In a most unusual volleyball season, Washington State’s Jen Greeny appreciates coaching a team capable of handling COVID-19-related twists and turns.
“The toughest part was the stopping and starting,” Greeny said. “The group as a whole, the returners and the people kind of carrying over that experience from last year, we were definitely more consistent overall. Offensively our numbers are the best they’ve been since I’ve been coaching here (2011).”
The Cougars overcame a delayed start to the season, a limited number of full-squad practices before their first match and several schedule revisions to finish 11-4, fourth in the Pac-12.
That’s the program’s second-best winning percentage in conference — trailing only a 14-4 record in the 1996 Elite Eight season when Greeny was a sophomore outside hitter — since the early 1980s.
“That’s fantastic,” Greeny said. “It was a strange year not being able to play everyone (in conference) and then us being in COVID protocol issues. To still come out with that record, still battling for a Pac-12 title, that’s a pretty good accomplishment for this team.”
The reward is WSU’s fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth. The 15th-seeded Cougars have a first-round bye before Thursday’s match against the winner of Jackson State/Western Kentucky.
The 48-team tournament — trimmed for the customary 64 — will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, at CHI Health Center Arena and Convention Center.
“It’s a semi bubble,” Greeny said. “They learned a little bit from the women’s basketball tournament that it was pretty miserable to be locked in a hotel room. We’re in a great location right across the street from Convention Center. We’re able to walk and get a coffee and see the light of day, but still be pretty bubbled in the hotel.”
The Cougars, who were scheduled to arrive Monday, will take COVID-19 tests regularly following extensive testing leading up to their departure.
“The coaches are real tired of all this,” Greeny said. “But what these student-athletes have gone through, getting up early to be tested, waiting for results, being in quarantine, stopping and starting, it’s amazing the outlook they still have. They’re still really positive.”
The Cougars are young — 15 of 17 on the roster are freshmen and sophomores — but don’t mistake that for inexperience. WSU had a program-record three first-team All-Pac-12 selections in sophomores Hannah Pukis, Pia Timmer and Magda Jehlářová. Julianna Dalton made the All-Freshman team.
“Anytime you can get three on the first team in this conference it’s really special and a tribute to the entire team,” Greeny said.
Penny Tusa, the team’s lone senior, plans to return next season, taking advantage of an NCAA ruling that allows winter sports athletes an additional year of eligibility.
“Throughout the season we were really feeling confident,” Greeny said. “It’s just been hard the last few weeks getting people back (from protocols). If we can get back to the level we were playing at, I think we can make a run.”