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VB earns 6-seed, dominates regional awards

6th-seeded Washington opens vs Dayton on Thursday

Junior setter Ella May Powell (7) has added Pac-12 Setter of the Year and AVCA Pacific North Player of the Year to her award cabinet in the past two weeks.
Red Box Pictures via UW Athletics

Washington (17-3 Pac-12) was awarded the #6 overall seed in the upcoming NCAA Volleyball Tournament. Their first match will be at 12:30pm PDT on Thu, April 15 on ESPN3 against Dayton (14-1, 8-1 A-10), who made quick work of Towson (6-1, 2-0 CAA) in their opening-round meeting. All matches will be available through ESPN platforms — you can watch UW vs Dayton here.

In a normal year, 64 teams make the volleyball tournament, but as with all other fall sports moved to winter/spring due to COVID, the field has been reduced by 25 percent, so it’s just a 48-team bracket. The tournament starts on Wed, April 14, but the top 16 seeds receive byes into the second round on Thu, April 15. You can view the full bracket here

My take on it? The seed’s at the low end of what I thought was a reasonable range — 4/5/6 all seemed reasonable — but the matchups they received were about what I expected. Their potential seeded opponent in a regional semifinal is #11 Louisville, who is okay for an 11-seed but certainly could have met up even if UW had received a slightly higher seed in a 5/12 or 4/13 meeting instead. The highest seed in their region is #3 Minnesota, who I thought was their likely opponent in a 4/5 matchup.

Postseason Awards

The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) announced their All-Region teams on Tuesday, and Washington had by far their best representation ever. The Huskies swept the three major awards in the Pacific North region: junior setter Ella May Powell was named the Player of the Year, outside hitter Madi Endsley was the Freshman of the Year and Keegan Cook earned Coach of the Year.

  • Powell’s POTY gives UW back-to-back regional POTYs after Kara Bajema won it in 2019.
  • Endsley is the first FOTY for UW since Krista Vansant in 2011.
  • Second career COTY honor for Cook, who also won it in his first season at the helm of the Huskies in 2015.

Besides Powell, four more Huskies made First Team All-Region, which is a requirement to be eligible for All-American status, which will be announced in a week or two. Seniors RS Samantha Drechsel and MB Lauren Sanders each made first team for the first time after being named Honorable Mention in 2019. Juniors MB Marin Grote and OH Claire Hoffman earned their first recognition. Endsley was one of three players that also received votes and therefore made a very short Honorable Mention list. Having six total players recognized is the best total in program history.

It’s exciting...but not quite as exciting as it sounds. The Pacific North region includes every team in Washington/Oregon/Idaho/Montana/Wyoming, a handful of teams in Utah and Colorado (but notably not Utah/Colorado/BYU), California North of the LA metro area, and for some reason, Hawaii (North? Really?). Even in a normal year, the Pacific North has some great talent at the top but probably the least depth of any region, but multiple things contributed to the region having a bigger drop-off than any other:

  • The Big West is one of two conferences that opted out of playing fall sports in 2020-21 (also Ivy League), which removes multiple capable teams from getting awards: Hawaii is usually among the top four or so teams in the region, Cal Poly often is tourney-caliber, and sometimes another pops in — UCSB was solid in 2019.
  • By far the Huskies’ biggest competitor in the region historically is Stanford, who had their worst season in program history by a wide margin in 2020-21 due to a combination of many things: an amazing class graduating, Santa Clara County’s COVID restrictions, injuries, and even in-match bad luck.
  • Another mainstay in the Pacific North awards is Colorado State, who wins the Mountain West nearly every year. Like Stanford, the Rams graduated a really strong class and were super young entering the season. They improved significantly down the stretch to still have a reasonable season, but the team that ran away with the Mountain West was UNLV, who is part of the Pacific South.
  • Two other Pac-12 North squads also missed making the team: Oregon State had a pretty mediocre season — with their best player in libero Grace Massey missing a chunk of time that perhaps could have earned her a spot — and Cal had a miserable 1-win season after star OH Mima Mirkovic opted out.

So 11 of the 14 members on the Pacific North First Team are from Washington/Washington State/Oregon. The only three not from UW/WSU/UO: Jessica Donahue from MWC 2nd-placer Boise State, Rylin Adams from Big Sky champ Weber State, and Julia Sangiacomo, a star on Santa Clara that finished middle-of-the-pack in the WCC.