Rice bounced, so NC A&T moves on; Pitt, UCLA, WKU get NCAA tourney wins

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NCAA round 4 4/14/2021-Lauren Matthews, Western Kentucky volleyball
Lauren Matthews of Western Kentucky gets the ball past the Jackson State block of Marina Branco Brito, 6, and Camry Dabney/Mark Kuhlmann, NCAA Photos

The inevitable happened Wednesday night and the unfortunate victim was Rice, when there was positive COVID testing within the Owls’ program. As a result, MEAC-champion North Carolina A&T is an unlikely participant in the NCAA Division I women’s volleyball tournament round of 32. 

Also Wednesday at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Pitt escaped the first set and went on to sweep LIU, while UCLA routed Rider and unbeaten Western Kentucky did the same to Jackson State.

The recaps follow.

In the first round of four matches Wednesday, Notre Dame beat Army, Missouri beat South Dakota, San Diego beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Pepperdine beat UMBC.

Then in the second round, Morehead State beat Creighton, High Point beat UCF, Texas State beat Utah Valley, and Dayton beat Towson.

In the third set of matches, Georgia Tech beat Lipscomb, Weber State beat Bowling Green, UNLV beat Illinois State, and Wright State beat Samford. We have recaps of each batch of matches on VolleyballMag.com.

It sets up the following Thursday schedule, all times Eastern:

Noon — San Diego vs. Louisville, Missouri vs. Ohio State, Pepperdine vs. Baylor, Notre Dame vs. Oregon

3:30 p.m. — High Point vs. Purdue, Texas State vs. Nebraska, Morehead State vs. Florida, Dayton vs. Washington

7 p.m. — UNLV vs. Kentucky, Wright State vs. Texas, Georgia Tech vs. Minnesota, Weber State vs. Wisconsin 

10:30 p.m. — UCLA vs. BYU, North Carolina A&T vs. Penn State, Western Kentucky vs. Washington State, Pitt vs. Utah

All the matches are being streamed on ESPN3. ESPN, it should be noted, did a strong job Wednesday with announcers for every match, good camera work, and excellent productions of the streams.

RICE TESTS OUT — As the other three 10:30 p.m. matches got under way, the camera on the Rice-NC A&T court showed only an empty Taraflex floor. 

Finally the announcements came, first from Rice (24-5), an at-large team from Conference USA. It Tweeted “We regret to announce that due to COVID-19 protocols, tonight’s match has been ruled a no-contest and we will not be able to participate in the NCAA Tournament.”

Soon after, the NCAA “declared the Rice-NC A&T match … a no-contest beause of COVID-19 protocols.”

“We are devastated that we won’t be able to compete in the NCAA Tournament this year,” Rice coach Genny Volpe said. “This team deserved it, earning an at-large bid in a 48-team field and has so much to be proud of. It certainly is painful to see how much the team wanted to compete and to have to break the news to them that they couldn’t play. To compete in this tournament meant so much to all of us. Although this is a very sad moment, we know safety is the number one priority.”

Rice, which won the Conference USA West division and lost to Western Kentucky in the league tournament final, had on its spring 2021 resume a victory over Texas.

NC A&T (11-1), which went 8-0 in the MEAC this season and won the conference tournament, will play 13th-seeded Penn State (9-5). Penn State, the only program to appear in every one of the 40 NCAA Tournaments, has never played NC A&T.

PITT SWEEPS LIU — The Panthers (17-4) of the ACC took a while to get going but ultimately beat LIU (9-6) of the Northeast Conference 26-24, 25-11, 25-10.

Pitt faces the Pac-12’s Utah (13-4). The programs have never met.

Pitt, which ended up hitting .344, got 11 kills from Chinaza Ndee, who hit .333 an dhad five blocks and three digs. Kayla Lund had nine kills with two errors in 19 attacks to hit .368 and had two aces, a block, and nine digs. Valeria Vazquez Gomez had seven kills, an assist, atwo blocks, and a dig, and Chiamaka Nwokolo had six kills in eight errorless attacks, a dig, and five blocks. 

LIU led Pitt 15-13 in the first set. The Panthers were up 23-20 when LIU rallied to tie it at 24. Back-to-back kills by Lund ended it.

The Sharks hit .060. Karolina Nova led with 10 kills, an ace, and five digs. Jovana Stekovic had seven kills and three digs. Pitt held a 12-1 blocking advantage.

UCLA CRUSHES RIDER — UCLA (15-6) of the Pac-12 hit .567 and won 25-12, 25-8, 25-9 and will play West Coast Conference champion BYU, the 16th seed. BYU, 17-1, and UCLA have played 30 times since 1972, but only twice since the rally scoring era began in 2001. UCLA won both, in 2004 and 2009.

The Bruins had 40 kills with six errors in 60 attacks against Rider. Mac May led with 14 kills and hit .500 and she had four aces, four blocks, and a dig. élan McCall had nine kills with one error in 13 attacks, an ace and eight digs. Emily Ryan had three kills in three swings and eight blocks.

Rider (7-5), the Metro Atlantic champion, hit minus .013. Three players had four kills each and the Broncs had 17 kills total and one block.

WKU SWEEPS JACKSON STATE — Western Kentucky, the Conference USA champion, hit .393 and improved to 22-0 with its 25-12, 25-16, 25-12 sweep of previously unbeaten Jackson State.

WKU now plays Washington State of the Pac-12. The Cougars and WKU have met once, in 2018, and Washington State won.

Paige Briggs had 16 kills for WKU with one error in 22 attacks. She hit .682 and had an assist, two aces, nine digs, and two blocks, one solo. Lauren Matthews had 14 kills, hit .478, and had a solo block and two digs. Katie Isenbarger had eight kills in nine errorless swings, four blocks, and three digs. Nadia Dieudonne had 31 assists, an ace, and five digs.

Jackson State (10-1), which won the SWAC, hit .000. Alexis Williams led with six of her team’s 19 kills and had eight digs.

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