We’re still more than a week away from Husky football getting their season underway against Rutgers in New Jersey, and about half a month away from getting to see the purple and gold at Husky Stadium. But Husky fall sports are already underway (soccer), and another national title contender gets underway this weekend at Alaska Airlines Arena with a strong field in a preseason tournament. The third-ranked Washington volleyball team, returning the entire starting rotation from an Elite Eight squad a year ago, hosts a 4-team tournament featuring Creighton, Pittsburgh, and Saint Mary’s. Both Creighton and Pittsburgh made the NCAA tournament last year, and the 9th-ranked Bluejays, like the Huskies, made it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2016.
#3 Washington Huskies
- 29-5 overall, 16-4 in the Pac-12.
- Clinched a share of the conference title in penultimate game hosting #8 UCLA, then made sure it was an outright championship by sweeping rival Washington State on the road.
- Swept through the first 3 rounds of the NCAA tournament without dropping a set, the only team to accomplish that feat, including defeating conference foe Arizona for the 3rd time in a single season.
- 3 of UW’s 5 losses came to Final Four teams: a season-ending sweep by Nebraska in the Elite Eight, and a home-road sweep by eventual national champion Stanford.
- On a slate filled with tough matchups, suffered only one road loss during the entire regular season (at Stanford), picking up strong road wins at Hawaii, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, USC, and Washington State.
- Best game: November 23rd, hosting UCLA. With a share of the Pac-12 title on the line in this top-10 matchup, the Huskies nearly swept the Bruins out of the building. A dramatic comeback late in the second set to tie the match by UCLA was the only threat against Washington, punctuated by a 25-11 first set and 25-15 fourth to close it out.
- Worst game: November 4th, hosting Oregon. Getting swept, at home, by a lower-ranked bitter rival, is bad enough by itself. But the second set, won 25-8 (yes, eight) by the Ducks, was one full of miscommunications and errors, was one of the worst sets I’ve ever seen from a top team.
#9 Creighton Bluejays
- 29-7 overall, including 18-0 in the Big East while dropping just 5 total sets in those 18 wins.
- Won Big East regular season and tournament titles.
- Pulled a pair of upsets over seeded opponents en route to the Elite Eight (at 5th-seeded Kansas and neutral-site win vs. #12 Michigan) before bowing out to national runner-up Texas.
- All 6 regular season losses came in the first 12 games, all to teams that made the NCAA tournament (Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, USC, Kentucky, and Wichita State)
- Won 23 consecutive games from September 23rd to December 10th.
- Best game: December 2nd, at Kansas. Won a 5-set thriller in a hostile environment against the #5 team in the country, getting revenge for a 5-set win by the Jayhawks in Omaha in early September.
- Worst game: September 3rd, neutral-site vs. Kentucky. In of itself, losing to the Wildcats, a 2nd-round NCAA tournament team, is by no means an eyesore. But getting swept, including an ugly 25-13 3rd set loss, was one of the few lowlights for the 2016 Bluejays.
(RV) Pittsburgh Panthers
- 25-9 overall, 15-5 in the ACC
- Won 10 of final 11 ACC games, but the only loss was a dud, getting swept at home by Duke.
- Defeated a pair of Sweet 16 teams at home, both in 5 sets: Michigan & ACC champion North Carolina.
- Reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years.
- Defeated mid-major power Dayton 3-1 in Round of 64, knocked out in 4 sets by 16th-seeded Penn State in the second round.
- Went just 1-4 from October 7th through the 21st, with 3 of the 4 losses coming against teams not making NCAA tournament (at Duke, at Wake Forest, vs Notre Dame).
- Best game: October 30th, hosting North Carolina. Although this match went to five sets, it was fairly conclusive that the better team on that day was the Panthers, as Pitt outscored UNC by 15 total points over the course of the match. This was the only ACC loss for the Tar Heels.
- Worst game: October 9th, at Wake Forest. A 4-set loss against a Demon Deacon squad that would finish with just a 9-22 record and only 5 ACC wins, punctuated by an unsightly 25-11 deciding set in which the Panthers had more errors than kills, hitting negative .062.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
- 11-18, including 6-12 in the WCC.
- Swept back-to-back conference games in mid-to-late October (vs. San Francisco, vs. Santa Clara)
- Swept a solid Belmont team in early September at a neutral site.
- Lost 7 of their final 8 games, the only win coming on Senior Day against Pacific.
- September 22nd, hosting Gonzaga. The Gaels opened WCC play with a bang, picking up a 3-1 victory against a Gonzaga team that went on to finish tied for 3rd in the conference and was in the NCAA at-large conversation for most of the season.
- October 15th, at Pacific. Matched up against the rival Pacific Tigers, a .500 team (in both categories, oddly – 15-15 overall, 9-9 WCC – weird coincidence), Saint Mary’s had a day to forget, getting swept and losing the 3 sets by a combined 26 points.
- Senior Outside Hitter #4 Courtney Schwan, Washington (2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year)
- R-Senior Setter #13 Bailey Tanner, Washington (2016 Pac-12 assists/set leader and 2nd team AA)
- Senior Middle Blocker #11 Marion Hazelwood, Washington (3-time AVCA Honorable Mention All-American while at Oklahoma)
- Junior Outside Hitter #5 Jaali Winters, Creighton (2-time First Team All-Big East)
- Sophomore Libero #2 Brittany Witt, Creighton (2016 AVCA East Region Freshman of the Year)
- Junior Opposite #12 Taryn Kloth, Creighton (2016 Honorable Mention All-American by two different outlets)
- Junior Setter #3 Kamalani Akeo, Pittsburgh (2016 ACC Setter of the Year)
- R-Sophomore Outside Hitter #13 Stephanie Williams, Pittsburgh (2016 MVP of 2 non-conference tournaments and First Team All-ACC)
Schedule for the tournament (all games at Alaska Airlines Arena, listed in Pacific Daylight Time)
Saint Mary’s vs. Creighton, 3 PM
Pittsburgh vs. Washington, 6 PM (available on Pac-12 Networks & Pac-12 Washington)
Creighton vs. Pittsburgh, 10 AM
Saint Mary’s vs. Washington, noon
Pittsburgh vs. Saint Mary’s, 4 PM
Creighton vs. Washington, 7 PM (Pac-12 Net/WA)