The NCAA Tournament and NIVC both begin play Thursday. 

One seeded NCAA team will be without its leading attacker, two other programs that aren’t in the tournament are looking for coaches, and our sympathies go to North Carolina A&T after the death of senior right side Fatimah Shabazz.

NCAA TOURNEY — The tournament gets underway with 10 matches Thursday. 

At Texas, action begins with Rice playing San Diego, and then the second-seeded Longhorns play host to Sacred Heart.

At Purdue, Dayton plays Marquette, and then the host Boilermakers, seeded No. 6, play Illinois State.

At No. 14 Creighton, Oregon plays Kansas, and then the host Bluejays play Ole Miss.

At No. 5 Baylor, Washington State plays Northern Colorado, and then the host Bears play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

And at No. 16 Florida, Miami plays South Alabama before the host Gators play Florida A&M. And speaking of Florida …

CAESAR DROPS OUT — Florida’s T’Ara Caesar, who led the Gators in kills and aces this season and was second in digs, has left the team. She posted on her Instagram account on Monday that after leaving Florida’s last match of the regular season, she will not be back for the NCAA Tournament.

“I want to thank the University of Florida and @gatorsvb for providing an excellent educational and volleyball experience. My time here has allowed me to build a more robust character, and make some amazing friends and teammates.

“Unfortunately, I will not be participating in the @ncaavolleyball tournament with my teammates to focus on my mental and physical health before transitioning out of school.

“While I will not finish the season, I still want to send love and positive wishes to my teammates and the Florida Gator volleyball family.

“Thank you for the cherished memories, Gator Nation.”

Caesar, a 6-foot-1 product of Panama City, Florida, started her career at Georgia and led the Bulldogs in kills in 2017 and was leading in kills in 2018 before leaving the team before the season ended. She transferred to Florida and sat out the 2019 season. Last spring she led Florida in kills and this fall, she led with 377 kills, 3.93/set. Thayer Hall is next with 258. Caesar also had 32 aces and averaged 2.80 digs.

There is no mention of Caesar’s exit from the team on the Florida website, but Florida sent us this statement from coach Mary Wise: “T’ara’s health & well-being is the most important priority to us as a staff and a team. We wish her well in putting herself in the best position to play at the next level.”

Florida finished third in the SEC behind Kentucky and Mississippi State with a record of 20-8 overall and 14-4 in the conference. The Gators finished the regular season by getting swept in back-to-back matches at Kentucky. Caesar, who left the Friday match briefly after getting injured and then returned, led that day with 14 kills, hit .387 and had an assist, three blocks, and five digs. On Saturday, she left in the second set with three kills, hitting .000.

NC A&T’s SHABAZZ DIES — The school reported that North Carolina A&T’s Fatimah Shabazz, 21, died of complications from an aneurysm on Sunday. 

“We are heartbroken by Fatimah’s passing,” A&T coach Hal Clifton said. “Nothing prepares you for moments like this. Fatimah was an amazing person once you got to know her.  She was a fierce competitor on the court but a very sweet person off the court.

“The passing of Fatimah is a great loss to us all and will leave a hole in our hearts.  She will never be forgotten and will be missed dearly. I ask that you please continue to hold Fatimah, her mom and all of her family in your hearts, thoughts and prayers during this time of need.”

Shabazz, a 6-foot right side from Cincinnati who played at Northwest High School, was third in kills and blocks for the Aggies this season.

NC A&T is scheduled to play UConn at Boston College on Saturday in the NIVC.

COACHING CAROUSEL — There is nothing stated on the TCU website, but Jill Kramer is no longer listed on the coaching staff, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has reported that she is out after seven seasons. 

TCU finished 8-18 this season and last in the Big 12 at 2-14 …

Temple announced that Bakeer Ganesharatnam is out after 11 seasons at the Philadelphia school. Temple went 173-144 during his time, including 7-24 (3-17 American Athletic Conference) this season.

NIVC — The 31-team National Invitational Volleyball Championship begins Thursday with six matches at three sites.

At Colorado State, the host Rams play Houston Baptist, and Tulsa plays UTEP.

At Chicago State, Evansville plays Sam Houston, and Bradley plays the host team.

And at Valparaiso, the Crusaders play Butler, and Toledo plays Indiana State.

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