The women’s volleyball team (20-6) lost to the University of Washington (26-4) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this past Friday. The Bears traveled to Seattle to face the Huskies in their first tournament game since 1998, and despite a tight third set, Brown dropped the match 3-0.
The Huskies, who made the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament last season, displayed their experience from the outset of the match. Washington raced out to a 5-2 lead after Brown committed a ball handling violation and sent a set out of bounds, forcing Head Coach Ahen Kim to call an early timeout. The Huskies maintained their momentum to go up 8-2, but an ace from defensive specialist Victoria Vo ’25 and a kill from middle blocker Beau Vanderlaan ’25 narrowed the gap to 8-6. However, Washington reestablished their dominance and pulled ahead 21-12 before winning the set 25-15.
Washington doesn’t “do anything complex … They’re just really elite at the simple things,” Kim said. “That’s a team that’s been to the Final Four last year … this is above all else, an extremely experienced championship team on their own home court.”
Washington continued to display its offensive prowess in the second set. The Huskies took a 6-2 advantage after two service aces by Lauren Bays, but two Vanderlaan blocks brought Brown back to a 7-5 deficit. Then Washington launched another commanding run, as three kills by Claire Hoffman helped the Huskies go up 16-7. Washington cruised through the remainder of the second set to take it 25-13.
But the Bears would not go down without a fight, and they kept the third set much closer than the previous two. A kill by middle blocker Gabby Derrick ’25 put Brown up 2-1, and a block by right-side hitter Kate Sheire ’24 kept the score 4-4. While Washington took an 8-5 lead, the Huskies could not pull away from the Bears, unlike in the first two sets. Kills from Sheire, outside hitter Sophia Miller ’23 and outside hitter Jilienne Widener ’24 kept the deficit at just three, and a service ace by setter Kristin Sellers ’22 put the Brown within two at 17-15. Down 22-20, Bruno was just a few points from taking the set, but the battle-tested Huskies clinched the win with a kill and two consecutive aces.
“We started to get in a rhythm,” Vanderlaan said of Brown’s improvement in the third set. She also noted that despite the tough matchup, her team thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to face a challenging opponent in a postseason setting. “Even when we were down 20-24 in the third set, we were all smiling,” she said.
Washington went on to knock off the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (22-8) Saturday, also by a 3-0 scoreline. The Huskies will face the second-seeded University of Texas at Austin (26-1) in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
While Brown was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, Kim and his players were proud of their historic Ivy League title-winning season. “This is by all accounts one of the most successful seasons this program has ever seen,” Kim said.
In addition to their Ivy League title, the Bears also swept the major Ivy League individual awards. Kim won Coach of the Year, setter Cierra Jenkins ’24 won Player of the Year, Vo won Defensive Player of the Year and Vanderlaan won Rookie of the Year. Five Brown players made First Team All-Ivy — Miller, Sheire, Vanderlaan, Jenkins and Vo. The individual awards were “where we really exceeded expectations,” Kim said. “It feels very nice for my team’s efforts to be recognized by our league competitors in such a big way.”
The Bears will gear up for another successful season in 2022 as they return with the vast majority of their key contributors. Brown fielded a young team in 2021, with underclassmen dominating playing time. “If you look at the starting roster, we return virtually everybody,” Kim said.
Sheire noted that despite losing to Washington, the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament will help her team in coming seasons. “(Coach Kim) loves to say, ‘fail in the right direction.’ We failed, and we’re going to use that failure as a compass.”