Nine conference tournaments kick off, Saturday’s Division III finals set

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Mineesota celebrates as the Gophers stave off a Michigan State matchpoint to win 18-16 in the fifth/Photo Credit Eric Miller, University of Minnesota

igThe race to the NCAA tournament was in full force Friday with nine conference tournaments kicking off with teams battling for coveted spots in the 64-team field. Friday also saw plenty of Top 25 action including two teams headed for a Pac-12 showdown next week, plus Boise State pulled off a special program first. Also, the Division III finals are set for Saturday.

We start with a look at the power five conference matches of the day:

In the Big 10, No. 13 Michigan State collides with No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 1 Nebraska goes to Iowa, No. 15 Penn State hosts Purdue, No.  24 Ohio State is at Illinois, and Maryland plays at Northwestern.

The Pacific 12 only has two matches, No. 19 Oregon at USC, and Cal at Arizona State.

Tonight’s Big 12 action features No. 4 Kansas at Iowa State, Baylor at Oklahoma, TCU at Texas Tech, and Kansas State at No. 7 Texas.

The SEC and ACC are off Saturday.

Now, let’s take a quick spin around the nine conference-tournament brackets from Friday:

In the Atlantic 10 tournament held in St. Louis, the host Billikens (No. 3 seed) dispatched No. 6 Davidson 3-1, while No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth used that same score to vanquish No. 4 Duquesne and advance to the semifinals.

St. Louis, which was led by standout Danielle Rygelski’s 28 kills on 53 swings (.302 hitting), faces No. 2 Rhode Island Saturday, while VCU squares off against No. 1 seed Dayton (28-1).

In the Horizon League, both quarterfinal matches went the distance with Northern Kentucky edging Valparaiso in five and Oakland downing Milwaukee by the same count. Oakland moves on Saturday to face top-seeded Cleveland State, while Northern Kentucky takes on Green Bay. Haley Libs had 24 kills for Northern Kentucky, while four players had 10 or more kills for Oakland, led by Jessica Dood’s 15.

Howard's senior outside Dominique Cleggett swings in a sweep over North Carolina Central
Howard’s senior outside Dominique Cleggett swings in a sweep over North Carolina Central/Photo Credit: MEAC

The MEAC was hopping in Princess Anne, Md., where Bethune-Cookman (3-0 over Morgan State), Howard (3-0 over North Carolina Central), Florida A & M (3-0 over Norfolk State) and Maryland Eastern Shore (3-0 over North Carolina A & T) all were winners. That sets up Bethune-Cookman taking on Howard and Maryland Eastern Shore taking on Florida A&M on Saturday in the semifinals of the straight eight-team bracketed tournament.

In the Big South at Lynchburg, Va., High Point was a 3-1 winner over UNC Asheville. Haley Barnes had her 18th double-double with 17 kills and 13 digs. High Point faces No. 2 seed Liberty Saturday. In the other first-round contest, Campbell was a 3-1 winner over Charleston Southern and earned a date with No. 1 seed Radford. Allena Heath’s 19 kills led the victorious Camels.

MAAC tournament play on Friday at Fairfield saw No. 3 Quinnipiac get by No. 6 Niagara in five, while No. 5 Siena swept No. 4 Rider. This sets up Saturday bouts with Siena facing top-seed Fairfield and Quinnipac facing No. 2 Marist.

Sydney Engle serves during Western Kentucky's sweep of Unitversity of Texas-El Paso/Photo Credit Conference USA
Sydney Engle serves during Western Kentucky’s sweep of University of Texas-El Paso/Photo Credit Conference USA

Conference USA’s plate was full Friday with No. 1 Western Kentucky sweeping UTEP behind Rachel Anderson’s 14 kills. Texas San Antonio was a 3-1 winner over Florida Atlantic despite 23 kills from Florida Atlantic’s Maja Ristic. No. 6 seed Rice upset No. 3 Marshall in three. Rice’s Chelsey Harris had 21 kills. Southern Miss, the No. 2 seed took care of North Texas   3-1. This sets up San Antonio-Western Kentucky and Rice-Southern Miss semifinal contests.

America East action in Durham, N.H. saw Albany sweep Maryland-Baltimore County and New Hampshire down Binghampton in three. Those teams play for the title Saturday.

