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A Lesson Learned on Bench : Volleyball: Marissa Hatchett didn’t enjoy being out of the lineup. Her play since returning has helped UCLA reach the NCAA Final Four.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you want to motivate Marissa Hatchett, just invite her to take a seat on the UCLA women’s volleyball team’s bench.

You’ll have one mad middle blocker on your hands, that’s for sure.

But that’s the ploy Bruin Coach Andy Banachowski used with Hatchett during the Pacific 10 Conference season. Was it effective? Consider this:

With UCLA struggling through the first half of the season, Banachowski began shaking up his lineup. He pulled Hatchett as a starter for 10 matches, replacing her with sophomore Irene Renteria. Hatchett played sparingly throughout the span.

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Sitting didn’t sit well with Hatchett, a junior. She had started nearly every match as a freshman and sophomore with the Bruins. She was a four-year starter at Sunny Hills High School.

“It was frustrating because I had started in the past,” Hatchett said. “I’m glad I’m through it now.

“This was by far the worst season I’ve had since I’ve been here. The coaches wanted more out of me. They wanted me to be a leader, to be more vocal.”

Did spending a little time on the bench help you?

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“No,” she said. “It didn’t.”

Banachowski begs to differ. So does Ron Kasser, Hatchett’s coach at Sunny Hills.

“Marissa didn’t start off the year playing very well,” Banachowski said. “And some of the other kids were working harder. She finally buckled down, playing hard again, and I put her back in the lineup.”

Kasser said he used similar tactics to motivate Hatchett in high school. He added that Hatchett, when she was playing her best, was one of the most dominant players he has coached.

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“Marissa and I would butt heads sometimes, when she was younger,” said Kasser, whose team won the Southern Section 3-A title in Hatchett’s senior year. “I wanted her to work harder, and I would get uptight and excited in practice.

“She had so much ability, and her level of play was so much above everyone else, it was hard to push her in practice. “I would tell her, ‘Hey, you just can’t go through the motions.’ She figured that out after her sophomore year, and she played very well as a junior and senior.

“I think when (Banachowski) pulled her out of the starting lineup, it pushed her that much harder. She wanted to show her coach what she could do.”

Since her return, Hatchett has averaged nearly eight blocks a match, and the Bruins have swept their last eight matches to earn a berth in the NCAA final four.

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The Bruins (29-5), the defending national champions, will meet Ohio State (30-3) in the semifinals at 7 tonight at Pauley Pavilion. Louisiana State (35-1) will play Cal State Long Beach (35-1) in the 9 p.m. semifinal. The championship match will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.

Some of Hatchett’s best play this season was during the NCAA West Regional. She was named to the all-regional team as the sixth-ranked Bruins swept top-ranked Stanford in the finals. UCLA’s victory avenged two losses to Stanford earlier this season.

Hatchett had only eight kills in the finals, but her blocking kept Stanford’s Bev Oden and Kristen Klein from killing the Bruins.

“Blocking is what she does best for us,” Banachowski said. “She can penetrate the net very well with her size (6 feet 1) and her long arms. She’s pretty intimidating in there.”

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Hatchett is making her third consecutive trip to the final four. The Bruins were 30-3 and finished third her freshman year. They were 36-1 and national champions last season. They have a 95-9 record since Hatchett joined the team.

Hatchett said the Bruins lacked leadership early in the season. Players were shuffled through the lineup and confused about their roles. Captains Samantha Shaver and Traci Broadway graduated along with starting setter Holly McPeak.

Jennifer Gratteu, a former Marina High player, battled for the starting setter’s job along with Julie Bremner, who played at Notre Dame in 1988 before two seasons with the U.S. national team.

Hatchett struggled with her play. Junior outside hitter Natalie Williams tried to do too much.

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Senior outside hitter Jenny Evans, a former Newport Harbor High standout, injured her shoulder and decided to redshirt. El Toro graduate Elaine Youngs, a junior, sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery, and worked her way back into the lineup.

By mid-November, Banachowski had settled on a lineup--Bremner, Williams, Youngs, Hatchett, Lisa Hudak and freshman Annett Buckner. The Bruins haven’t lost a game since.

“I think we were fine once everyone settled into their roles and positions on the court,” Banachowski said. “Everyone collectively made up their minds that we were tired of losing and people saying we can’t play up to our potential.”

Hatchett said the Bruins can quiet the critics this weekend by repeating as champions.

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“The final four has always been our goal and it feels great to be back,” she said. “It was just such a struggle to get there this year.”


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