The first two rounds of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament are in the books. Some big surprises, conferences stumbling big time, and the B1G 10 has 7 teams in the final 16, including No. 10 Minnesota, who will play No. 7 Stanford on Friday at 6 p.m. Let’s take a look at the final 16 and how they got there.
- Texas – The #1 seed Longhorns (Big 12 champions) faced two in-state teams in Texas State and Texas A&M. Texas State(Sun Belt champions) posed no problem for the Longhorns who won in a sweep but Texas A&M (at-large qualifier) was able to take off the Longhorns. In the A&M match, the Longhorns recorded 18 blocks.
- American – The unseeded Eagles (yes, I had to look that up), winners of the Patriot League, are the surprise of the tournament. After sweeping Georgia (at-large qualifier) for their first ever NCAA tournament win, the Eagles continued their tournament fun with another sweep over host school Duke (ACC champions). The Eagles’ reward? #1 Texas in Lincoln. Can the Cinderella story continue?
- San Diego – The #9 seed Toreros (West Coast champions) hosted UC-Santa Barbara (Big West champs) in the opening round and after a close (26-24) first set win, the Toreros cruised in the 2nd and 3rd sets for a three set win setting up a second round match with Arizona (at large qualifier). Arizona didn’t pose much a challenge for Toreros as the result was a three set sweep for the Toreros. After a mid-season mini-slump, the Toreros seem to be clicking again and could be a formable test for their next opponent, Nebraska.
- Nebraska – The #8 seed Cornhuskers had little trouble with their two opening around opponents, Fairfield (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champs) and Oregon (at large qualifier). The Cornhuskers held Fairfield to a hitting percentage of .000, with 11 of Fairfield’s hitting errors coming from Cornhusker blocks. Oregon proved to be a little sterner test but the Cornhuskers also swept them behind 13 blocks. Friday’s match between San Diego and Nebraska could be a fun one to watch with Nebraska hosting this regional at Devaney Center.
- Florida State – The unseeded Seminoles (at large) had a first round match against Georgia Southern (Southern Conference champs) and swept Georgia Southern but it wasn’t overly pretty. The Seminoles only hit .207 for the match and committed 21 errors. But, Georgia Southern only hit .085 and the Seminoles were in line to face bitter in-state rival, #5 seed Florida, on Florida’s home court. Florida (at large qualifier) swept the Seminoles earlier in the season but the Seminoles gained their revenge when it mattered the most in a five set thriller. Next up for the Seminoles is a trip to Illinois to face Wisconsin.
- Wisconsin – The #12 seeded Badges (at large qualifier) celebrated their return to the NCAA tournament with a pair of sweeps. The first was against in-state school Milwaukee (Horizon League champs) and a re-match of an earlier season match. Like the first match of the season, the Badgers prevailed, this time in a 3 set sweep (first match was 3-1) and set up a second round match vs. California (at large qualifier). The Badgers swept Cal in convincing fashion, committing just 9 errors (six in the third set) while hitting at a .404 clip. A side note to the match is that Florida State senior Elise Walch played for the Badgers her freshman year.
- Illinois – The 13th seeded Illini battled for most of the B1G 10 season just to qualify for the tournament and they are making the most of their opportunity. After dispatching Morehead State (Ohio Valley Conference champs) in three sets, the Illini was faced with Marquette (Big East champs) who was on a mission of their own. Marquette had a year-end 8th highest RPI but were not granted a seed. Marquette took the first set but the Illini roared back to win the next three sets with Marquette scoring only 17, 13, and13 points. Illinois will host the regional and face Purdue in the round of 16.
- Purdue – The unseeded Boilermakers (at large) had a fairly easy time in their first round match against Central Arkansas (Southland Conference champs), winning in 3 sets. This set up a match against #4 Missouri. Missouri (SEC) champs were undefeated and playing at home but it didn’t matter to the Boilermakers who held Missouri, who had hit .357 as a team for the season, to just .237. This sets up the third match of the season against Illinois, with the teams splitting their previous two meetings which each winning on their home court. Of course, this third match carries a little more importance than the first two.
