The Washington volleyball team began the season in Columbus, Ohio, with games against Ohio and Ohio State. The seasonlong goal for the Huskies has been to get back to Columbus to end the season at the site of the Final Four.
To reach that goal, the No. 15-seeded Huskies (26-4) will have to win at No. 2 Texas on Thursday at 4:30 (PST) in Austin, then beat the winner between No. 10 Nebraska and unseeded Illinois on Saturday.
“We are good enough to do that,” said UW coach Keegan Cook, whose team reached the Final Four last season, losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the semifinals. “There is no need to downplay the challenge of it, but there is no reason that this isn’t one of the few teams that could make something happen in this regional. I don’t know if a lot of teams could do what we are trying to do, but it is within our ability level, and that’s what excites me.”
Washington heads to Texas with a lot of momentum. The Huskies have won 10 straight matches and 19 of their past 20. They opened the NCAA tournament with straight sweeps of Brown and Hawaii last weekend at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“We’ve been playing at a high level here for the last 10 matches or so, and we were able to do it again at home,” Cook said of the past two wins. “We talked about making a really good last impression for our home crowd, and I am definitely glad that we were able to do that.”
Texas lost to Kentucky in last season’s national title game, and its only loss this season was at Baylor, the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“I think (Texas) is one of the best teams in the country, obviously, and they’ve only lost one match,” Cook said. “They are tremendously physical and a really strong serving team, and they do a lot of things well — it is not just any one thing. But I am excited about putting my team in that environment against a great opponent and seeing what comes out of us. We will need to do a number of things well on both sides of the ball — but it’s mostly about being who we are in a really difficult environment.”
Perhaps a good thing for either Washington or Texas is that Kentucky, which beat both of them in the Final Four last season, and was a possible Elite Eight opponent this season, was eliminated by Illinois.
But the Huskies can’t afford to look ahead, not with their biggest challenge of the season coming Thursday.
“You work a long time to get to this moment, and then all of a sudden it is here,” Cook said.
Cook said he measures team success on how much improvement it makes in every area during the season — and on that measure, he said this team has been a success.
“But we’ve got a group that, after going to the Final Four, there is only one goal for them, and that is to be back in Columbus,” Cook said. “So, it has been a successful season but it’s certainly not over with yet.”