This was supposed to be the year.
Coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and losing just one player, a little-used grad transfer, it seemed that the Huskies best chance at a national title for a few years was in 2017.
High hopes and a #3 preseason ranking coming into the year had been interrupted this year by injuries and fifth-set struggles multiple times, but the team had bounced back well each time.
But one big push starting midway through set 4 by Illinois ended it, as the Huskies finished their season 3-5 in 5-set matches, the most they've played in a single season in a long time.
While there is no official announcement of such, Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter was clearly the MVP of this region. She had a very good game against Hawaii in round one just to help Illinois get this far, and topped it with an even better one on Saturday.
The Huskies finish their season with a record of 25-8, 14-6 Pac-12. This is the earliest the Huskies have been eliminated since 2011 in round 2 at Minnesota.
Illinois (23-10, 12-8 Big Ten) advances to play another Big Ten team coming off of an upset win, as Michigan State won 3-1 at #9 Creighton to set up a matchup of unseeded teams in the Sweet 16.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Washington's large 7-member senior class exits, including 4 multi-year starters: Bailey Tanner, Tia Scambray, Crissy Jones, and Courtney Schwan have all been a significant part of the rotation for at least three years. Carly DeHoog exits as well, having finally gotten past numerous injuries and becoming a first-team All-Pac-12 member in her senior season. Backup setter Jade Finau, who played some important matches this year when Tanner was hurt, along with Oklahoma transfer MB Marion Hazelwood, a 3-time honorable mention All-American while at OU, round out the seniors.
A highly-touted recruiting class enters for the Huskies. All five signees are in the top 87 of PrepVolleyball.com's Senior Aces, and has been ranked the number 2 or 3 recruiting class in the country:
MB Marin Grote: Burbank, CA
S Ella May Powell: Fayetteville, AR
RS Dani Cole: Leander, TX
OH Shannon Crenshaw: Orlando, FL
OH Claire Hoffman: Eugene, OR
During the final timeout called by Washington in set 5, Illinois spent a little extra time in their full team huddle, while UW finished a bit early but then met as just the 6 players on the court. I asked who spoke, and what was said.
Crissy Jones put it well: "The one thing we regretted about losing to Nebraska last year was going out as separates. I got the group together and said: 'Let's do it right this time. Whether we win or lose, let's go out together. Let's fight for each other and remember how much this means to us.' "