NCAA volleyball: Breaking down the other 24 conferences, Long Beach fires its coach, recaps

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Milwaukee's Carmen Heilemann hits against the Green Bay double block/Green Bay photo

There are 32 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball conferences.

Each one gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, leaving 32 at-large bids. Monday, we broke down the eight conferences that include all the ranked teams: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, Big East, Conference USA, and West Coast.

Most of the at-large bids will go to teams from those leagues. So that means that in the remaining 24 conferences, teams have to win the title — and in many cases the conference tournament determines that — to claim the automatic bid.

We note the NCAA RPI for many teams. And although it’s not the be-all end-all factor, it works well as a guideline for this conversation.

First some news.

LONG BEACH FIRES COACH — There was some surprising news Monday that Long Beach State had fired Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer with 10 matches left. Long Beach is 9-12 overall, 3-7 in the Big West, and McKienzie-Fuerbringer is a legendary player in that program. She was an All-American setter on the 1993 LBSU national-championship team. 

Also let go was her husband, Matt, the associate head coach. Matt Fuerbringer was an assistant coach for USA Volleyball’s men’s Olympic team.

Assistant coach Sabrina Hernandez will serve as interim head coach the rest of the season. She, too, was a Long Beach All-American and played on the school’s 1989 national-title team.

Athletics Director Andy Fee said in a news release: “Making a coaching change is never easy, but it’s an especially difficult decision when you know that coach has history with our program and university. However, after a thorough review and evaluation of our program, the past five years have not met expectations for a program with a rich tradition and legacy of championships. We thank Joy for her service to our campus and her unquestionable commitment to our student-athletes.”

THE MATCHES — There are 12 on Tuesday’s schedule, most notably red-hot Delaware State at Howard in the MEAC. Delaware State is 20-1 overall, 8-0 in the MEAC, and has won a school-record 16 matches in a row. 

There were five matches Monday, including Horizon League-leader Milwaukee winning again to improve to 18-6, 12-0 with a four-set victory at Green Bay. Carmen Heilemann led with 19 kills, hit .417 and had five digs and five blocks, one solo. Madi Malone had 17 kills, two aces, and 10 digs, and Ari Miller had 16 kills, hit .375, and had an assist, an ace, and three blocks … Florida A&M (16-6, 8-2) pulled to a game behind SWAC-leading Jackson State (9-12, 90-1) with a sweep of Jackson State. The Rattlers hit .339, and Dominique Washington led the way with 21 kills, hit .326 and added an ace and eight digs … idle UAPB, at 7-1, is second in the SWAC standings … UT Rio Grande Valley of the WAC beat the Southland’s Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in five as Sarah Cruz had 22 kills, five aces, 11 digs, and three solo blocks.

Now the 24-conference breakdown:

AMERICAN ATHLETIC — Perennial favorite UCF (16-6, 9-1) has an RPI of 27 and holds a two-game lead over Houston, Wichita State, and Cincinnati. All three are outstanding teams, but their respective RPIs — Houston (63), Wichita State (54), Cincinnati (51) — means that no at-large bids will be forthcoming. The good news for the other three is that UCF, which lost in five to Houston two weeks ago, plays all three again before the season ends. 

AMERICA EAST — UMBC (14-10, 9-0) has a three-game lead in the loss column and the highest RPI, 188. 

ASUN — FGCU (19-4, 11-0) leads the league and has the highest RPI, No. 50. Next closest is North Florida at No. 62.

ATLANTIC 10 — First-place Dayton (17-5, 11-0) has a three-game lead in the standings and is No. 41 in the RPI. VCU, one of two teams tied for second, is next at 121.

BIG SKY — Weber State (15-5, 10-0), featured here Tuesday, has the league’s best RPI team at No. 70. Northern Colorado is No 80. 

BIG SOUTH — High Point (18-5, 10-0) has a one-game lead over Campbell (14-8, 9-1). High Point has an RPI of 49; the Fighting Camels are at 164.

BIG WEST — The numbers are actually surprising. Hawai’i (12-6, 9-1) and UC Santa Barbara (13-9, 9-1) are tied for the league lead, but Hawai’i has an RPI of 65 and UCSB is at 118. UCSB won their first meeting, a sweep at home last Friday. They play at UH to end the regular season November 27.

