UW faces Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday night at Alaska Airlines Arena, but the tougher challenge will come Saturday, when the Huskies take on one of college volleyball's most consistently successful programs.
It doesn’t matter what kind of talent the UW women’s volleyball team loses to graduation each year. Somehow, some way, for the last 15 years or so, the Huskies have always found a way to restock.
This season, second-year coach Keegan Cook faced the prospect of replacing six seniors with five freshmen.
The result was the same as last year: 8th-seeded UW once again finds itself in the NCAA tournament, this time for the 15th year in a row.
The Huskies clinched their third Pac-12 title in four years last week, and will now play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-7, 16-0 Southland) on Friday night at Alaska Airlines Arena, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
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If they win on Friday, the Huskies will advance to Saturday night’s second round match to face the winner of Friday’s first match between Kentucky (22-7, 15-3 SEC) and Colorado State (21-8, 15-3 Mountain West).
UW (26-4, 16-4 Pac-12) is hoping to get through these opening two rounds and advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row.
But tournament time is all about balancing the importance of not overlooking Round 1 with preparing to face an unknown opponent in Round 2.
Cook said his coaching staff has kicked into overdrive this week, scouting three opponents to ensure they’re prepared for every eventuality.
“You’re doing three (scouts) at once, and the tough thing of course is that one of those binders goes in the trash,” Cook said. “We’ve got an incredible little pod here. Colorado State has been in the tournament 22 years in a row, and Kentucky is an elite team. No matter who advances out of that game, we’re going to get stretched for sure.”
For now, the Huskies have their sights set on knocking off Texas A&M Corpus Christi, a program UW has faced only once, when they beat the Islanders 3-0 in Denton, Texas in 2002.
UW is the favorite on paper in the first round, but all week, Cook has preached that the Huskies can’t afford to let complacency sink in. Tournament play is a new phase of the season and anything can happen.
“There’s three freshmen who start for us and had a little trial by fire. This will be new for them,” Cook said, referring to libero Shayne McPherson, middle blocker Kara Bajema and middle blocker Avie Niece. “This will be new for them. I told them, ‘You’re never ready for how you’re gonna feel that day, in that environment. Nothing will prepare you for that environment.”
Cook’s overarching message to the team was this: “There’s no more second chances at this point. Make sure you do everything with urgency.”