UW’s volleyball group eyeing lofty targets in 2022. Will the Huskies break by way of for a nationwide title?

For the University of Washington volleyball seniors, this season is championship or bust. 

Eight years into Keegan Cook’s head teaching profession, expectations at UW are as excessive as ever. With all however three members of final 12 months’s Sweet 16 squad returning, together with a trio of All-American fifth-year seniors, the Huskies are anticipated to go far. 

The Huskies have gained 4 Pac-12 titles underneath Cook, have made 4 consecutive Sweet 16’s, certified 4 instances for the Elite Eight and made a visit to the Final Four again in April 2021. 

But even with all of that latest success, a nationwide title is the shiny prize that the Huskies haven’t but grabbed ahold of. For the seniors, 2022 is their final probability. 

“I think it’s safe to say that everyone here is very much planning on having a chance to play in the national championship and win the national championship,” fifth-year senior Claire Hoffman stated. “I think that’s a very clear goal of this team every year.”

Last 12 months, the group’s title pursuits have been minimize down by Texas within the Sweet 16. The Huskies took a 2-0 lead in that match, however wound up shedding 3-2 because the Longhorns swept the ultimate three units. 

After that disappointing early end, the Huskies are desirous to show to themselves that they’ve the power to go all the way in which. 

“We really needed to deliver that last knockout punch in that match,” Cook stated. “If we get fortunate to get to that moment again, are we a different team who can be the kind of team who walks into somebody’s gym in the regional round and takes them out to go to the Final Four? Because that’s likely what you are going to have to do, and what do we have to look like to be that team?”

 Washington is at the moment ranked No. 13 within the AVCA coaches ballot, and is the runaway favourite to win its third consecutive Pac-12 title, which might be a program report.

Those outdoors expectations although, should not one thing that Cook or his gamers appear to care about. 

“We don’t really have expectations, but we have aspirations,” Cook stated. “And our aspirations are always greater than the expectations of others. We talk about having a December mindset, and all of this is building towards December.”

UW is returning nearly all of the 2021 squad this season, together with their All-American cohort of Hoffman, setter Ella May Powell and middle blocker Marin Grote. Fellow senior Shannon Crenshaw can be again, together with junior Dani Cole and Sianna Houghton, sophomores Sophie Summers, Emoni Bush, Lauren Bays, Lauren Endsley, and Olivia Mikkelsen. Redshirt freshmen Audra Wilmes, Maeve Griffin, and Molly Wilson additionally return.

Only two new gamers joined this system, freshman libero Kate Morin of Phoenix, Ariz., and native product Elise Hani, from Lake Washington High School. 

That form of continuity provides the returning gamers a consolation issue that groups with a number of new gamers don’t possess. This 12 months, the “getting to know you” stretch at the start of the 12 months wasn’t fairly so long as in years previous, and the group’s gameplay rhythm ought to be clean from the get-go. 

“It’s great,” Hoffman stated. “It’s a lot of not having to kind of get through those first couple of awkward weeks or even months trying to figure out, OK, how do we all work together?”

This 12 months, the group obtained began on its bonding early, with an abroad journey to Italy, Slovenia, and the south of France. While there, the Huskies performed towards some big-time competitors in a couple of of the extra fascinating locations they’ve ever been. 

Cook recollects a five-set victory towards one of many Italian nationwide groups in a sizzling health club within the “middle of nowhere,” together with a memorable group boat trip throughout Lake Como in northern Italy. It was a visit that introduced the squad nearer collectively, and admittedly made them grateful for the sorts of services they’re used to again within the states. 

“I think it definitely taught us how to adapt on the spot,” Hoffman stated. “ I mean, we really didn’t know for the most part what we were getting ourselves into. There were some tiny gyms and some pretty hot gyms that are really brutal, really warm games that we just had to kind of figure out on the spot.”

Much of the group’s work within the early a part of the season has come on protection, which Cook says goes to be an important piece of the puzzle ought to the Huskies advance deep into the postseason. 

One phrase that Cook makes use of incessantly when describing this 12 months’s squad is “gritty,” and it’s a phrase that Cook thinks suits his protection properly.

“The defense is starting to have more of a presence, and that is going to be a focus throughout the season, because you’ve got to be able to slow people down,” Cook stated. “You’re going to face some incredible offense late in December, and you have to be able to slow them down a bit. That is where a lot of our focus has been.”

The Huskies start their residence schedule on Sept. 8 towards Northwestern, and Pac-12 play begins on Sept. 21 towards Washington State. 

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