The WSU women’s volleyball team needed only two weeks this season to equal the number of Pac-12 wins they amassed in 2015. Jen Greeny is slowly but steadily rebuilt a program that made two Elite Eight appearances from 1996-2003
PULLMAN – It took the Washington State women’s volleyball team just two weeks this season to equal the number of Pac-12 wins they had all last year.
The Cougars opened conference play in an emphatic way on Sept. 21, upsetting No. 4 Washington in Seattle for the first time since 2001.
They followed up two days later by knocking off No. 9 UCLA in Los Angeles to earn a No. 17 national ranking, breaking into the top 25 for the first time since 2009. The Cougars then upset No. 9 Stanford and beat Cal and Oregon State to start out 5-0 in the Pac-12.
The second quarter of their 20-game conference slate hasn’t gone quite as well – 10th-ranked WSU lost No. 20 Oregon in Eugene last Sunday, and fell to Colorado in Pullman on Friday night.
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Still, the 13th-ranked Cougars (15-4 overall, 5-2 Pac-12) are tied with UW and Arizona for first place in the Pac-12, and are off to their best start in conference play since 2002. Despite their two recent losses, the team is confident that they’ll get things back on track when No. 21 Utah visits Bohler Gym on Sunday.
“I think we just had really great moments of being really aggressive, and moments of being a bit tentative, and you just can’t do that in this conference of really great teams,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said of her team’s 3-2 defeat to Colorado.
Their hot start showed the Cougars that they have the talent to beat some of the best teams in the country, but as the last two games have demonstrated, they’re also still learning to maintain the consistency needed to get through a conference that has six teams ranked in the national top 25 rankings.
There is a sense on the team that they’ve brought the program back to a point where it could be nationally competitive again.
“We came into the year with no expectations because we knew that other people had no expectations of us either,” said junior Casey Schoenlein, a Bellevue native and Newport High alum. “We just believed in ourselves. We knew what we had, especially in the preseason. None of the Pac-12 teams had seen us compete at the level like we are now.
“It was an underdog mentality for the season. We knew people would underestimate us and we’d come out to do what we needed to do.”
The team welcomed some distinguished visitors back to Pullman this homecoming weekend: the Cougars volleyball team that went to the Elite Eight in 1996.
Greeny knows those women well. She was part of that Elite Eight squad and later became an assistant coach on the team that made it to the Elite Eight again in 2002. She knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed at the national level and she wants her former teammates to sit down with her youngsters this weekend and share their stories.
“I just want them to be able to learn from the experiences that 1996 group had,” Greeny said. “We know we had some good years and went to the Elite Eight, but we also know how hard it was and how hard we all worked.
“One of our hashtags is ‘Rise again.’ We have had years and years of success, and we have been one win away from going to the Final Four twice. I was part of both those teams, and we want to win a national championship.”
That has been the goal ever since Greeny replaced Andrew Palileo as the volleyball coach in March 2011.
She inherited a program that had gone 6-22 overall, and finished winless in conference play in the season prior to her arrival.
“We wanted to get the stability and the volleyball back to where it once was when I was a player and assistant coach,” Greeny said.