Washington will face Central Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament on Friday. If the Huskies win, they'll play Saturday against the winner of Friday's first match, Hawaii vs. Santa Clara.
Some story lines to follow as the Washington volleyball team opens NCAA tournament play (its 11th straight postseason appearance) Friday in a four-team doubleheader at Alaska Airlines Arena:
The Huskies (23-6, the No. 13 tournament seed) have never lost a first-round match in 10 tries under coach Jim McLaughlin.
Hawaii (26-2) and Santa Clara (20-11) meet in the 5 p.m. opener. UW faces tournament first-timer Central Arkansas (30-4), the Southland Conference champ, at about 7.
The Sugar Bears (honest) feature an outside hitter, Jessica Hays, whose kills per set average (4.31) outpaces UW kills leader Krista Vansant (4.11). Vansant, though, put up her totals largely against Pac-12 opponents. The Pac-12 has seven teams in the tournament; Central Arkansas is the lone Southland rep.
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Opponents matter less to McLaughlin than his team’s ability to focus and repeat good habits he’s cultivated since practice began in early August.
“We just need to stay in our process,” he said.
Winning second-round matches is no guarantee. Washington has failed to advance to the regional round three times in the past five seasons, once losing at home (to BYU, 2007). The Huskies lost in five sets last year at Minnesota.
Washington, though, has won the past two second-round matches it has played on its home court: vs. Hawaii in 2010 and Santa Clara in 2008.
Hawaii, meanwhile, is a formidable foe. The Rainbow Wahine is ranked eighth in the most recent coaches poll. UW is No. 5. Hawaii’s big gun is Emily Hartong (4.57 kills per set, No. 11 nationally; Vansant ranks 49th). McLaughlin says he never lets himself look ahead.
“We have to get past Central Arkansas first,” he said.
Vansant should play. After suffering a moderate ankle sprain vs. Oregon on Nov. 16 and missing UW’s past three matches, the Pac-12 first-team sophomore is expected to return.
• All matches will be shown live on UWTV (Comcast channel 27). Preview shows start at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. for Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup of Friday’s winners.
UW volleyball: The McLaughlin years
Year/Overall/Pac-12 (place)/NCAA tournament: seed, finish (teams remaining)
2012/23-6/14-6 (tie-4th)/13, TBD
2011/24-8/15-7 (tie-4th)/None, second round (32)
2010/24-9/10-8 (5th)/None, regional final (8)
2009/24-6/13-5 (tie-2nd)/6, second round (32)
2008/27-5/15-3 (2nd)/5, regional final (8)
2007/27-4/15-3 (2nd)/6, second round (32)
2006/29-5/15-3 (tie-2nd)/6, national semifinal (4)
2005/32-1/16-1 (1st)/3, national champion (1)
2004/28-3/16-2 (1st)/7, national semifinal (4)
2003/23-9/10-8 (tie-5th)/12, regional final (8)
2002/20-11/9-9 (tie-5th)/None, second round (32)
2001/11-16/4-14 (8th)/Did not qualify