After more than a month on the road, the No. 10 Washington volleyball team returns to Hec Edmondson Pavilion this weekend to face a pair of highly-ranked conference opponents in No. 5 USC and No. 12 UCLA.

The homestand comes after 11 straight road games, culminating in a disappointing 3-1 loss at No. 11 Oregon on Sept. 25. The loss to the Ducks snapped a 12-game winning streak, and spoiled the perfect start to the Huskies' season.

"At the end of it, we won in almost every statistical category except the win," said head volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin of the Oregon game. "We got out against a good team on their home floor on the road, and the margin of error was really thin. We got hurt on hitting errors."

A return to the friendly confines of Hec Ed could be just what the Huskies need. Washington led the NCAA in home volleyball attendance last season, and McLaughlin says that his team's home-court advantage might be bigger than most.

"Our fans are the best," he said. "It's one of the best venues in the country for volleyball, and it's just getting better and better. It's a hard place to play."

One loss against a ranked team is not much cause for concern, and the Huskies could bounce back in a big way with a sweep of the southern California schools, which both figure to be major factors in the Pac-10 race.

On Friday night, this will mean neutralizing a powerful USC offense, led by junior middle blocker Lauren Williams, who is second in the Pac-10 in attack percentage (.478). The undefeated Trojans rank in the top-10 nationally in both hitting percentage (.303) and kills per set (14.55).

Washington will match up against a UCLA team on Saturday that has lost twice this season, but against tough competition. One of the losses came at the hands of USC, and the other to No. 6 Hawaii. Bruins junior libero Lainey Gera leads the conference with 4.67 digs per set.

"They're both good," McLaughlin said of this weekend's opponents. "Playing on the road, playing at home, playing in the Pac-10: It's a challenge, and you always have to approach it that way."

McLaughlin emphasized that his team needs to minimize mistakes and to apply what they've learned in his meticulously structured practices.

"Preparation has more to do with success than anything," he said. "If you're not prepared, you stand the chance of going home very sad because of a team that is prepared. There are some things we feel we can correct if we work hard on them."

Both matches will get underway at 7 p.m.

Reach reporter Andrew Gospe at

Tony Wroten Jr. spent the entire day feeling out the idea of committing to Louisville.

At 7:43 a.m., he tweeted Louisville Cardinal fans to "holla at me," dressed in a black-and-red vest with a black-and-red plaid shirt, and at the press conference, Louisville was the first hat he grabbed.

When the decision came, though, it was all purple and gold.

Wroten, one of the top-ranked guards in the nation, let his teammates reveal his decision for him; at the press conference, he briefly fiddled around with a couple of hats in front of him, but eventually, he let his Garfield teammates take off their jackets to unveil the UW apparel to let everyone know he'll be a Husky next year.

Wroten is a 6-foot-5 point guard who has been touted as one of the best preps in the country since he was in middle school. Not only did he excel on his high school team, leading them to the Class 4A state championship game as a sophomore, but he also played club basketball with Seattle Rotary and was a part of the gold-medal-winning U.S. team at U17 FIBA World Championships this summer.

"He's done things that no other player in the state of Washington has done," Garfield coach Ed Haskins said of Wroten prior to the selection. "From the sixth to about the 10th grade, Tony was number one in the country. There has never been a player in Washington ... who has ever stayed at that ranking that high, and the only thing that dropped him down below that No. 1 ranking was an injury."

The decision came down to five teams: Louisville, the UW, Seattle University, Villanova, and Connecticut, though most contend that the final decision was between the top two teams, Washington and Louisville. The final decision, according to Wroten, came just before the 3 p.m. conference.

"2:59, that's when I decided to come to the UW," the high school senior said. "2:59 p.m. I thought hard and realized UW was where I wanted to be."

Wroten will be the fourth commit to the UW for the class of 2011, and the third guard -- Andrew Andrews and Hikeem Stewart have already unofficially committed to the Huskies, though Andrews likely won't play until 2012, as he goes to a prep school in the interim.

In the fanfare of the Garfield High School gymnasium, Wroten was all-optimism about the future of Husky basketball.

"Husky fans, we're coming for the win," Wroten said, almost out of breath. "Everything is going to change now, we're here, Husky fans."

Reach reporter William Dow at

From tales of mythical beasties and the kraken comes the science behind a new exhibit at the Burke Museum. In Search of Giant Squid, the traveling version of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., tells the story of scientists' ongoing pursuit for Architeuthis, the giant squid.

"This is a story that's unfolding as we speak," said MaryAnn Barron, director of external communications at the Burke. "People should come to learn what scientists know so far."

Ron Eng, a biologist and collections manager at the Burke Museum, said that the advent of remote submersibles has helped to reinvigorate the study of giant squid. He also said that the squid illustrates what a mystery the ocean still is.

"They live at great depth," Eng said. "That alone makes them hard to study."

Barron said that there have been new discoveries since the exhibit was developed. In Dec. 2006, Japanese scientists filmed a live giant squid for the first time. Eng explained how the team found success only after changing their search strategy. Rather than follow the squid's prey, they tracked its only known predator, the sperm whale.

Earlier this year, a 26-foot-long, 550-pound giant squid washed ashore on a beach in Australia. Scientists were able to take DNA samples and preserve the squid in good condition.

Despite the increase in observation, scientists still have much to learn about giant squid.

"The exhibit is as much about the process of scientific investigation as it is about the squid," Eng said. "It's a great way to illustrate how science works."

The exhibit features information about the squid and a sampling of specimens, such as giant squid beaks and suckers. It also features a video that follows scientists' work in the laboratory and underwater. Throughout the film, experts offer conjectures that may lead to more concrete knowledge.

"[The exhibit] does leave questions to be answered," Barron said. "But one of our functions is to pique people's curiosity, and we present the very limits of what scientists currently know about these mysterious creatures."

In Search of Giant Squid is located in the Burke's newly expanded space for touring exhibits. It sits alongside the museum's other traveling showpiece, Yellowstone to Yukon, a collection of wildlife photography from the North American West.

"The pair of exhibits really showcase our commitment to balancing cultural art and natural science," Barron said.

[Reach reporter Brian Smoliak at]

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