The Washington volleyball team faces a challenging road to reach the Final Four for a second consecutive season, but judging from Saturday night’s impressive sweep of Big West champion Hawaii, the Huskies look well-equipped for the task.

The 15th-seeded Huskies used a dazzling combination of seemingly impenetrable blocks, hard-to-handle serves and a ferocious night of blistering attacks by fourth-year outside hitter Claire Hoffman as UW rolled over the Rainbow Wahine 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 in front of 3,322 at Alaska Airlines Arena.

With the win, the Huskies (26-4) advance to their ninth Sweet 16 in the past 10 seasons and their 16th round of 16 in program history. They move on to face No. 2 Texas (26-1) next week in Austin, Texas, in what most observers agree is the most talent-loaded regional in the tournament.

Beyond the imposing Big 12 champion, the field includes No. 10 Nebraska (five-time national champion, second-place finisher in the tough Big Ten, longtime UW postseason nemesis). The defending national champion, SEC champ Kentucky, was also in the regional, but the No. 7 Wildcats lost 3-1 on Saturday to unseeded Illinois, a team UW defeated on the road in September.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said All-American setter Ella May Powell, who dished 34 assists Saturday and led the team with 11 digs. “Likewise,” said Hoffman, who finished with 20 kills. Added Powell, “Competing against a team like that will give us the right fire to go into Columbus (Ohio, the site of this year’s Final Four.)”

Coach Keegan Cook, who will lead a UW squad into the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in his seven seasons, was initially less than delighted when he saw Washington’s bracket assignment.

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“There’s always the first reaction, and your first reaction is never your best reaction,” Cook said with a laugh.

“The place I got to eventually was, what an opportunity to play some incredible volleyball — potentially two Final Four weekends in a row. I worried about how would we top last year’s journey (when UW dug out of an 0-2 regional final hole to advance to the Final Four), and now I don’t worry about that any more. It’s a chance to make some special memories with a group that means a lot to me.”

Against Hawaii (22-8), the Huskies were strong in every phase, using a variety of tough serves routinely keeping the Rainbow Wahine out of system. On defense, UW outblocked Hawaii 8-4 for the match, highlighted in the second set by a eye-popping sequence when four points in a UW five-point run were punctuated by blocks.

Hoffman, meanwhile, was a nonstop force, finishing with a .436 hitting percentage. Through the first two sets she had just one error and 14 kills on 25 swings.

Samantha Drechsel added 11 kills (and hit .417, with just one error on 24 attacks). Marin Grote finished with one solo block and five block assists. 

Washington hit .387 for the match (to Hawaii’s .134) and recorded 10 aces, four served up by Shannon Crenshaw. Hoffman and Drechsel had a pair each. Freshman libero Lauren Bays, who sent Hawaii chasing after her crazy mix of serves, had 10 digs.

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“Whoever wins serve and pass is going to win the game,” Hawaii coach Robyn Ah Mow said, “and we definitely did not win that tonight.”

Powell says it was a good way for UW to finish its last game on its home court. “We all knew this was our last impression for this year, in this gym,” she said. “I think we have the right energy going into each game now, and it’s fun to see what we can do.”

Notes

  • Three fifth-year seniors, middle Lauren Sanders, libero Emma Calle and Drechsel, took part in their 118th career win for UW, topping the previous career mark (117) set by seniors who played 2012-15.
  • UW and 13th-seeded UCLA are the lone Pac-12 teams (out of six) to reach the Sweet 16. UCLA needed five sets to eliminate UCF at home. Stanford was swept Saturday by No. 12 Minnesota; Utah lost 3-1 to No. 11 BYU. Washington State lost Friday; Oregon was defeated in the first round by tournament surprise Kansas (18-11), which reached the Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 14 Creighton.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Hawaii is the Big West champion, not the Big Sky champion.