- Washington – The #3 seeded Huskies (Pac 12 champs) took out Alabama State (Southwest Athletic Conference champs) in three sets. The biggest news from that match was probably a statement by an Alabama State player who said she had hoped to be sent to the Hawaii sub-regional (who can blame her?!). Against LSU (at large qualifier), the Huskies spotted LSU the first set and then got down to business defensively holding LSU to just .065 hitting over the next 3 sets. For the match, the Huskies notched 14 blocks. Next up for the Huskies is Kansas.
- Kansas – The #14 seeded Jayhawks (at large qualifier) opened tournament play with fellow sister Kansas school, Wichita State (Missouri Valley Conference champs). In a fairly competitive match, the Jayhawks prevailed 3-1. How competitive? Each team had 60 kills and 19 errors. Wichita State outdug the Jayhawks 58-57 while the Jayhawks won the blocking war 9-8. The biggest difference came at the service line where the Jayhawks had 10 service aces to 5 service errors while Wichita state was 2 and 4. Next up was Creighton (at large qualifier) who, like fellow Big East member, Marquette, felt slighted at not being seeded despite an RPI of 16. It was a close match with the largest margin of victory in each set being 5 points. In the end it was the Jayhawks with a 3-1 victory and a date with Washington.
- Brigham Young – The unseeded Cougars (at large qualifier) were sent to Hawaii for their sub-regional matches and faced Pac 12 member Arizona State (at large qualifier). In a tense five set affair, the Cougars emerged with a five set victory and a match against the host school, Hawaii. Hawaii (at large qualifier) had the home court advantage and over 8,400 fans cheering them on. But, it didn’t matter to the Cougars who pulled away late in the 1st to win that set and then crushed Hawaii, 17 and 13, in the next two. The Cougars hit over .300 in all 3 sets while Hawaii could only manage a .136 effectiveness for the match. The Cougars will be bringing confidence and a strong game to USC for their sweet sixteen match-up.
- USC – The #6 seeded Trojans (at large qualifier) had one of the more one sided, if not the most one sided, first round matches when they dispatched New Hampshire (America East champs) in 3 sets. New Hampshire could not manage more than 12 points in any set and hit just .013 (one more kill than error) in a match that lasted just 1 hour and 13 minutes. The Trojans’ second round match vs. CSU-Northridge (at large qualifier) wasn’t much more of a tussle for the Trojans although Northridge did score 19, 18, and 18 points. It wasn’t the home crowd that pulled the Trojans to victory as the regional only drew 1,232 fans for the two days. Next up for regional host Trojans is Brigham Young in, what should be, an interesting match. Hopefully, there will be people in attendance to watch.
- Stanford – The 7th seeded Cardinal (at large qualifier) cruised though their opening round match against Hampton (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions), defeating Hampton in 3 sets where Hampton hit .022 (2 more kills than errors) and scored just 31 points in the match. The Cardinal then moved on to face Oklahoma (at large qualifier) and Oklahoma fared slightly better but were still dispatched in just 3 sets. The Cardinal hit just .215 against Oklahoma, having 10 unforced hitting errors but it was still enough to prevail. The Cardinal will now face Minnesota in the round of sixteen.
- Minnesota – The #10 seeded Gophers (at large qualifier) whipped up on Radford (Big South champs) in three sets, keeping Radford to just .053 hitting. Along the way, the Gophers rang up 8 service aces and 10 blocks while hitting .362. It looked like the Gophers were on their way to another sweep over Colorado (at large qualifier) the following night before Colorado rebounded to win sets 3 and 4 to force a fifth set. The Gophers grabbed control of the match early and raced on to a 15-9 fifth set win and a 3-2 victory. In the match, Colorado was more efficient in their hitting, .327 to .295, and out blocked Minnesota 12-8. Colorado also won the digging stat 73-65 but the Gophers led in kills 73-64 and recorded 10 service aces to Colorado’s 4. Next up for the Gophers is Stanford.