Over in the Colonial Athletic Association, Towson and Delaware swept Hofstra and Northeastern respectively in the quarterfinals in a pair of upsets. Towson, the No. 5 seed, faces top-seeded James Madison in the semifinals Saturday. Delaware, the No. 6 seed, faces No. 2 College of Charleston.

And in the SWAC, No. 1 seed Alabama State swept No. 8 Grambling, No. 4 Alabama A&M was a 3-1 winner over No. 5 Prairie View A&M. No. 3 Southern was a 3-1 winner over No. 6 Arkansas-Pine Bluff and No. 2 Texas Southern was a 3-0 win over No. 7 Jackson State.

In the Atlantic Sun, Florida Gulf Coast came back from a 2-1 deficit and a bleak outlook in the fifth set to earn its first trip to the conference tournament final since 2009 with a five-set win over Kennesaw State. FGCU takes on host Lipscomb in Nashville Saturday for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Amanda Carroll again was key for FGCU with 21 kills and 20 digs.

In the Western Athletic, CSU Bakersfield went the distance in its win over Utah Valley, while UT Rio Grande Valley was a 3-1 winner over host New Mexico State, setting the stage for Saturday’s NCAA-ticket-puncher with Rio Grande Valley and CSU Bakersfield.

Rio Grande Valley is the No. 5 seed in the tournament and used 13 kills from Alisha Watson and 23 digs from Fatoumata Dacosta to upend the top speed.

Utah Valley provided the other WAC upset behind 22 kills from Carol Grasso.

Northern Arizona was a 3-1 winner over Sacramento State in one Big Sky semifinal, while host North Dakota swept Idaho. Northern Arizona and North Dakota meet Saturday for the title and a trip to the 64-team NCAA tournament.

Plenty of Top 25 teams were in action Friday as well. In the Big Ten Conference, one result jumps off the page where No. 2 Minnesota was taken the distance by No. 13 Michigan State in Minneapolis.

Sarah Wilhite of Minnesota scored 18 kills and seven digs against Michigan State/Photo Credit Eric Miller, University of Minnesota
Sarah Wilhite of Minnesota scored 18 kills and seven digs against Michigan State/Photo Credit Eric Miller, University of Minnesota

Minnesota (22-4, 14-3) was cruising along with 25-17 and 25-18 wins in the first two sets before the Spartans came back to win the next two and then took the Gophers to match point at 16-15 before Hugh McCutcheon’s squad turned the tables and rallied for an 18-16 fifth-set win. Michigan State dropped to 23-6 and 12-5 in league action.

Alexis Hart had a career-high 20 kills for Minnesota and hit .419. Sarah Wilhite had 18 kills and seven digs, while Dalianliz Rosado had a match-high 21 digs and Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 45 assists. Minnesota hit .308, while Michigan State was at .273 in a match filled with offense.

Elsewhere, Wisconsin was a 3-1 winner over Michigan, Ohio State took care of Northwestern 3-1, while Illinois swept Maryland in Champaign.

No. 3 Wisconsin (23-3, 15-2) won for the eighth time in a row and earned its 11th win over a ranked opponent this season. Michigan came to Madison ranked 17th.

“I thought we got a lot better with understanding where they were attacking,” UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We got our hands in better position (blocking) and I thought our backcourt defense was phenomenal, especially as the match was going on. I lost track of how many balls we covered from our attackers hitting and blocking and us just battling and fighting to keep the ball off the floor and getting more swings.

“I thought Lauren (Carlini) did a great job with mixing the game plan but also with what she was seeing. It was a great team effort. I thought everybody was playing really well and at a high level. Molly (Haggerty) hitting 22 kills and hitting .432, those are pretty big numbers. They were also putting an awful lot of serves on her and (she was) holding the fort down with that. It’s just a really good team effort for us.”

Freshman Haggerty led all players with her sixth career double-double. Junior Lauryn Gillis had 16 kills.

Michelle Strizak’s 14 kills and nine digs led Illinois, while Audra Appold had 17 kills and Taylor Hughes chipped in 14 kills, 21 assists and nine digs for victorious Ohio State.

