Washington Beats the Odds to Advance to the Sweet Sixteen

The Washington Huskies are accustomed to long odds. After their performance at regionals, however, the self-described underdogs might need to consider rebranding.

A fortunate draw allowed them to skip an anticipated play-in meet. Still, the 27th-ranked Huskies were the decisive underdogs heading into the first session of the Los Angeles Regional against No. 5 Utah, No. 12 Auburn, and No. 21 Southern Utah.

Washington led the Flippin’ Birds by the slimmest of margins after two rotations, with Utah and Auburn still comfortably ahead by several tenths each. Early in the third rotation, however, second year head coach Jen Llewellyn noted a shift in the meet’s momentum: 

“We try to make a point of not looking at scores throughout the meet because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I did happen to see one of the falls [from Auburn] on bars,” said Llewllyn. “I continued to tell the team to just stay in the moment because you never know what’s going to happen.” 

Further stacking the odds against the Huskies was lacking key all-arounder Skylar Killough-Wilhelm due to an unforeseen health issue. Killough-Wilhelm has been a leader for Washington all season, and fortunately, Llewellyn was quick to emphasize that she is, “thankfully, OK.”

“We’ve talked about this all year… Just trusting your training, and—whenever your name is called—being ready to go,” she said. “It played out exactly as we’ve been preaching.” 

Redshirt senior Kennedi Davis echoed that sentiment.“We’re obviously used to having [Killough-Wilhelm] in our lineups, but since we have so much depth on each event, we know that when something like this does happen, whoever we put up, we have 100% trust in them, and we’re still going to support them, just like we did today.” 

Davis was one of the Huskies who stepped up when called. In just her second competitive floor routine of the season, she delivered a clutch 9.800 in the anchor spot that allowed Washington to overcome a few early rotation out-of-bounds and secure the second advancing spot over Southern Utah. 

“I knew it was going to be close, but I had no idea what score I needed,” said Davis. “I pretty much just treated it like my last floor routine ever. ‘Last one, best one.’ Whatever I have in me is going to be laid out on that floor, and I was going to be proud of us regardless of the outcome.” 

Teammates Amara Cunningham and Brenna Brooks, both in their fifth year, are still processing seeing that score switch and knowing they would be moving on to the final alongside Utah.

“We’ve been here for five years, and not once have we made it past day one. It’s incredible to know that we made it to the Sweet Sixteen,” said Cunningham. 

“I was in the background seeing everybody’s faces, freshmen, sophomores, everybody,” said Brooks. “I can’t believe we did that! We knew we could do it, but we actually did it.”

Davis added, “Being able to put our names down on the bracket, you dream about it! But now it’s real, and seeing who we’re going up against. We’re ranked up there with Utah! It’s mind-blowing.” 

“We’ve been battle tested every single meet we’ve been to this year,” said Llewellyn. “We’ve seen the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12 and prepared ourselves in the regular season for this moment. The results took care of themselves.”

Next up, Washington will face Utah, UCLA, and Missouri in the final round. Having put in the work throughout the regular season, Llewellyn has one final trick up her sleeve to boost the Huskies’ prospects in this stacked final.

“I wore these [glittery silver stiletto heels] last year at regionals, and I’m going to wear this exact same outfit on Saturday!”

Article by Claire Billman

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