Pac-12 preview: the University of Washington

This is the ninth in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

The season hasn’t yet started, but the Washington Huskies are already in a world of hurt.

Two of the program’s all-time greats – Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor – graduated. Then, following the departure of coach Mike Neighbors, who built the program into national contenders, star freshman Aarion McDonald announced her transfer. Brianna Ruiz and Kelli Kingma medically retired at the end of the summer. Then this fall, the Huskies have been decimated by injuries.

Natalie Romeo, Washington’s lone returning starter, is out indefinitely with an undisclosed medical issue. Redshirt freshman GiGi Garcia will miss a second consecutive season after tearing her ACL. Three of the team’s five returners have missed significant practice time with injuries: Hannah Johnson, who has two broken fingers, Deja Strother, with a lower-body extremity issue, and Mai-Loni Henson, who has a back injury.

The Huskies are playing only six in practices, and first-year coach Jody Wynn has been going hard in practices to keep momentum up, especially with five freshmen on the roster.

Last year Washington was picked in the preseason to win the Pac-12. This year they have been tabbed 12th. Wynn, who built a winning program at Long Beach State before coming north, said she and her team will not let up in their efforts.

“Our job is to embrace what was before us, learn lessons of how to work extremely hard and to achieve great things,” Wynn said.

Henson and Strother are expected to be back before the season opener Nov. 12. Johnson said she and her teammates aren’t concerned about preseason prognostications.

“We don’t really care. We just are focused on improving game to game, practice to practice,” Johnson said, “And it’s not something we’re going to go cry about. I think it’s something we look at and: You know what? Let’s embrace it. We’re the underdogs.