Maddie Goings and Kylee McLaughlin knew they had an opportunity to make an impact and wanted to do that right away.
Oregon State volleyball struggled through two previous seasons, with just 18 combined wins to show.
As incoming freshmen, there would be a period of adjustment to competing in the Pac-12 Conference, among the most loaded leagues in NCAA Division I.
But given their backgrounds with experience on one of the top youth club teams in the country, that time frame was short.
Goings, an outside hitter, and McLaughlin, a setter, have played major roles in helping Oregon State reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014. They get to return to their home state as OSU plays North Carolina State in the NCAA first round Friday in Austin, Texas.
The Beavers (21-11) also achieved their first winning conference record in 12 seasons.
“The awe factor coming in here was not as large as it would have been for some other players,” said OSU coach Mark Barnard, the Pac-12’s coach of the year. “I think that helped in their ability to settle in to playing at this level a lot quicker.”
McLaughlin, named the Pac-12’s freshman of the year earlier this week, has been the team’s primary setter since the beginning of the season.
Goings, whom the Beavers found while recruiting McLaughlin, has seen her role expand after OSU lost senior Lanesha Reagan, a major cog in 2016, to a knee injury in early September.
The transition was made easier for Goings and McLaughlin because of their connection.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get in a groove with setters, like new, incoming setters,” Goings said. “But we’ve been playing together, so it wasn’t that hard for us.”
Goings and McLaughlin were familiar with Mary-Kate Marshall, a fellow Texan and current Oregon State senior who previously played in their club, the Dallas-area Texas Advantage Volleyball.
That played a part in them coming to Corvallis.
Barnard said the duo quickly gained confidence as they realized they fit in at the Pac-12 level. He says freshmen are the easiest class to convince that success is possible because they know no different.
“I think it definitely helped that they weren’t here last year,” Marshall said of the Beavers’ 12-19 campaign. “To be able to come straight in and start well and be doing well all season, and to make it to the tournament, you don’t know about our past struggles. You weren’t there when we won six games (in 2015).”
Oregon State was winless in conference play in 2013, the year before Marshall arrived. She was the team’s kills leader in 2014 on her way to a Pac-12 freshman of the year award.
Marshall said this year’s freshmen have attacked their opportunity as she did, with a clean slate for the program.
Along with redshirt freshman and Philomath High alum Haylie Bennett and true freshman Grace Massey, the first-year players have made a significant impact.
They are four of the eight OSU players who have competed in all 32 matches this season.
McLaughlin is the team leader in assists and fourth in digs and blocks; Goings, named to the conference’s all-freshman team along with McLaughlin, is second in kills, third in digs and fourth in service aces; Bennett, an outside hitter, third in kills and third in blocks; and Massey, a defensive specialist, first in digs.
“We wanted to make a difference, and I think they believed in us to help with that,” McLaughlin said of the rest of the team. “So we all believed in ourselves a lot more. That really helped.”
Barnard knew McLaughlin could set, but there was something else that stood out.
“Her on-court demeanor,” the coach said. “She just has gravitas. She’s a serious competitor. I think that was real evident early on.”
Barnard said Goings’ growth happened a little later in the season as she got more comfortable with her role.
“That position in the Pac-12 is tough, at outside hitter,” he said. “It took her a little longer to get into that spot, but in the last third of the season I’d say she’s played particularly well.”
With strong freshmen contributions, a program foundation has been set. Should everyone not graduating stay, the Beavers will have 13 returners next fall.
“Expectation from here on out is NCAA tournament,” said Marshall, a two-time first team all-conference player. “There’s no telling where they’re going to end up.”
But first there’s a season to finish.
Marshall, Goings and McLaughlin will be playing just a few hours from home in Austin, roughly 200 miles from Dallas.
The release of the NCAA bracket last Sunday was a pleasant surprise for them.
Marshall was high school teammates with N.C. State junior setter Kylie Pickrell. They won two state championships together at Coppell High. Marshall was also high school teammates with two players at Texas, the Beavers’ likely opponent in the second round Sunday should they get past the Wolfpack.
“Seeing Austin up there and seeing us play N.C. State there, it was awesome to be able to have my family come up and watch our games,” Marshall said. “We might pack Gregory Gym. It will be fun to play in front of family and friends again.”