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Mason Kelley | Washington Athletics | September 26, 2014

Washington's Cassie Strickland sets a higher standard

  When asked to change positions to libero, Cassie Strickland welcomed the challenge.

Cassie Strickland used to beg her father to let her try out for football. Each time she would ask, though, Filipo told his daughter he didn’t think she would stick with the sport.

“I begged him forever to let me play,” Strickland said.

Eventually, they reached an agreement. Filipo would let her play, but there was a catch.

“You can play,” Filipo said. “But if you cry, you have to quit.”

Strickland took that challenge and ran with it, playing quarterback and linebacker for three years.

“I kind of took that as, ‘OK, I’m not going to cry,’” Strickland said. “I proved him wrong.”

Whether playing football as a child or libero for Washington, Strickland learned from her father to “always hold yourself to a higher standard.” She has learned over the years that, “you don’t have to just be the best in the gym, you need to be the best in every way.”

That is the way Strickland approaches volleyball and life.

“She’s an unbelievable kid in many ways,” Washington volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin said. “She’s got the heart of a lion.”

However, when it comes to competitive energy, Strickland has a tendency to reach a boiling point. McLaughlin compares her fire to that of former standout Courtney Thompson, who helped the Huskies to a national championship in 2005.

“I think it’s a gift, but if you boil over a little bit and it affects other good plays, you’ve got to learn how to control that,” McLaughlin said. “She has. You can’t put out her fire. You’ve got to let her compete and be who she is.”

When Strickland was competing as an outside hitter early in her career, she felt like she could power through things. But in 2014, she has moved to libero, the position she was recruited to play coming out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California. Her mindset has changed. No longer can she be all fire all the time. Now she needs to know when to remain cool and collected for her team.

“When I go, I go,” Strickland said. “There’s no stopping me. There’s a sense of control when it comes to libero. You need to be a lot more poised and have a lot more control in your movements. It needs to be calmer, because you’re not going up to hit.”

For Strickland, the adjustment has taken time, but she is confident the switch will be worth it in the long run. McLaughlin asked her to make the move, because he saw a really good outside hitter, who had the potential to be a “great” libero.

“He just had all these things to say about me maybe being No. 1 in the nation,” Strickland said, looking back on a conversation she had with McLaughlin. “It’s just exciting to hear I could accomplish that, so I’m really excited to work toward it.”

-- Cassie Strickland
When McLaughlin made his pitch about the position switch, Strickland took it as just another challenge, another mountain to conquer.

“I want that,” she told her coach. “I want to take it as far as I can.”

Strickland is the kind of player who demands so much of herself her teammates are compelled to work harder simply because of her presence.

“She can drive the bus,” McLaughlin said. “No one is going to let up when she’s on the floor. She’ll hold everyone to a standard, but the cool thing is she holds herself to that standard.”

The youngest of four children, Strickland has been that way her whole life. A self-described “goofball” off the floor, she is confident in who she is off it. That confidence can come back to bite her, though -- quite literally. This summer, there was a scuffle among the family's dogs during her visit home. Strickland learned of the bystander effect, how if it's a group, rather than an individual, watch something go down, there's tendency for nobody to help. 

Strickland openly rejects that idea, and intervened, injuring herself as a result.

“I got part of my finger bitten off in the process,” she said.

The finger is still a bit sensitive, but Strickland isn’t the kind of person to take the time to think “Oh, no, my finger.” She’s too busy chasing down the next challenge.

“I won’t let it hold me back,” she said.

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