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Originally published Thursday, August 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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UW Volleyball

Tomasevic wants shot at national title

The first match is tomorrow, but the No. 2-ranked Washington volleyball team already can point to its comeback player of the year. Sanja Tomasevic, a powerful...

Special to The Seattle Times

The first match is tomorrow, but the No. 2-ranked Washington volleyball team already can point to its comeback player of the year.

Sanja Tomasevic, a powerful 6-foot-1 outside hitter who led UW in kills and points per game last year, is back. Back even though she was listed as a senior in 2004, Washington's breakout year as a volleyball national power. Back even though she took a farewell bow on senior night last year.

"Having her anywhere in this program is huge," said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin, the 2004 NCAA Coach of the Year. "On the floor, in the office, watching film. When she's around the kids, her influence is gigantic.

"The best thing about her is she still works every day to get better and better and better. She holds herself to a standard that's unbelievable, and I push the heck out of her, and she welcomes that."

Tomasevic originally was granted just three years of athletic eligibility under NCAA rules because she enrolled at UW after her 21st birthday.

But the university petitioned the NCAA, arguing that war raging in her native Yugoslavia when she graduated from high school in 1999 delayed college entrance. In May, the NCAA granted her another year of eligibility.

"I thought there was maybe a 2 percent chance that I was going to be able to come back," Tomasevic, now 25, said before yesterday's practice at Edmundson Pavilion. "That's what the coaches told me. They said this had never happened with the NCAA. But the school took the chance and it worked out, and I'm the happiest person in the world."

Husky Challenge


At Edmundson Pavilion

Tomorrow

Game 1: Wyoming vs. Montana State,

4 p.m.

Game 2: Washington vs. Gardner-Webb, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Game 3: Wyoming vs. Gardner-Webb,

4 p.m.

Game 4: Washington vs. Montana State, 7 p.m.

Her teammates share her happiness.

"I don't even have the words," said Courtney Thompson, a junior setter from Kentlake High School. "She's an incredible player and an incredible person. I think she makes us better on and off the court. I call her Aunt Sanja because she's a little bit older than all of us. She's kind of the wise old woman. With the energy she brings, she's like the glue of this team."

Tomasevic adds another layer of depth and experience to one of the nation's deepest talent pools. Washington, which opens its nonconference schedule this weekend with home matches tomorrow and Saturday, is the only Division I program with four All-Americans.

Tomasevic, named the MVP at last year's NCAA regional hosted by UW, leads a group that includes Thompson, sophomore outside hitter Christal Morrison (the Pac-10 freshman of the year) and senior libero Candace Lee.

Washington is missing only one starter from last year's team that won the school's first Pac-10 volleyball title and advanced to its first NCAA Final Four, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Stanford.

And perhaps none of the 17 players on the roster is hungrier for the season to get underway than Tomasevic.

"I feel like there's something I have yet to accomplish," said Tomasevic, a communications major who will complete her undergraduate work this winter.

"Last year, our final game, we didn't give our best," she said of the semifinal loss to Stanford. "We tried hard, and we wanted it bad, but it was our first Final Four experience, and it was a totally different thing for us. ...

"This year, if we make it there — when we make it there — it's going to be so much easier to stand on that floor and relax and play and have fun like we usually do. Our team didn't look like it was having fun in that last game. I just want to get one more chance to compete for and win a national championship."

Tomasevic says practices this year have been intense.

"We think we've got it all this year," Tomasevic said. "So when we practice, it's crazy. It's competitive like never before.

"We were the best team offensively in the nation last year, and people ask me who has the best defense we ever played against. I tell them it's the people I see in our practices."

This summer the team headed out for a little team-building with a canoe-based scavenger hunt around the school's crew house on Lake Washington.

Coaches told them to have fun. Tomasevic's reaction: "She's not beating me."

The winner? "Courtney," Tomasevic said, adding a mock growl. "Then afterward we go and eat lunch together. We get along really well. It's pretty cool."

The ultimate in cool in 2005? "A national championship," Tomasevic said. "We know we have that potential."

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