The Huskies are ending this strange volleyball season in the same spot they have ended the past 18 seasons: at the NCAA tournament.
Having not played a match since April 3, when they clinched the Pac-12 title with a sweep of California, they are eager to get started in the 48-team tournament (down from the usual 64 teams) that will be played in Omaha, Nebraska.
Washington (17-3) is the No. 6 overall seed and received one of 16 first-round byes. The Huskies, who have the fifth-longest streak of NCAA tournament appearances, open play in the second round Thursday against Dayton (14-1), which defeated Towson 3-0 in an opening-round match Wednesday.
The Huskies will play at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday, and the match is being livestreamed on ESPN3.
Washington began the season, which started several months late because of COVID-19, by losing 3-0 at home to Arizona State on Jan. 22. Unlike other seasons, there were no nonconference matches to ease into things.
“There was some major growth in certain people,” UW coach Keegan Cook said. “Maybe it wasn’t there those first couple of weeks, but the picture became pretty clear right away that we were going to be in the hunt (for a Pac-12 title),” Cook said.
Having won the conference, Cook said it was a “challenge getting going again, the middle of last week.”
“Our first couple of practices I didn’t think we were very sharp, but by the end of the week and over the weekend we were able to push through and have a bunch of good practices where everyone stayed healthy,” he said.
Cook, who said the Huskies are good enough to win the NCAA title, has taken the team to the Elite Eight three times.
The Huskies lost to top overall seed Baylor in the Elite Eight in the last NCAA tournament in 2019. Their most recent Final Four appearance was in 2013.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say (reaching the Final Four) is a major goal,” Cook said. “I certainly feel a responsibility to get the players and the program back into that final weekend of play. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to not look too far ahead.”
Cougs get Hilltoppers
Washington State will open the tournament on Thursday against Western Kentucky, which beat Jackson State 25-12, 25-16, 25-12 Wednesday in the opening round.
WSU will play at 7:30 p.m. and it will be streamed online at ESPN3.