The 1996 women's volleyball team had the most successful season in Washington State history. Led by two-time All-American Sarah Silvernail, the Cougars were the first WSU women's team to advance past the NCAA Second Round. With an overall record of 27-6, Washington State had the most wins in a regular season as well as tying for second with the most Pac-10 wins in a season.
The Cougars started the 1996 season on a high note with four wins and capturing their own Cougar Challenge championship held Aug. 31. Ranked eighth starting out the season in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 Preseason Poll, the Cougars were considered to be a threat throughout the country. Sarah Silvernail tallied 58 kills in 12 games and was selected the tournament MVP and Pac-10 Player of the Week.
After the impressive performance at the Cougar Challenge Tournament, the Sept. 3 poll moved the Cougars up one spot to No. 7 nationally. Looking to improve on its 4-0 record, Washington State traveled to Ames, Iowa for the Iowa State Invitational which featured Dayton, Iowa and Iowa State in a two-day tournament.
Cougar Head Coach Cindy Fredrick went to high school in Waverly, Iowa and was eagar to get back to Iowa for the Invitational. Fredrick has compiled more wins than any coach of a women's sport in WSU history. Additionally she has a 269-172 (.610) record in her 14 years at WSU, including seven seasons with 20-plus wins.
Facing off against Dayton in the first match (Sept. 6), the Cougars came out victorious with scores of 15-0, 15-11, and 15-6, raising their record to 5-0. Junior Elis Arias, sophomore Jennifer Stinson and junior Shannon Wyckoff were a large part of the Cougars performance, but it was the senior leadership and talent of Sarah Silvernail that put the games away. Silvernail had 17 kills, hitting .417, 17 digs and six blocks. Shannon Wyckoff was the only other Cougar in double-figure kills with 10 and also tallied 13 digs.
In day two (Sept. 7) of the Iowa State Invitational Tournament, Silvernail came out unstoppable once again. Washington State defeated Iowa 15-11, 15-9, 15-9 placing the Cougs in the championship game against Iowa State later that night. Silvernail had 18 kills with no errors in 31 attacks for a .581 hitting percentage, with 10 digs and six blocks. Wyckoff added 14 kills and 16 digs, and Arias contributed 12 digs and four blocks.
The Cougars took control of the game early and never looked back as they defeated Iowa State and won the Iowa State Invitational. The seventh-ranked Cougars moved to a 7-0 record after their second weekend of play with game scores of 15-3, 15-8, and 15-5. In addition to the Cougars perfect record, they had not lost a set in any of the matches played so far in the season.
Silvernail served the last six points including two aces of the first game while Arias' four kills in the second game tallied up that win. Iowa State came within two in the third game at 7-5, but the blocking of Stinson and Wyckoff was too much for ISU to handle. Silvernail was named tournament MVP and Arias and Wyckoff were voted to the all-tournament team.
The roster during this successful season features two Cougars who are now on the current coaching staff at Washington State. Jen Stinson Greeny is currently the head coach of Washington State Cougar Volleyball while former teammate Shannon Wyckoff Hunt joined the staff as a volunteer coach in August. Greeny is listed in several areas in the WSU all-time career rankings. As of Sept. 5, 2011 she is 11th on the list for kills (1,006), seventh in solo blocks (59), third in block assists (360), and fourth in total blocks (419). Hunt on the other hand became the first Washington State player to reach 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in a career. Her 1,254 digs was the WSU all-time list leader from 1997 until 2008 and is currently second-best all-time. Hunt tallied 1,051 career kills which was fifth-best at the time and now ranks eighth-highest in school history. Additionally, her career 83 service aces are ranked 11th-best at WSU.
Sarah Silvernail is considered to be the most honored volleyball player in Cougar history. As the fifth woman to be selected to the Washington State UniversityAthletics Hall of Fame she had the skill and ability to completely take over a match. She was a two-time All-American, the 1996 Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year, and earned Pac-10 Player of the Week honors six times in her career. Sarah still holds the WSU records for career kills (1,848), single-season kills (649), and most kills in a match (39). In addition, she is ninth on the all-time list for service aces (87), tenth on the list for digs (938), third in solo blocks (98), second in block assists (394), and second in total blocks (492). After completing her 1996 season she was a member of the 1997 USA National Team, played with Chicago in the U.S. Professional Volleyball league, and played professionally in Switzerland.
The 1996 Washington State women's volleyball team, making its fifth appearance in the NCAA Championship, advanced further than any women's team in WSU history. The Cougars received a first round bye, and went on to beat Kansas State 3-0 in a second round match in Pullman, which advanced Washington State to the Pacific Regional in Stanford. WSU made it to the regional final after defeating Loyola Marymount 3-1. The Cougars ended their successful season after losing to NCAA-top-seeded Stanford 3-0, one step shy of a national semifinal in Cleveland. With a 27-6 overall record and a four-way tie for fifth in the nation, the Cougars were heroes in the town of Pullman.
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