There are few guarantees in sports, but Washington making it to the NCAA volleyball tournament and winning in the opening round is as close as it gets.
The Huskies are in the tournament for the 18th straight year, and they have won in the first round the previous 17 times.
That it has become so routine that it hardly qualifies as news should not diminish the accomplishment. And you could argue that it has happened because the players and coaches don’t take it for granted.
Winthrop (24-4), the Big South Conference champion and the Huskies’ first-round opponent Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena, certainly has UW’s attention. Their 7:30 p.m. game will be preceded by a 5 p.m. match pitting Colorado State (29-1) and South Carolina (19-11). The two winners Friday will meet Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the Sweet 16.
“The standards are really high here,” said Keegan Cook, in his fifth season as UW’s coach and seventh in the program, noting both the history of UW volleyball and also the success of other Husky sports.
The Huskies are the No. 8 overall seed in the tournament, having finished 24-6 and second in the Pac-12. They have a win over Stanford, the No. 3 overall seed, and a pair of wins over Wisconsin, the No. 4 overall seed.
“It’s nice to know you have that in you,” Cook said. “It’s better than feeling like you are at a ceiling where you can’t compete at the highest level. Because you can’t fake that. You can’t try and talk your kids into the fact that they can play at the highest level. They have to do that, they have to have evidence to support that and they’ve done those things.”
Cook’s staff has been studying the three other teams in their mini-bracket, and he said it should be “just two great rounds to start the tournament.”
The Huskies are the favorites to move on, unlike last year when they finished 10-10 in the Pac-12 with just one senior and were sent to Creighton for the opening rounds. UW won twice on the road before falling in the Sweet 16. Getting that far was a great accomplishment for that team, but the hopes are much higher this year for a team that has been much better all season.
“This group has played at a higher level from the start of the season to the end of it,” Cook said. “And they have had every experience you can have, from some really amazing ones to some really disappointing ones. I have confidence that there is nothing we haven’t seen.”