see UW, Stanford, and Texas as the top three teams when the preseason poll rolls around. This team is going to be really good.
My guess is that this situation will be become a bit more clear once summer practices roll around. There has yet to be any official posting on GoHuskies.com about Hazelwood’s transfer.