COLONIAL — Another one-bid league. James Madison (RPI 96), Towson (102), and Elon (113) are all tied for first at 7-3. 

HORIZON — Milwaukee is 12-0 and running away from the pack but is No. 72 in the RPI. Wright State (81), Northern Kentucky (90), and UIC (192) are tied for second at 8-2. 

IVY LEAGUE — Princeton (13-3, 7-1, 57 RPI) and Brown (14-4, 7-1, 89 RPI) are tied for the lead.

METRO ATLANTIC — Fairfield (17-7, 12-1, 131 RPI) leads the league but is coming off an upset loss to Canisius. Marist is two games back at 13-10, 10-3, 241 RPI.

MID-AMERICAN — Ball State (20-3, 10-1) leads the West Division and has an RPI of 44, which might — it’s a long shot — bring an at-large bid should the Cardinals lose in the league tournament. 

Bowling Green (15-6, 11-0) leads the East Division and has an RPI of 53. Next closest is Western Michigan at 98.

MEAC — Delaware State is running away with the conference but has an RPI of 177.

MISSOURI VALLEY — As competitive as the MVC is, league-leading Loyola (16-6, 9-1) has the highest RPI at 64. Evansville (73) and Illinois State (110) are two games back, and their only hope is to win the conference tournament.

MOUNTAIN WEST — No at-large bid is coming to this conference. Colorado State leads at 13-6, 9-1, but its RPI is 75, eight spots behind UNLV, which is tied for fourth place with New Mexico. Things aren’t looking any better for second-place Utah State (106) or third-place San Jose State (94).

NORTHEAST — Perennial favorite Sacred Heart (12-7, 6-2) is in second place, tied with Saint Francis (10-10, 6-2) a game back of Bryant (15-9, 7-1). Sacred Heart, however, has the highest RPI, 148. Bryant is No. 204.

OHIO VALLEY — Another one-bid league. Second-place Morehead State (13-9, 9-2) has an RPI of 93 and the next closest is league-leading Austin Peay (17-7 10-1) at No. 134. Morehead State upset Creighton in the first round of last spring’s NCAA Tournament.

PATRIOT — Colgate (13-7, 10-1) has a two-game lead with an RPI of 109, so the only chance anyone has of unseating the Red Raiders is to win the conference tournament. 

SOUTHERN — Mercer (19-4, 8-2) has the best RPI at 128. UNCG (19-4, 8-2) is tied for the league lead, but its RPI is 135.

SOUTHLAND — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is 12-9 and atop the standings at 8-1 but has an RPI of 116. Next closest is second-place Houston Baptist (16-7, 7-2, 170 RPI). 

SUMMIT — Once again things will come down to the conference tournament in this hyper-competitive conference. Omaha (13-8, 10-1, 107 RPI) leads, Denver (18-2, 9-1, 95 RPI) is a game back in the win column, and Oral Roberts (14-5, 8-2, 186 RPI) and South Dakota (11-8, 8-2, 104 RPI) are tied for third, with Kansas City (17-6, 8-3, 111 RPI) a game back. Last year, South Dakota beat Denver in five in the conference final.

SUN BELT — Texas State (12-11, 8-2) is coming on strong with everyone healthy, but the West-leading Bobcats are No. 69 in the RPI, so the only NCAA bid is going to the conference tournament winner. South Alabama (17-6, 10-1) leads the East but has an RPI of 85.

SWAC — Third-place Florida A&M has the league’s highest RPI at 226. Conference-leading Jackson State is at 260.

WAC — This is another super competitive conference, and last spring Utah Valley got hot and knocked off NM State in the conference final for the NCAA bid. Grand Canyon (14-4, 6-3), NM State (15-6, 6-3), and California Baptist (11-8, 6-3) are tied for the West lead. Sam Houston (13-7, 6-2) holds a one-game lead in the win column in the Southwest Division. While the league’s RPI numbers are better than many, no at-large bid is forthcoming. GCU has the best RPI at 60, followed by Stephen F. Austin (76), Sam Houston (78) and NM State (100)

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