NCAA roundup: It’s early, but Florida’s hot start, upsets worth pondering

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Veronica Jones-Perry of BYU attacks against Ohio State/BYU photo

With Gainesville and the VERT Challenge in the rear-view mirror and another weekend ahead featuring Stanford and Penn State at Texas A&M, the past couple of days provided plenty of early season NCAA college-volleyball thoughts.

On one hand, there’s a tendency to over-think the first weekend. August, of course, is a long way from December. On the other hand … 

Florida, likely to move up from No. 8 in the AVCA poll to No. 1, looked pretty legit in its victories over No. 1 Texas and No. 5 Nebraska. 

Texas, playing with two key freshmen, will only get better. Nebraska went 0-2 and don’t be fooled. The Huskers will be in the mix when it counts. And the other team in Gainesville, Oregon, sure to move up from No. 18, has a chance.

The stunner Saturday was the late-night news that No. 9 Creighton won at No. 3 Washington. Creighton got everyone’s attention late last season with a marvelous NCAA Tournament run. Now the Bluejays have it from the get-go.

And is Lipscomb the next mid-major to make a big move? The Bison beat visiting No. 24 Arizona on Saturday.

Tenth-ranked BYU beat visiting No. 21 Ohio State in four and is 3-0 and will certainly be right up there with Creighton on Tuesday with the first VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll presented by the NIVC comes out.

Missouri, ranked 19th but sure to drop out of the poll, was upset by Northern Iowa in five and then Austin Peay in five.

There are 15 matches on the NCAA Division I slate for Sunday, highlighted by No. 13 UCLA at No. 20 Hawai’i. Others of note include Marquette vs. San Diego in Hawai’i, North Dakota at Georgia Tech, Washington State against American and UC Santa Barbara playing Baylor.

Some closing thoughts about Florida, which had the advantage of playing at home, which is no small thing when you’re able to convince the students to come out and get into the spirit of things. Which they did. 

If the weekend that 6-foot-8 Rachael Kramer had is the real deal and if the Gators can continue to pass well, they have a shot. The elements are in place, with senior outside Carli Snyder establishing herself as one of the best players in the country (think Megan Courtney at Penn State), senior All-American Rhamat Alhassan second to no middle in the nation, and a setter with poise and experience in junior Allie Monserez. What might hurt the Gators is their schedule. The SEC simply can’t provide them the match-in and match-out challenge that will occur in the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Texas salvaged the weekend with its late-night 23-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 victory over Oregon.

Freshman outside Lexi Sun made the most of her second match, leading the Longhorns with 14 kills in 39 swings as she hit .231, had five blocks — one solo — and eight digs. Chiaka Ogbogu, an All-American middle in 2015 who missed last season, had 10 kills, hit .467, and three aces and five blocks. “We were a little steadier tonight,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Our DS and libero passed better tonight and obviously Lexi responded and played big-time tonight and I thought (freshman setter Ashley) Shook got a lot better.”

He laughed.

“It’s a work in progress, that’s for sure,” Elliott said. “It’s always good to win.”

Oregon would have liked to go 2-0, but considering where the program was when Matt Ulmer took over as head coach in the spring and that the Ducks knocked off Nebraska to get things going on Friday, he couldn’t complain.

“I really wanted to see how hard we’d fight tonight and I thought we were tough all the way to the very end,” Oregon first-year coach Matt Ulmer said. “I love the way we responded. That means so much to us to be able to be that tough mentally and emotionally.

“We played hard, I like our energy and we learned a lot about ourselves. I was proud of the way people stepped up. Very good weekend against great competition.”

Oregon was led by Lindsey Vander Weide’s 16 kills. Taylor Agost had 11 kills and Brooke Van Sickle, who missed part of the match when she tweaked her knee, had 10 kills and 15 digs.

Washington’s Courtney Schwann attacks against Creighton’s Marysa Wilkinson, left, and Lydia Dimke/Stephen Burns photo

Creighton and Kirsten Bernthal Booth, the 2016 VolleyballMag.com national coach of the year,  pulled off the biggest regular-season victory in school history with its 25-22, 25-17, 14-25, 25-23 win in Seattle. It came after a morning in which the Bluejays swept Pittsburgh of the ACC.

“I thought different people stepped up all the time,” Booth said. “The good thing was that we played the way we’re capable of playing. We didn’t play out of our minds and we still have plenty of areas to improve upon, as does Washington. It’s early in the season, but we did get better every match this weekend, so that’s a positive.”

Junior outsides Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth led the Bluejays with 16 kills apiece and senior Marysa Wilkinson — the tourney MVP — had 11.

Washington, picked to win the Pac-12, had won 81 consecutive regular-season non-conference matches.

Washington, which has nearly the entire roster back, was dealing with some injuries and subsequent lineup changes.

