Leck set for Final Four
From time to time in this popcorn stand we’ve tried to define just exactly what a student-athlete is.
If there’s ever someone who can be pointed to as a true student-athlete, it’s Kaitlin Leck. The 2001 Carson High graduate who’s a senior at the University of Washington spent much of her time preparing for today’s Final Four in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament – by taking her finals.
That’s right. Leck, under the strict supervision of a proctor, has been in the process of taking three finals – two in her minor architecture and one in history – on Wednesday and today. Yet, in the infinite wisdom of university presidents, we can’t have a college football playoff because in part we can’t have these other “student-athletes” take that much time away from their academics.
But for Leck it just comes with the territory as she and the Huskies prepare to take on Stanford at 5:30 p.m. today in Long Beach, Calif. The match will be televised on a taped-delayed basis at 8 p.m. today by ESPN2. The winner will face the winner between USC and Minnesota in the national title match to be televised live at 1 p.m. Saturday by ESPN2.
“When you’re a college athlete, you’re a college athlete,” Leck said. “You have to learn how to learn to fanagle two lives.
When we have the free time we have to study. I think we’re kind of used to it. Pressure. No pressure.”
For Leck it will also be a reunion of sorts as she’ll once again face off against high school rival, Fallon’s Jennifer Hucke, who plays for Stanford. Leck said she hasn’t had a chance to talk to Hucke since Washington and Stanford made it to the Final Four.
But she said the two try to stay in touch as much as possible – if not through themselves, at least through their parents.
Washington and Stanford split their matches this year and the Huskies also split their two contests with USC. The Huskies eliminated Stanford in last year’s playoff in the round of 16, but then Leck and Washington was denied a trip to the Final Four when they were beaten by Minnesota.
Since that loss, Leck said she had her teammates spent five days a week in the weight room and working hard throughout the winter, spring and summer to make it to the Final Four. “It’s all accumulative over the whole year,” she said.
If the Huskies were to beat Stanford, Leck admitted it would be nice to have a chance at revenge against Minnesota. But she also said it would be “phenomenal” to have two Pac 10 teams in the final. “There isn’t really a personal preference,” she said.
Leck admitted that she thinks the Huskies, USC and Stanford all were given extra motivation when the NCAA seedings came out. Despite being ranked No. 1 for much of the year and the champion of arguably the country’s top conference, the Pac 10, the Huskies were seeded just seventh in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans were seeded eighth and Stanford was seeded 11th.
Seattle has also embraced the Huskies volleyball team. Leck said she had a goal for the volleyball team to “fill up the bottom half” of the arena by her senior year. That goal has been accomplished as the Huskies draw up to 7,000 fans for matches.
This season was also a learning experience for Leck. She had been a starter for three years ever since she stepped on the court as a freshman. But Leck found herself on the bench to begin this year, which shows the growth of the Husky program as far as talent under coach Jim McLaughlin, who Leck has a great respect for.
“It was of course a wake-up call,” Leck said. “But it makes you want to push yourself. It’s very different from my freshman year. Our standards were so much different and now he’s gradually made our standards higher and higher.”
But Leck didn’t sulk and kept working hard, waiting for her chance. “It’s not only me, it’s the team,” said Leck about how she kept the situation in perspective. “It’s hard for anyone in that situation.”
Leck said she had to remind herselve “you are on the team for a reason and you are a good player.”
“I had my family and I had my girls on the team” for support, Leck also said. She said she learned from her father, Dan, to always work hard no matter what the situation.
“I’m not a quitter,” Leck said. “I don’t believe in people that are doing a half-a– job,” she said.
“I would never slack. I would still try to compete and get myself on the court. That’s not the way I work and I don’t think that is how any of these girls work.”
When Leck did receive her chance, she took advantage of it. When top hitter Sanja Tomasevic went down with an injury, Leck was inserted into the lineup and flourished, consistently hitting in double figures.
One of her highlights this year came when she had 27 kills to lead Washington to a five-game win over Oregon State to keep the Huskies unbeaten at the time.
Tomasevic has returned, but Leck has stayed in the starting lineup. Leck said along with her, the Huskies have three other hitters of equal ability who make up the rotation.
“We never know who’s going to start,” Leck said. “There’s not the complacency. We definitely have to work.”
Leck was an outside hitter at Carson, but moved to the right-side at Washington, which at times could give her an advantage since she’s left-handed.
“I think if you’re a good player it doesn’t matter if you’re left-handed or right-handed,” she said. “I don’t think there’s an advantage.”
That was the case in the Elite 8 last week in Seattle when Washington beat UCLA in five games to advance to the Final Four. While Leck still had a solid match with nine kills and three blocks, she still had a tough time with UCLA’s defense.
“Not happy,” said Leck on how she felt about her play against UCLA. “They have a phenomenal defensive team. They dig balls left and right and it’s hard to kill a ball.”
Still, Leck said she’s comfortable on the right side. “I truly love the right side,” she said. “I get to block the strongest hitters on the court.”
GARDNER IN RENO
Rulon Gardner, an Olympic gold and bronze medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, will be at the Tournament of Champions wrestling event this week at Reno’s Livestock Events Center. Gardner will be available for autographs during the event from 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday and from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday. Gardner is the younger brother of Dr. Gerri Gardner, a cardiologist with Sierra Nevada Cardiology Associates, who works at Carson-Tahoe Hospital and lives in Gardnerville.
Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor. Contact him at email@example.com or 881-1214.