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Originally published Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Summer Ross transfers from Washington volleyball team

Freshman beach volleyball standout is interested in Pepperdine.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Summer Ross, a freshman outside hitter on the Washington volleyball team and one of two heralded recruits coach Jim McLaughlin added to his starting lineup in 2011, has transferred.

McLaughlin says Ross, an international beach volleyball junior champion, wants to focus on the beach game and has an interest in Pepperdine, one of a handful of Division I schools that will introduce NCAA sanctioned women's intercollegiate sand volleyball this spring.

McLaughlin says Ross informed him of her decision shortly after UW's Dec. 3 loss to Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"She came into my office and said, 'Hey, Jim, I want to play on the beach.' " McLaughlin said. "I had a feeling that was going to happen. She's got to do what her heart is telling her to do."

Ross was named the 2010 USA Volleyball Beach Female Athlete of the Year after winning under-19 and -21 junior world championships with different partners. She is the first junior player to receive the award.

The NCAA approved sand volleyball for women in 2010, and McLaughlin says Washington and USC considered adding it. This made Ross an attractive recruit at the time. But the two schools could find no other takers in the Pac-12.

"Scott (Woodward, UW's athletic director) was willing to do it," McLaughlin said. "But we're not going to be the only Pac-12 team or one of two Pac-12 teams to do it. "We'd do it if everyone else was doing it."

"If it had happened, she (Ross) would have been a great person to get," he said. "Our focus with her was always going to be the indoor game first, but potentially she's one of those few kids who could play both (sand and indoor).

"It's a great sport," McLaughlin said of the sand game. "I grew up playing it, and I love it. But my No. 1 priority is keeping the indoor team the best, and I didn't want the beach thing to jeopardize that."

Playing indoors this fall, Ross became UW's right-side outside hitter was and paired with 2010 National Gatorade Player of the Year Krista Vansant, also a freshman, on the left.

Ross played a modest role in UW's offense, finishing fifth in total attacks and hitting just .204. She led the Huskies (24-8, ranked 17th in the final coaches' poll) in kills twice, with a high of 14 against California in October. She led UW in aces with 27.

"She can pass, play defense and shows good court presence," McLaughlin said. "But she still had to make a lot of progress for us to be real good. We need to set that position more."

Playing indoors, a major time commitment under McLaughlin, curtailed Ross's ability to play internationally last summer.

"I think she tapped into how tough this is, training year-round," he said. "You tell kids that it's going to be hard, but they don't know it until they get into it. Then they go 'Wow, he's serious. This is real. I've got a lot of work to do. I'm going to have to put everything I have into this.' "

"At one point she wanted to come in late to training to allow her to play on the beach, and I said no, unless we redshirt you," he said. "You've got to be here for the team. We can't have a kid coming in at the end of August. (UW started fall practice Aug. 7.) We need to train."

Ross's departure leaves UW with four outside hitters on the roster: Vansant, the Pac-12's freshman of the year, senior-to-be Kylin Munoz, junior-to-be Gabbi Parker and reserve Kaleigh Nelson.

McLaughlin says incoming freshman Melanie Wade, a 6-foot-5 middle blocker from Palo Alto, Calif., has the skills to play outside. She and fellow UW signee Katy Beals from Texas were both named prep first-team All-Americans last week by MaxPreps.com.

"Five is a good number for us at outside hitter," said McLaughlin, who conceded it's possible UW could add a transfer. "We don't have our eyes set on one yet, but we could bring someone in late if she's a stud player."

Wade and Lianna Sybeldon, a 6-2 middle blocker from Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif., have verbally committed to Washington but have not yet been officially announced as incoming freshmen. McLaughlin says this is due to the timing of the availability of scholarship funds. Beals and libero Cassie Strickland, a 2010 ESPNHS first-team All-American from Huntington Beach, Calif., were announced as 2012 signees in November.

Why is Pepperdine a possibility for Ross? Her brother, Chase, is a senior on the Pepperdine men's volleyball team, and Caitlin Racich, who competed this summer as a member of the U.S. junior beach team, this fall became the school's first sand volleyball scholarship athlete.

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