Including today, there are three Mondays left before the start of the NCAA Women’s Division I Volleyball season. To countdown the season, VolleyMob has begun a new series as we inch closer to late August. Each of the final eight weeks, we countdown the top eight teams in our latest preseason top 25 poll and explain why their fans should have high hopes for their national title chances. So, with three weeks left we look to the team ranked third in our poll: the Washington Huskies.
Bit-Too-Early Top 25:
- 8. Creighton (eight weeks left)
- 7. Nebraska (seven weeks left)
- 6. Minnesota (six weeks left)
- 5. Kansas (five weeks left)
- 4. Penn State (four weeks left)
- 3. Washington (three weeks left)
Although it was Stanford bringing home the National Championship in 2016, the Washington Huskies were the team who finished in front of them in the Pac-12. They collected a 29-5 season as the Pac-12 champions and finished seventh in the final AVCA Poll after they fell in the Elite Eight. It would be ludicrous to call last year a rebuilding year, but based on the roster construction, 2017 is the circled year as they return 12 players and all six starters plus the libero from last year’s team. Their prior success combined with their returning roster is exactly why Washington should have National Championship aspirations this fall and winter.
Not only is Washington loaded with all their starters returning, but they own a litany of star players as well. None stand above 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year and AVCA First-Team All-American Courtney Schwan. She racked up 438 kills, 322 digs and 48 blocks as she looks for an encore performance as a senior. Beyond Schwan, Washington has two other returning All-Americans in outside hitter Crissy Jones and setter Bailey Tanner, who were both on the AVCA Second-Team. With that type of star-power, Washington has the stalwarts to carry the Huskies to the National Championship in 2017.
Beyond the stars, Washington has plenty to round out its roster, both from a front-end and depth perspective. They bring back Kara Bajema, a rising sophomore who was All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2016 in addition to libero Shayne McPherson and two other starters in Tia Scambray, who was second on the team in points, and Avie Niece who started 23 matches as a freshman.
The players that Washington added only increase their depth and talent as they own one of the nation’s most complete rosters in 2017. The Huskies added three freshmen, with 2017 Under Armour First-Team All-American Lauren Sanders at the forefront. The most immediate impact newcomer though should be middle blocker Marion Hazelwood, who transfers in for her senior season from Oklahoma. She was a part of the AVCA All-America Honorable Mention listing all three seasons in Norman, and adds yet another skillful option to a team filled with enough to contend for the National Title.
The schedule won’t be easy, but it is one that sets up to give Washington a great chance at a top-four seeding in the NCAA Tournament. They also get the chance to once again prove they can beat the best with Stanford in their own conference. If they can win the Pac-12 again, they’ll have a great opportunity for a top-four seed which would allow them to host the Regional semifinal and final. Regardless if that happens or not, they will be battle tested and will be in a good spot to make a run come December.
One question will be can they get through Nebraska if they see them in the NCAA Tournament. Not only did they fall to Nebraska in the Elite Eight in 2016, but they same occurred in 2015. They were bounced in the Sweet 16 by the Cornhuskers in 2014 and 2012 as well. However, if that were the pairing at some point in along Washington’s path, this team would have a great chance of overcoming Nebraska, which has been their biggest hurdle of late in getting to the Final Four and National Championship.
Washington has the roster that can match up with anyone in the country. It’s deep, it’s talented and there is experience littered throughout the team. They won’t have the hype of Texas or Stanford heading into the season, but if they meet up with any team in the country they have everything they need to win their first National Championship since 2005.