The Washington State volleyball team was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 by the conference's coaches, the conference announced on Wednesday.
The conference coaches expect Stanford to win the conference, and defending champion Washington to falter (the Huskies are picked to finish third). Stanford and USC each received five first place votes while the Huskies only received two. WSU is expected to finish in 11th with 25 points -- 14 points behind 10th place Utah and 14 points ahead of last place Oregon State.
The coaches probably picked Washington State to finish in 11th because of the team's youth and relative in experience heading into the upcoming season. While the youth is a concern, a lot of the Cougars young core played against Pac-12 competition last season. That experience is a major reason why the Cougs should finish better than 11th place in the Pac-12 conference.
Washington State will be returning Pac-12 All-Freshmen first team outside hitter Kyra Holt; she has also been named to the Preseason All-Pac-12 team. Holt, heading into her sophomore season, has the fifth most kills (479) and third most attack attempts (1316) in program history.
Holt is the big name that everyone will recognize, but arguable the most important returning piece is sophomore setter Haley MacDonald. MacDonald is expected to be the starting setter for the Cougs in the upcoming season; she saw action in 46 sets last year, during 25 matches.
MacDonald spent 2013 splitting playing time with Camryn Irwin (graduated), and that inconsistency at the key offensive position impacted the team's ability to score. Now that MacDonald is the starter, the team's offensive performance should become more consistent.
Another reason that the Cougs should be better than an 11th place finish is the fact that there are experienced upperclassmen on the roster to help balance out the incredibly young core. (10 of the 16 athletes on the squad are underclassmen). There are also a four seniors (and two juniors) on the roster to help provide veteran leadership and experience.
One of these experienced upperclassmen is senior middle blocker Ver'Leea Hardaway. Hardaway was the key part of the Cougar defense last season. Her hitting percentage of .336 was the fourth best single season hitting percentage in program history.
If Hardaway can improve from her impressive 2013 campaign, the Cougs are going to be in really good shape heading into the 2014 season. That would make Washington State better on defense, and give the squad a better chance at containing their opponents offensive attacks...while their own offensive attack becomes more consistent, and potent.
The Pac-12 is coming off of a historic season as nine teams made the NCAA tournament last season. Washington's appearance in the Final Four was the fourth straight year a Pac-12 team had advanced that far into the tournament.
2014 Pac-12 Volleyball Coaches' Poll
1) Stanford (5): 114
2) USC (5): 113
3) Washington (2): 106
4) Arizona State: 73
T5) California: 70
T5) Oregon: 70
7) Colorado: 62
8) UCLA: 58
9) Arizona: 51
10) Utah: 39
11) Washington State: 25
12) Oregon State: 11