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Originally published December 5, 2013 at 7:53 PM | Page modified December 5, 2013 at 8:40 PM

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Huskies open NCAA volleyball tournament play on Friday with high hopes

Washington, the No. 3 overall seed, will host Alabama State in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament on Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena.


Special to The Seattle Times

Friday

Alabama State @ Washington, 7 p.m. (est.)

FRIDAY

Alabama State @ UW volleyball, 7 p.m. (est)

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Washington volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin: the postseason.

“I like to think of it as ‘December Madness,’ ” McLaughlin joked Thursday before his team’s final tuneup practice.

McLaughlin will guide his 12th straight UW squad into the NCAA tournament beginning Friday with a first-round match at Alaska Airlines Arena against Alabama State. The match (estimated start time is 7 p.m.) follows an LSU-Michigan opener that begins at 5.

The Hornets, from Montgomery, Ala., are 25-15, the Southwest Athletic Conference champions and a team making its NCAA tournament debut.

The Huskies, meanwhile, are tournament regulars. This year, with a 26-2 record, a Pac-12 championship and the No. 3 seed in the tournament, UW is a serious contender for the national title, which will be decided at KeyArena Dec. 19 and 21.

Washington features two All-Pac-12 outside hitters, juniors Krista Vansant (the conference player of the year) and Kaleigh Nelson. Senior libero Jenna Orlandini, 12th in career digs in the Pac-12, got a Pac-12 honorable mention nod (edged out of the All-Pac-12 roster by USC All-American Natalie Hagglund), as did sophomore middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon.

The No. 3 seeding matches UW’s highest seed ever. The 2005 Courtney Thompson-Sonja Tomasevic-Christal Morrison team won the national championship as a No. 3 seed.

McLaughlin, in his 13th season at UW, understands expectations are high for his current group, particularly with Seattle hosting the final four. He’s confident the Huskies can remain focused and not overlook any opponent.

“We practice every day with an edge, and it’s gotten a little sharper,” he said. “These guys have put more pressure on themselves, so it really doesn’t matter (who UW plays). We talk about Washington and what we need to do every day. We control that, and I think they’re dialed into their standards, and we’ve got to go meet them.”

Mental letdowns are an issue McLaughlin has cited whenever UW’s play has been substandard.

“One of the main things we’ve tried to focus on is maintaining our mindset throughout the entire match,” Orlandini said. “When there are ebbs and flows in a game, we just have to stay on task for longer periods of time.”

Notes

• Alabama State coach Penny Lucas-White, a former U.S. national team player, praised Vansant’s skills, but said her squad wouldn’t be intimidated by UW. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, but my kids are just like me: ‘Give me Goliath,’ ” she said. “If we play against the best, one day, you know what? We’re going to be the best. I mean that.”

• Alabama State uses a two-setter offense. The Hornets steer most of their attacks through their middles, sophomores Amber Bennett and Myla Marshall.

UW in NCAA volleyball tournament
A look at how the Huskies have done in the NCAA tournament under coach Jim McLaughlin. (McLaughlin’s first UW team, in 2001, finished 11-16 and did not play in the tournament):
Year SeedAdvanced to (teams remaining) Final matchRecord Rank
201213Regional semifinal (16) No. 4 Nebraska, 3-025-79
2011Uns.Second round (32) No. 13 Minnesota, 3-224-817
2010Uns. Regional final (8) No. 7 California, 3-024-96
20096Second round (32) Colorado State, 3-124-613
20085Regional final (8) No. 4 Nebraska, 3-227-55
20076Second round (32) BYU, 3-227-410
20066National semifinals (4) No. 2 Stanford, 3-029-54
20053National champions No. 1 Nebraska, 3-0 win32-11
20047National semifinals (4) No. 11 Stanford, 3-128-33
200312Regional final (8) No. 13 Minnesota, 3-223-99
2002Uns.Second round (32) No. 6 Hawaii, 3-020-11 Unr.


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