What a Saturday afternoon for UW volleyball fifth-year seniors Emma Calle, Samantha Drechsel and Lauren Sanders.
It was Senior Day at Alaska Airlines Arena, and they were honored before the match against No. 21 Washington State, their final regular season home match.
A couple of hours later, they were celebrating on the court wearing Pac-12 championship T-shirts, the band playing “Celebration” and a crowd of 4,079 cheering wildly.
That’s because with a 22-18, 18-25, 25-18, 25-16 win over the rival Cougars, the No. 12 Huskies (24-4, 17-3 Pac-12) won the Pac-12 title, a game ahead of UCLA.
“We certainly wanted that one for those guys,” UW coach Keegan Cook said of the three seniors who were honored. “We’ve had chances in the past to play this game on Senior Day, and it hasn’t gone well. For a moment, it got a little dodgy there (after the second set), but I had a lot of confidence that our group would respond in the third and fourth sets and, man, did they ever. I am just really thrilled for our kids.”
It was the last regular-season home game for the Huskies, but if they are one of 16 seeds when the NCAA tournament field is selected Sunday afternoon, UW would host the first two rounds.
The Huskies, who reached the Final Four last season, enter the NCAA tournament having won eight straight matches and 17 of their past 18 after starting Pac-12 play 0-2.
“Since (those two losses), we have gritted out a lot of wins, and we’ve been playing at a really high level,” Cook said. “That’s the most important thing. We want to be playing our best in December, and we’re pretty close to that.”
Cook said he believes UW, which was No. 18 in the most recent power rankings, will be seeded somewhere from No. 12 to No. 16.
“I think we’re deserving of more than that, but RPI is a difficult system to work sometimes,” Cook said. “But we don’t really care, let’s be honest. We get to play in front of our fans again (assuming a top 16 seed), and we are excited.”
Drechsel had 17 kills and eight blocks to lead the Huskies. Claire Hoffman added 14 kills and Marin Grote had 12 kills, a .632 hitting percentage and five blocks. Sanders had a team-high eight blocks.
Katy Ryan had 15 kills for Washington State (19-11, 13-17).
The Cougars, No. 33 in the RPI, are hoping to receive an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies know they are in, having earned an automatic bid as conference champions with the win Saturday.
“It was a moment they didn’t have last year,” Cook said of winning the Pac-12 title in front of fans after playing in empty arenas last season because of COVID-19. “It meant a lot, honestly. These kids work hard for their university and their community, and they want to share their craft with the fans. … It was the environment they deserved playing for a Pac-12 championship.”