A pretty light night of action Wednesday around the country, but one that saw a near upset in Morgantown, W. Va., where AVCA No. 4 Kansas escaped the WVU Coliseum with a 25-18, 18-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-8 win over West Virginia.
Not so in Lincoln, where AVCA No. 1 Nebraska took care of business at home with a sweep of No. 15 Penn State, 25-17, 25-14, 25-22.
How dominant has coach John Cook’s squad been lately? It was Nebraska’s 13th win in a row and it was its seventh sweep of a ranked opponent this year.
More on that later, but first a look at what’s on tap for NCAA volleyball today. There are 23 matches on today’s schedule. The B1G, ACC, Big 12, and SEC are idle, but the Pac-12 has one match, as Washington State travels to No. 16 Utah.
Atop the WCC, the action is in Northern California, as BYU travels to San Francisco, and San Diego plays at Santa Clara.
Big West No. 1 Hawai’i will face Big West No. 3 Cal Poly.
The Big Sky leaders begin tournament play, as North Dakota is home against Idaho, Northern Colorado plays host to Idaho State, Sacramento faces Eastern Washington, and Northern Arizona takes on visiting Portland State.
Both the WAC and A-Sun championships begin Thursday. New Mexico State hosts the Western Athletic Conference tournament, where No. 3 Bakersfield faces No. 6 Seattle and No. 4 University of Missouri-Kansas City follows against No. 5 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Lipscomb hosts the Atlantic Sun championships. The opening round pits No. 4 North Florida against USC Upstate and No. 3 Florida Gulf Coast against No. 6 Jacksonville.
With Wednesday’s win, Kansas moved to 24-2 and 13-1 in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks played the majority of the contest without All-American junior Kelsie Payne, who was injured in the second set. Junior Madison Rigdon led Kansas with 15 kills, nine digs and six blocks. Freshman Jada Burse had 11 kills and four blocks, while freshman Zoe Hill and redshirt freshman Ashley Smith provided a spark in Payne’s absence. Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili had 38 assists and 17 digs.
“It was a grind. You never know when things are not going to go your way,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “We had some key performances. Zoe came in and gave us a huge boost of the bench. Ashley came in and was competitive—blocked well. But in the end, once again, Tayler Soucie got us off to a really good start in the fifth set.”
Soucie passed Amanda Reves for second on KU’s career blocks list with 518.
West Virginia dropped to 12-16 and 3-11 in Big 12 play.
“I told the team there is nothing to hang your head about,” said Bechard. “West Virginia has taken a lot of teams to four or five sets in this building. We absolutely had to earn it tonight because West Virginia played one of their better matches of the season, I thought.”
Kansas is a win away from clinching at least a share of its first-ever Big 12 title.
The Jayhawks are a game ahead of AVCA No. 7 Texas, which shook off a weekend loss to Iowa State with a sweep of Texas Tech Wednesday at home in Gregory Gym.
The win put the Longhorns at 20-4 overall and 12-2 in conference.
Texas hit the 20-win milestone for a 13th year in a row.
Offensively, Texas hit .414, marking the ninth time this year the team hit above .300 (10-0 when it does so).
Junior opposite Ebony Nwanebu’s 15 kills paced Texas. Senior outside Paulina Prieto Cerame had 14 kills and hit .407 while Micaya White had 10 kills and nine digs.
“It was a really disappointing loss,” Texas junior libero Cat McCoy said, referring to the Iowa State setback. “I really liked the way we came to practice (after the loss) with a good mentality—just positive energy—and I think it showed tonight at the game. We were having fun and that’s why I think we played so well.”
Looking ahead, Kansas hosts Iowa State Saturday and then wraps up conference play next week at Baylor. Iowa State and Baylor both are 8-5 in Big 12 play.
Texas hosts Kansas State and West Virginia at home to close things out prior to the NCAA tournament.
In other Big 12 action, TCU edged Baylor in five sets, while Kansas State was a 3-1 winner over Oklahoma.
In Big Ten Conference action, unanimous AVCA No. 1 Nebraska inched closer to the Big Ten Conference title with a 3-0 sweep of Penn State in Lincoln. The Huskers are now 25-1 and 16-1 in league play. Penn State was eliminated from contention with the loss and stands at 19-9 overall and 11-6 in Big Ten action.
