Washington Captures 2020-21 Pac-12 Championship
BERKELEY, Calif. – An unprecedented season became an unforgettable one for the Husky volleyball team today. With a sweep over California at Haas Pavilion, seventh-ranked Washington finished atop the Pac-12 Conference with a 17-3 record, adding another chapter to the program's legacy with a sixth Pac-12 Championship.
Through all the ups and downs, the postponements and cancelations, the empty gyms and the masks, the Covid tests and the Zoom meetings, Washington found a way to raise the trophy today on April 3, five months after the traditional end of the NCAA volleyball season.
"Back in March (2020) when we had to say goodbye to each other unexpectedly, their concern was about the legacy of the program and how we could add to that and that's what we spent most of spring talking about," said sixth-year Head Coach Keegan Cook.
"This group should be incredibly proud of themselves for adding to the legacy of the program. It has a lot of meaning based on what we've been through."
For the SIXTH time in school history, Washington Volleyball are Champions of the Conference of Champions??
— Washington Volleyball (@UWVolleyball) April 3, 2021
It's the third Pac-12 title for Coach Cook in his six seasons, the previous wins coming in his first two years at the helm, in 2015 and 2016. Washington's first three conference titles came in 2004, 2005, and 2013.
Washington moves solely into third in all-time Pac-12 titles with six. Stanford owns 19 championships and won the past three. UCLA is second with seven, the last one coming in 1999. The Huskies were previously tied with USC with five conference crowns. Since the Huskies won their first title in 2004, Stanford has won 10 titles, Washington has six, USC has two, and Cal has one.
The win continues a streak where every four-year Husky to join the program since 2010 has won a Pac-12 title.
"These juniors and seniors committed around 2015-16 when we were winning Pac-12 titles, and we made a commitment to each other to go for it and pursue big goals. It means a lot to get there together with them," Cook said.
The match itself was a quick 25-16, 25-19, 25-16 sweep. Washington hit .269 and junior setter Ella May Powell got a lot of sets to her middles. Lauren Sanders and Marin Grote both had identical attack lines of 9 kills, 1 error, and 12 swings to both hit .667 and share the lead for kills. Powell had 32 assists and served three aces including one on the final point. Junior Shannon Crenshaw had 10 digs as the Huskies held Cal to a .137 attack percentage and out-dug the Bears, 40-35.
Washington won the title in spite of graduating a stellar four-player 2019 senior class including First Team All-American Kara Bajema, who set the single season kills record as a senior. The Huskies also lost the season opener at home in straight sets to Arizona State. But since that setback, Washington went 17-2 with its only two losses coming in five sets on the road to ranked UCLA and Oregon teams. Those two losses were offset by 3-0 Husky sweeps in the additional road matches at UCLA and Oregon.
"Where we started is far away from where we are today," said Cook. "I just don't know if people can ever understand just how long of a year it's been. We showed up in August ready to compete, and now here we are in April. The teaching and learning process has never stopped in all that time, and that's twice the length of a regular season.
"I think what I'll remember about this group is just their willingness to be put in difficult circumstances, to be uncomfortable in practice, and to keep moving forward."
UP NEXT: Washington will move forward now to the NCAA tournament. UW learns its NCAA tournament seeding on Sunday when the NCAA Selection Show airs at 1 p.m. Pacific time on ESPNU. The NCAA Championships will be held entirely in Omaha, Neb. this year with the first round beginning Apr. 14. Only 48 teams make the field this year, with the top-16 seeds getting a first round bye.