Pac-12 volleyball teams are a combined 110-16 for a staggering 87.3 winning percentage, but now comes the great equalizer: conference play.
Easy assignments don’t exist in the meat- grinder, round-robin conference schedule. One of the best matchups of the week comes today in Pullman when the Pac-12’s lone unbeatens, Washington State (13-0) and Washington (8-0), collide at 7:30 at Bohler Gym.
WSU is off to its best start since opening the 1997 campaign 16-0 under Cindy Fredrick, the same season current Cougars coach Jen (Stinson) Greeny earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Washington moved up to No. 2 in the AVCA poll with USC at No. 4, Stanford No. 7, UCLA No. 11, Arizona State No. 16 and Oregon No. 21. Cal is receiving votes.
The WSU-UW match will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.
“It’s always a huge match when you play your rival, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is,” Greeny said. “We haven’t really blown it up that much with the team, it’s more on twitter and trying to get fans out and talking to people on campus to get people to the match. With the team, it’s more about business and practice and what we can do with the scouting report.”
The Cougars have won four tournaments, two at home. Junior Ver’Leea Hardaway and Kyra Holt each have two MVP awards. Freshmen Holt and Emmy Allen, part of WSU’s 14th-ranked recruiting class, are starters.
“Kyra has been playing great,” Greeny said. “She’s taking on a lot of responsibility as a freshman, playing all the way around. She has to pass, serve, dig when she’s in the back row. I’ve been really impressed with her maturity level. Emmy is on the right side. It’s not her natural position but every day she gets better and better.”
Of her three teams at WSU, Greeny’s current crew appears to be the best equipped to take on the challenge of the Pac-12.
“It’s not even close,” she said. “Really the first two years we were just trying to put our fingers in the dam so it wouldn’t break and really trying to recruit and get some stability in the program. This is definitely a different feeling, not only the commitment level of the players but the buy-in and talent as well.
“People can say what they want about the level of toughness with our preconference schedule but especially when you have a young team it’s important to get some cohesiveness and confidence.”
Around the conference, USC reached No. 1 a few weeks ago and ASU’s No. 16 ranking is its highest since 1995.
The Sun Devils swept defending national champion Texas in three. Oregon, which played for the national title last season, sports the conference’s worst record at 7-3.
After three straight weeks of traveling, North Idaho College had a much-needed break with no matches last week. The 17th-ranked Cardinals open Scenic West Athletic Conference play this week at Eastern Utah and Colorado Northwestern.
The SWAC race looks wide open. NIC, Southern Idaho and Salt Lake have dominated the conference for years but Snow figures to be a factor. The 12th-ranked Badgers beat then-No. 1 Western Nebraska and also defeated defending national champion Southern Idaho in a nonconference match.
“My gut feeling is CSI and Salt Lake are slightly ahead and I think us and Snow are similar,” Cardinals coach Miles Kydd said, “but you always get a better sense when you play them.”
NIC’s five losses are to teams in the top five nationally at the time.
After 12 road/neutral site matches, Idaho finally plays at home Thursday against Utah Valley. The Vandals (7-5) have the second best record in the WAC behind Texas-Pan American (10-5). … Gonzaga (4-7, 0-2 WCC) stages its conference home openers Thursday vs. LMU and Saturday vs. Pepperdine. San Diego of the WCC knocked off then-No. 1 USC to climb to No. 2 in the rankings, but the Toreros were swept by BYU and slipped to No. 8. The Eastern Washington Eagles entertain Big Sky foes Montana State on Thursday and Montana on Saturday. … Four of Whitworth’s last six matches have been five-setters with the Pirates (7-7, 1-1 Northwest Conference) going 2-2. … CC Spokane (12-6) has won five of its last six matches.