Nebraska held Penn State to season-lows in kills and attack percentage, in fact the 28 kills the Nittany Lions registered was nine fewer than their previous season low.
Senior Andie Malloy led the Huskers with a match-high 11 kills on .400 hitting, while sophomore Mikaela Foecke had 10 kills and seven digs. Amber Rolfzen and Briana Holman combined for 14 kills on 23 swings and both hit .500 or above. Kadie Rolfzen added six kills. Kelly Hunter had 36 assists and 15 digs.
In other Big Ten action Wednesday, Iowa downed Rutgers 3-1 at home in Iowa City, while Purdue stayed in state and was taken to five sets in Bloomington by Indiana.
Nebraska wraps up its regular season with matches at Iowa and Minnesota (this coming Wednesday) and a home contest against Michigan. Minnesota sits at 21-4 and 13-3 in the conference. Nebraska won the first meeting in five in Lincoln.
Over in the Pac-12 Conference, UCLA swept Oregon State 3-0 to seize control of the top spot in the league by a half-game over idle Washington. UCLA moved to 22-5 and 13-4 in the loop, while Washington stands at 22-4 and 12-4.
Senior Taylor Formico led the Bruins defense with 27 digs (one shy of the school record in a three-set match), while junior Reily Buechler had a double-double with 13 kills and 15 digs (the latter tying a career high).
UCLA posted a season-high nine aces, including two by Formico and senior Jordan Anderson, who added nine kills. Junior Ryann Chandler and freshman Kylie Miller each had similar stat outputs of 17 assists, seven digs and one assist, while freshman Torrey Van Winden had nine kills and seven digs. UCLA won the contest, despite hitting .177.
Looking in the near-term, the Bruins host Oregon Friday, which along with Stanford loom in the upper tier of the Pac-12 with 11-5 records. Washington heads to Boulder to face Colorado.
The match to keep an eye on is this coming Wednesday when UCLA visits Washington for its penultimate Pac-12 regular-season contest.
Boise State came back from a 1-2 set deficit to defeat Colorado State 25-23, 27-29, 10-25, 25-13, 15-10 to take control of the Mountain West. The Broncos, 23-6, 14-2 are now in sole possession of first place, and need only win one of their two remaining matches against Wyoming or Air Force to earn their first ever berth into the NCAA tournament.
Bronco head coach Shawn Garus is proud of his team: “We got blown out in the third set, and our team didn’t panic at all,” said Garus. “I took out our setter and told her to relax and that she was going back in and that we were winning this match. They believed it completely. I told the girls that were on the sideline once it got to 23, 24 to keep it positive when we go to the other side. Nobody panicked and we came back and blew them out in the fourth set to take the momentum back. It’s a sign of a mature team that they can get their butts kicked at home and come right back without skipping a beat and play even better.”
New champion looms for Division III
Reigning NCAA title holder California Lutheran lost in the round of 16 to regional host University of Northwestern (St. Paul) on Saturday as quarterfinal action begins on Thursday afternoon, and by Saturday night a champion will be crowned.
The road to Oshkosh saw several grueling matches, including five-set victories for UW Whitewater over Elmhurst and Southwestern over regional host UT-Dallas. Calvin College and Tufts both had relatively easy times advancing through their respective brackets, and make for a potential championship-final match-up.
Earlier first-round play saw 18 teams advance with 3-0 victories and included early exits for previously undefeated Johnson and Wales, 31-win Susquehanna, and West Coast power Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
The home-court advantage paid off for the University of Mary Washington Eagles as they breezed through their first three matches, dropping only one set. The Capital Athletic Conference champions will face Washington University (St. Louis) in Thursday’s nightcap. The Eagles had regular-season losses to Emory and Southwestern, both of whom advanced to the round of eight.
Division III report by Lawrence DiRie
Coaching Vacancies at Lindenwood and East Stroudsburg:
Tuesday Lindenwood women’s volleyball head coach Ron Young retired after 15 seasons and a 363-209 record with the Lady Lions.
Also Tuesday, fifth year head coach Allison Keeley’s contract was not renewed at East Stroudsburg University. The Warriors were 14-18 in 2016.