Senior outside Carly DeHoog led a balanced attack with 13 kills. Freshman middle Lauren Sanders, Courtney Schwann and sophomore Kara Bajema had 11 kills each.

“Pretty high level of play for Creighton for the entire night,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “I thought we made some changes in the third and fourth sets and kind of reached their level, but they were sharp passing early on and running a nice offense and siding out at a nice rate. Pleased that we caught up eventually, but it wasn’t enough.”

It’s the first time the Huskies lost before Pac-12 play since 2008 when they fell at Hawai’i.

You can’t say Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal shied away from a tough schedule when he invited Wichita State and Arizona to the LUV Invitational. 

A few hours after getting swept by the Shockers, the Bison bounced back in a big way, stunning Arizona 25-13, 31-29, 20-25, 25-22, as junior outside Carlisle Nusbaum led with 25 kills, 12 in the second set. She also had eight digs and two blocks. Junior Lauren Anderson, senior Chloe Rogers and junior Carli Anderson added eight kills apiece. Lauren Anderson had 11 digs and Carli Anderson four blocks. Ca’Layci Coffey had eight blocks, two solo.

“The block was fantastic,” Rosenthal said. “We came up with some key numbers down there. We decided not to sit back, we were going to go after them. It wasn’t our best, but everyone did their jobs and we played up to our potential.”

Arizona got 14 kills from junior outside Kendra Dahlke and 12 from freshman outside Paige Whipple.

Wichita State, which moved from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference, is 2-0 after beating East Tennessee and Lipscomb. The Shockers continue play in Nashville on Sunday when they play Belmont and Arizona gets Middle Tennessee.

And now we go around the nation.

ACC: It was a tough Saturday for some of the league’s schools. No. 11 North Carolina, which lost to No. 4 Minnesota on Friday, lost to No. 7 Wisconsin. It went four, but Minnesota beat Louisville on Saturday.

Among the other losses sustained by league teams, Syracuse got swept by Colgate, Pittsburgh, as mentioned, lost to Creighton, Missouri State took NC State in five, Villanova beat Virginia, Providence beat Boston College, and Furman beat Georgia Tech in five. That’s the same Georgia Tech that came back to knock off No. 17 Michigan State in four later Saturday. As we said, it’s early. 

Wake Forest beat UMass-Lowell and UNC Greensboro a day after beating Morgan State, not exactly a Who’s Who of the sport, but the Demon Deacons are 3-0 for the first time since 2013.

After the first weekend, seven ACC teams are 3-0 , Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Wake. 

Big Ten: The league has some nice victories on Saturday, starting with Wisconsin’s 25-21, 25-17, 25-19 sweep of North Carolina.

Freshman middle Dana Rettke led the Badgers with 15 kills in 18 swings with no errors, hit .778 and had five blocks, one solo. Junior middle Tionna Williams added 10 kills and hit .643, while senior outside Kelli Bates had nine kills and seven digs.

“Both of our middles had really big matches and hit a pretty high percentage, but they got set a lot and that tells you that our ball control is pretty good,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “That was something I was happy to see. Defensively, I thought we were fantastic, we got 20 more digs and a few more blocks against a physical team like that. I think walking out with the teams that we played and to come out winning both of those, that’s something we feel pretty good about.”

North Carolina, coming off that 25-16, 25-7, 25-20 loss to Minnesota, got nine kills from sophomore outsides Jula Scoles and six from Taylor Leath.

But there were some tough losses for the Big Ten, including Stanford beating Iowa and Ohio State getting thumped by BYU 19-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-17 after winning the first set.

BYU junior outside Veronica Jones-Perry led with 20 kills and six digs, while sophomore outside McKenna Miller added 12 kills. Madison Smeathers led Ohio State with 13 kills.

No. 25 Purdue beat Alabama to finish its home tournament 3-0, while Illinois did the same by finishing a tournament in Montana with a sweep of Air Force, a nice start to the career of new coach Chris Tamas.

Big 12: Baylor had a nice sweep of Illinois State, while TCU did the same to Coastal Carolina and Kansas — which earlier beat Missouri State in four — beat NC State, but it took five.

Among the losses: Kansas State, which earlier in the day beat Idaho, got swept by Oregon State. Oklahoma fell to Colorado in four and West Virginia got swept by Penn State.

SEC: LSU is off to a 3-0 start by beating Northwestern 3-2 and host South Florida 3-0 on Saturday. No. 14 Kentucky is also off to a great start, capping a 2-0 Friday with a sweep of Cincinnati on Saturday.

The league has three ranked teams, Florida, Kentucky and Missouri, but will likely be down to two on Monday. The next-best team, Texas A&M, opened its season by beating Sam Houston State on Friday, but its match with Texas State on Saturday was canceled because of Hurricane Harvey. However, the Aggies beat VCU on Saturday evening and are scheduled to play host to Penn State and Stanford this weekend.

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