next: #8 Hawai’i @ #5 Washington | December 1 | 7PM
by Terry Wood, Special to the Seattle Times
The Washington volleyball team knocked off Central Arkansas, a newcomer to NCAA tournament play, 3-0 Friday night in a first-round match before 3,588 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
|Washington's Cassie Strickland attacks against|
Central Arkansas' Taylor Hammonds (12) and
Jessica Nagy (7)
-Seattle Times photo by Mark Harrison
To keep advancing, the 13th-seeded Huskies next must get past Hawaii, a college volleyball titan making its 31st tournament appearance.
Washington (24-6, ranked fifth in the most recent coaches' poll) and Hawaii (27-2, ranked eighth) face off at 7 p.m. Saturday.
UW coach Jim McLaughlin knows it's never supposed to be easy, but concedes that Washington's second-round assignment is especially challenging.
"Hawaii should be hosting," McLaughlin said, acknowledging that hosting first- and second-round matches is a postseason perk awarded to the tournament's 16 seeded teams.
The cost-conscious NCAA prefers not to send three teams to Honolulu, so Hawaii, which blitzed Santa Clara in Friday's early match 25-20, 25-13, 25-19, is playing opening-weekend matches in Seattle for the second time in three years.
Saturday's outcome, McLaughlin said, will come down to UW staying true to its customary process.
"It's all about how we do things," he said, "and I like the way we're playing right now. I'm excited to see how they're going to play on a little bit bigger stage. I think these guys want that."
Against Central Arkansas, in its seventh season with a Division I volleyball program, the Huskies fell behind 3-0 in the first set but rebounded soon after by using their height and defense to overpower the Sugar Bears 25-13, 25-17, 25-18.
UW, the nation's No. 1 blocking team, outblocked Central Arkansas 13-2 (senior Amanda Gil had nine block assists), and the Sugar Bears contributed to their own downfall by hitting just .032, committing 29 attack errors (plus nine service errors) against just seven hitting errors for Washington.
"Self-inflicted," UCA coach David McFatrich said of his team's misfires.
The Huskies hit .347 for the match, with senior Kylin Muñoz and freshman Cassie Strickland each posting seven kills.
Sophomore Krista Vansant, UW's kills leader, made her first appearance since badly spraining her ankle two weeks ago. She played just the first two sets and had two kills on nine swings plus three digs and an ace.
"She's not firing at 100 percent," McLaughlin said. "But she's gotten better every day. We wanted to get her a little bit of time (on court), and the team knew they would have to carry some of the slack until she gets her bearings back. She should be better tomorrow."
McLaughlin said he's satisfied with the level of sharpness his team is displaying at tournament time.
"It's there, but the tournament is different," he said. "I know everyone says you've got to treat it like another game, but I don't believe that.
"I think it's a different game. You have to keep the routines the same, then the bigger the game the bigger the distractions, so these guys have to learn to have a tighter focus on what they're doing, and you have to control your emotions a little bit better. These guys have been (through) some good stuff and some not so good stuff. For sure it strengthened us."