The Huskies, the Pac-12 co-champions and possibly the nation’s new No. 1 team, would advance to Lexington, Ky., regional with two wins.
The Washington volleyball team, which on Monday might become the No. 1 team in the country, on Sunday was seeded No. 5 in the upcoming NCAA tournament and will open postseason play on its home court Friday against the University of Denver.
The Huskies, 28-2, co-Pac-12 champion and the No. 2 team in last week’s coaches poll, will face Summit League champion Denver (27-7) in a first-round match Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena, where UW led the Pac-12 in attendance for the seventh straight year.
The UW-Denver match will begin approximately at 7:30 p.m. following a 5 p.m. opener between Michigan State (18-13) and Arkansas State (28-1). The Spartans tied for seventh in the Big Ten this season. Arkansas State is the champion of the Sun Belt Conference. Friday’s two winners will meet Saturday night for the right to advance to the Lexington, Ky., regional and the round of 16.
USC (30-2), which began the final week of regular-season play ranked No. 1, lost last week to UCLA yet still earned the tournament’s top seeding. Big Ten champion Minnesota (26-4) is No. 2, Big 12 champ Texas (25-2) is No. 3 and long-time UW nemesis Nebraska (26-4), the Big Ten’s second-place team, is No. 4.
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Should the seedings play out, Washington and Nebraska would meet in the Lexington regional final for the right to advance to the Final Four, slated for Omaha, Neb. The two schools have wrangled in some memorable postseason battles. UW defeated the Cornhuskers in the 2005 championship match for its only national title.
“If Washington and Nebraska are playing, it must be December,” quipped UW first-year coach Keegan Cook.
Washington players gathered in the team’s film room in Alaska Airlines Arena to watch the televised selection show, and news of their seeding drew a mixed response.
“There was kind of a begrudging cheer,” Cook said. “There was kind of a smirk, if you will, a few smiles, some laughs. Then they looked around the room and said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”
The Huskies likely drew a modest seed based on their RPI position, which was No. 6 last week. UW played no marquee opponents during its nonconference schedule, but split its regular-season matches with USC. Washington has won 11 straight since dropping a 3-2 heartbreaker at Stanford on Oct. 21, losing just three sets during that stretch.
Other seeded teams in UW’s regional draw are No. 12 Ohio State (23-9, sixth in the Big Ten) and No. 13 BYU (26-3, ranked 11th in the coaches poll).
“The road ahead of us is tough,” Cook said. “The potential matchups down the road are exciting. There are some great story lines that you can find.
“This team has had to face adversity all year,” Cook said, recalling injuries that have caused him to shuffle his lineup on occasion. “The players are proud of what they accomplished, and they believe that they can win this thing.”
So does Cook. “Every coach is biased,” he said. “I think I’m coaching the best team in the country. But what they’ve done this season is, to me, is nothing short of remarkable.”