Taylor Formico passes for UCLA/Photo Credit Han Duong/UCLA
Taylor Formico passes for UCLA/Photo Credit Han Duong/UCLA

The race for the Pac-12 title remained unchanged as loop leader UCLA downed Oregon in four, while Washington defeated Colorado in four and Stanford dispatched Arizona State. That leaves UCLA with a half-game lead over Washington (14-4 to 13-4) for first place with Stanford sitting one loss behind both teams at 12-5.

Senior Jennie Frager’s 15 kills and seven blocks keyed UCLA’s win in Los Angeles over No. 19 Oregon. Frager had only one error on 22 swings and hit .636. UCLA will now prepare for its major showdown Wednesday at Washington.

Washington received a balanced offensive effort keyed by Crissy Jones (18 kills), Kara Bajema (14 kills), Courtney Schwan (13 kills) and Tia Scambray (13 kills) in its win over Colorado. Bailey Tanner dished out 55 assists. It was Washington’s first win in Boulder since 2012. Colorado won the third set and led 9-4 in the fourth before Washington ran off 21 of the final 27 points, including a 10-1 run.

Washington has no cake walk in its 18th league match Sunday at No. 16 Utah.

Kathryn Plummer’s 13 kills paced Stanford (18-7 overall) in its win in Tempe.

Arizona defeated Cal and USC edged Oregon State in five to round out Pac-12 play.

Atlantic Coast Conference No. 1 North Carolina (ranked No. 6 in the country) swept Virginia. Miami was a 3-1 winner over Wake Forest. Florida State took control of second place in the conference with a 3-1 win over Duke. Pitt downed Syracuse 3-1, while Georgia Tech defeated Louisville in the first match since Cardinals’ coach Anne Kordes announced her resignation. Notre Dame swept Clemson and Virginia Tech swept Boston College.

North Carolina moved to 25-3 overall behind Haley Kole’s 13 kills. Jasmine Burton added 11 kills and Jennifer Wineholt had 31 assists.

SEC action on Friday, saw both of the league’s ranked teams take care of business. No. 23 Kentucky was a 3-0 winner over LSU, while No. 25 Missouri took down Auburn 3-1. Alabama was a 3-0 winner against South Carolina and Arkansas was a 3-1 victor against Georgia.

Boise State clinches its first trip to the NCAA tournament/Photo Credit Jessica Vargas, Boise State
Boise State clinches its first Mountain West crown/Photo Credit Jessica Vargas, Boise State

In the Mountain West, Boise State clinched a share of the league title and the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament after a 3-0 sweep of Wyoming in Laramie. Boise State has won 13 in a row, including 11 by sweep during that timeframe. Boise State will make its first trip to the NCAA tournament after winning its first conference title since the 1988 team won the Big Sky. A win against Air Force Tuesday secures the title outright.

Sierra Nobley led Boise State with 19 kills, including eight in the first set where the Broncos rallied from five points down to win.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished this year,” coach Shawn Garus said. “The team was showing some nerves and a little anxiousness this afternoon, they know how good a team Wyoming is and how hard they are to beat at home. I thought we handled Wyoming’s pressure and the pressure of the circumstances of this match well. It was a battle. Every time it looked like we had momentum in a set they came back on us. Like many of the victories in this run, this was a team win with everyone contributing.”

Over in the Missouri Valley, Missouri State locked up at least a share of its fourth MVC regular-season title with a 3-0 sweep of Evansville. The Bears also secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MVC tournament. Missouri State has won 15 matches in a row.

Elsewhere in the MVC, Drake defeated Indiana State (3-1), Northern Iowa downed Illinois State (3-1) and Wichita State swept Southern Illinois.

NCAA Division III tournament
The NCAA Division III tournament is down to two teams after Calvin defeated Northwestern-St. Paul 3-0 and Washington-St. Louis swept Southwestern 3-0 in Oshkosh, Wis.

Laura Danhoff had 19 kills and hit .447 for 31-1 Calvin, while Julianne Malek scored 19.5 points on 16 kills (.667 hitting with no errors) and 3.5 blocks to lead Washington-St. Louis (26-10).

Calvin and Washington-St. Louis square off for the Division III crown Saturday at 8 p.m.

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