Lauren Cook goes back home

On the same day that Banachowski announced he was stepping down as coach, setter Lauren Cook announced her decision to transfer from UCLA to Nebraska.
After one excellent year at UCLA in which she started all 33 matches and was named the 2009 Division I AVCA Freshman of the Year and the 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Cook returned to her home state to play for her father John, who is the coach at Nebraska.
Cook cited academics as a reason for her decision: Nebraska had an event planning major, which UCLA does not have. She also said that she struggled to adjust to the culture differences she encountered in Los Angeles.
Cook, who is from Lincoln, Neb., is playing as a walk-on in 2010, and currently ranks fifth on the Cornhuskers with 1.61 digs per set.
She said that she initially decided against attending Nebraska out of high school because she wanted to create her own success instead of having to rely on her father. However, during her announcement, Cook said that she no longer worried about that issue.

Andy Banachowski's retirement

The 2010 season marks the first time in over four decades that someone other than Andy Banachowski is leading the UCLA women's volleyball team.
On Jan. 11, Banachowski unexpectedly announced his retirement after 43 years as coach of the team.
The announcement would become the first of several offseason events that would give the program a completely different look. In those 43 years, Banachowski built the team up from modest beginnings and turned it into a national powerhouse, winning six national championships on his way to becoming the most successful women's volleyball coach in NCAA history.
Banachowski began his tenure as coach while he was playing on the men's volleyball team at UCLA. He stepped down for two years in 1968 but returned as coach in 1970.
In February, UCLA alumnus Mike Sealy was hired as the new coach. Sealy also played volleyball at UCLA, winning a national championship in 1993, and was an assistant coach for both the men's and women's teams.

*Amanda Gil goes to Washington *

After the two surprising moves made by Banachowski and Cook, middle blocker Amanda Gil also decided to leave UCLA, transferring to Washington for personal reasons. Gil's transfer was not officially announced, but her decision was made in early January.
Gil was a sophomore during the 2009 season, and was an important player. She averaged a Pac-10 leading 1.57 blocks per set last year, and was first on the team with a .360 hitting percentage. Gil received American Volleyball Coaches Association Second Team All-American honors last year, and was also named the 2008 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
It was initially not known where Gil would go when she decided to transfer, and both Hawai'i and Washington were rumored to be potential suitors. Gil must sit out the 2010 season because of NCAA transfer rules, but will have two years of eligibility left when she returns. Because she is still playing in the Pac-10, Gil will face UCLA twice a year when eligible.

After a turbulent offseason, it’s back to work for the UCLA women’s volleyball team.

Its coach of over four decades retired, and two of the team’s best players are now donning different uniforms, but the Bruins don’t look like they were adversely affected by the moves.

They’ve started the 2010 season 8-1 under new coach Mike Sealy, who was hired after Andy Banachowski, who led the Bruins to six national championships, retired after 43 years of coaching. Sealy said that while he appreciates the accomplishments of his predecessor, his focus is on the future.

“We are moving forward in a forward direction, and what was done was done,” Sealy said. “And Andy had a great legacy, and I think it’s important to pay attention to your past and know where you’re coming from, but we’re looking in a forward direction.”

The arrival of a new coaching staff required a period of adjustment for the returning players. Sophomore outside hitter Bojana Todorovic said that experience has become a positive and has brought the players and the staff closer.

“It’s kind of a good thing because we all figured it out together and got to kind of a medium that is really helping the team,” Todorovic said. “I think we all understand the coaches now, and they understand us, and we’re a very coherent team.”

Senior outside hitter Dicey McGraw, who was very close with Banachowski and still talks with him frequently, is on board with Sealy and his methods.

“He’s never satisfied. … It’s kind of cool because he wants us to improve every single day, so every practice, every drill, we’re getting better at something and improving at something,” McGraw said.

In addition to Banachowski’s retirement, setter Lauren Cook and middle blocker Amanda Gil transferred from UCLA. Cook returned home and is now playing for Nebraska, while Gil is at Washington, where she will sit out this year because of NCAA transfer rules.

Both players had crucial roles on last year’s team, but this year’s players seem to have filled the void.

Junior setter Lauren Van Orden, a transfer from San Diego State, replaced Cook and has become a dependable setter in her first year.

“Lauren Van Orden is an absolute stud,” McGraw said. “We are so lucky to have her come here. She is the hardest worker in the gym, and she pushes me and all the hitters to their limits, and she’s great to play with. … She inspires everyone around her.”

The Bruins have several blockers and hitters that have gotten playing time so far. After the first nine matches, junior middle blockers Katie Camp and Sara Sage were leading the team in blocks per set, and Brazilian freshman middle blocker Mariana Aquino has also seen time.

Freshman outside hitter Kelly Reeves has made an early impact and has had significant playing time in her first year.

McGraw leads the team in kills but the Bruins attack is also bolstered by Todorovic, sophomore opposite Rachael Kidder, sophomore outside hitter Mari Hole and freshman outside hitter Meg Norton.

For McGraw, the emergence of talent this year has silenced any uncertainties that may have come with the events of the offseason.

“Everything that happened last year ““ that was kind of very upsetting, we were unsure about ““ I have absolutely no worries with,” McGraw said.

Sealy has a cautious outlook on the team’s start to this season and the rest of the year.

“We’ve caught some good teams on off-nights,” Sealy said. “So I’m not overly optimistic about what we need to do because I see every day in practice the glaring things that we’ve got to work on, so that’s all we’re focused on.”

Though they’ve won eight of their first nine games, the Bruins have been prone to going on scoring runs while also giving up streaks of points. Todorovic said that if they can avoid those, the team will be fine.

“Every game’s going to have ups and downs,” Todorovic said. “But as long as we stay steady, and don’t have too big of highs or too low of lows, I think we’ll do some great things this year.”