- Michigan State – The unseeded Spartans had their first round match vs. Ohio (Mid-American Conference champs) moved from Friday to Saturday due to weather issues but it didn’t seem to bother the Spartans as they swept Ohio in 3 fairly competitive sets. This set up a second round match on Sunday against #15 seed, and host, Kentucky (at large qualifier) for the right to play in the round of sixteen. In a competitive and entertaining match, the Spartans took down Kentucky in 4 sets. The Spartans recorded 66 kills in the match while holding Kentucky to just 47. Next up for the Spartans is a match against fellow B1G 10 school, Penn State.
- Penn State – The #2 seeded Nittany Lions (B1G 10 champs) opened against Long Island University – Brooklyn (Northeast Conference champs) and the LIU gave the Nittany Lions a little more than expected in the first two sets, scoring 21 points in each of the first two sets. The Nittany Lions, however, came out a little stronger in the 3rd set winning 25-13. That set up a rare second round match for the Nittany Lions – an opponent from a major conference, Utah (at large qualifier) from the Pac 12. It was the first time in several years that the Nittany Lions had played a second round opponent from a major volleyball conference. And, ironically, Utah gave the Nittany Lions less of a battle than did LIU, never scoring more than 15 points in any one set. Next up for the Nittany Lions is a sweet sixteen match against Michigan State. The two teams split their two matches this season as Michigan State gave the Nittany Lions their only conference loss of the year. And, on the Nittany Lions’ home court, no less.
Random tournament thoughts:
- Cool to see a team like American make it to the sweet 16. Texas vs. American. Usually a match up you would expect to see in rounds 1 or 2.
- Also, exciting to see San Diego and Brigham Young in the round of 16. And, each has the ability to move on to the round 8.
- The talk in the volleyball chat rooms all year was that the SEC was over-rated. The committee didn’t think so as they gave the SEC 8 berths in the tournament and seeded 3 of those 8 teams. The SEC didn’t do the committee any favors by not having any of their teams make it out of the 2nd round. Including #4 seed Missouri who suffered their first loss of the season and #5 Florida.
- Florida may have had the most unfortunate 2nd round match up when they faced Florida State. A match like that is much more conducive to a sweet 16 match-up, especially given the rivalry between the two schools.
- Feel somewhat bad for Hawaii. They really support their team there, over 16,500 fans for the weekend but end their season on a very disappointing note.
- The B1G 10 is making a claim for being the premier volleyball conference in the country. 7 of the 8 teams (Michigan being the sole loser) move on to the round of 16. The B1G 10 went 4-0 vs. the Pac 12 this weekend, although all 4 matches were on B1G 10 courts.
- Michigan was up on LSU 2-0, just having won the 2nd set 25-9 going into the break. In a match that was a microcosm of their season, they then lost the next 3 sets, and the match, to LSU, hitting .118, .068, and .040 in those sets.
- Tough way for Missouri to end their season. Only loss on the year and at home.
- At the Illinois and Kentucky regionals, it almost looks like a B1G 10 tournament, with 3 B1G 10 teams in each regional.
- It will be interesting to see what the attendance will be in Kentucky for the regional matches. The only drew in 2,049 for their two sessions, although some of that may have been weather related. Regardless, without Kentucky in the regional, how many fans will show up?
- And, despite a great volleyball tradition and a great arena, how well will the USC regional be attended? As mentioned above, just over 1,200 fans showed up for the first two rounds.
- If Texas and Nebraska each win their next matches, it will be a very compelling regional final to watch as the former Big 12 rivals would go at it again.
- The most entertaining regional could the Illinois regional as the Florida State/Wisconsin and Illinois/Purdue matches should each be very competitive.
- Back on the subject of attendance, if volleyball ever is to get the media coverage we fans feel it deserves, we need to come out in bigger numbers. 1,200 for two sessions at USC, 1,800 at Duke, 2,000 at Stanford and Kentucky, and even 4,000 at Minnesota is not going to make TV drooling with excitement to cover these matches.
- Missouri and Kansas had good turnouts for schools not known primarily for volleyball. Over 7,000 fans at each site. And, Missouri’s attendance may have been higher had their football team not been playing for the SEC championship that afternoon. Their attendance was down almost 2,000 people from Friday to Saturday.
- That being said, four regional championship matches televised on one day is great. A volleyball junkie’s delight!