The NCAA women’s field of 64 continued to take shape Sunday as numerous conference tournament championships were decided. We’ll focus on those, plus take a quick drive around the Power 5 conferences where the No. 5-ranked team in the country fell.
Dayton (30-1) went the distance in securing the Atlantic 10 Conference title and an NCAA berth. The Flyers were 3-2 winners over host Saint Louis in the final. It was Dayton’s seventh A-10 title in the last eight years in a rematch of last year’s title contest.
Dayton’s Amber Erhahon was named the championship’s most outstanding player. She had 14 kills, seven blocks and hit .542 in the win.
Conference player of the year Danielle Rygelski recorded a new career high in kills with 35 and had 105 kills over the three-day tournament for Saint Louis. Rygelski also earned a spot on the all-championship team.
The Horizon League will be represented by Cleveland State in the NCAAs after outlasting Green Bay 3-2 in the final in Cleveland. The Vikings led 2-0 in sets and survived a Green Bay comeback.
All-tournament MVP Alexis Middlebrooks led Cleveland State with 20 kills and hit .515. Green Bay dropped to 21-9 and received 10 kills and eight blocks from Lydia DeWeese and 17 kills from Megan Powers.
Howard University also is tournament-bound after a 3-1 victory over Florida A&M in the MEAC final in Princess Anne, Md. It was Howard’s second MEAC title in a row. The Bison have won 16 in a row and have not lost since mid-September.
Howard’s Khalia Donaldson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after averaging 13.6 kills and 15.6 digs per match. In the final, she had 13 kills and 13 digs.
Over in the Big South, No. 3 seed High Point is headed to the NCAA tournament after upsetting top seed Radford 3-1. High Point improved to 23-9 and is the first No. 3 seed to win the tourmament since 2003.
Haley Barnes led High Point with 20 kills, 10 digs and four blocks and was named tournament MVP.
In MAAC action, host Fairfield extended its winning streak to 22 matches, the longest current streak in the nation, with a 3-0 victory over Quinnipiac in the tournament final. It was Fairfield’s second MAAC title in a row and fourth in the last five years.
Fairfield middle blocker Megan O’Sullivan was named the championship most outstanding player. She had seven kills and three blocks in the final. MAAC player of the year Skyler Day had 18 kills, six digs and two blocks and hit .341.
Western Kentucky had its hands full with No. 6 seed Rice in the Conference USA final. The top-seeded Lady Toppers won 3-2 behind championship MVP Rachel Anderson’s career-high 31 kills (on .580 hitting) and punched an NCAA ticket. Western Kentucky is the first C-USA team to win the conference tournament three years in a row.
In Colonial Athletic Association action, top-seeded James Madison swept No. 6 seed Delaware to win the conference tournament. It was Madison’s first appearance in the title match since 2002. Janey Goodman had 10 kills and hit .474 en route to being named the tournament most outstanding player. She’s also the CAA player of the year.
The SWAC final saw Alabama State down Texas Southern 3-1. It was Alabama State’s third crown in four years. Bayle Bennett earned tournament MVP honors.
The Mid-American Conference finale saw No. 2 seed Northern Illinois sweep No. 1 seed Miami to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
NIU senior Mary Grace Kelly was named tournament MVP after posting 17 points on 11 kills, three aces and four blocks. Jenna Radtke added 10 kills, four blocks and four aces to earn a spot on the all-tournament team as well.
“I’m extremely happy for this group,” said NIU coach Ray Gooden. “The coolest part of this is (the team’s) composure and their ability to embrace the situation and live in the moment and we saw that,” he said. “I can’t tell you who played the best and supported the group the most because they all did. Those were the things on display tonight. I thought we had balance, we had bravery and we had great support from everyone.”
The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina downed top-seeded Arkansas State to earn its first Sun Belt championship by a 3-1 score. Tahleia Bishop paced the Chants with 15 kills and nine digs, while the tournament’s Most Outstanding Performer Leah Hardeman finished with 14 kills and 18 digs.
The field for the Big East Conference tournament has been set. The semifinals take place at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler on Friday. No. 1 seed Creighton faces No. 4 seed Seton Hall, while No. 2 Marquette faces No. 3 Xavier. The winners meet Saturday for the title.
Around the country, No. 5 Florida dropped a five-set match on the road to No. 25 Missouri. Florida had its 12-match winning streak stopped. More importantly, the Gators are now in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC with Missouri and Kentucky. Florida still can clinch at least a share of its 22nd conference title with wins in both of its remaining matches.
Florida dropped to 24-3 and 14-2, while Missouri moved to 23-5 and 14-2.
Missouri was led by Carly Kan’s 25 kills. Melanie Crow added 20. Alyssa Munlyn had nine blocks, while Courtney Eckenrode had 59 assists. Kan recorded a double-double with 25 kills and 21 digs. Kan’s 20-20 effort was the second by the team this year. Crow also did it in September.
Carli Snyder led Florida with 20 digs and 19 kills and is the first Gator since 2012 to record 20 digs in a double-double. She’s only one of five SEC players with 20-plus digs and 15-plus kills in a match this year.
Also in the SEC, league tri-leader Kentucky (No. 23 AVCA) downed visiting Texas A&M at Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky hit .308 and was paced by freshman Leah Edmond’s 25 kills. Sophomore Olivia Dailey had 60 assists in helping the Wildcats register 69 total kills, a program record. Texas A&M fell to 19-8 and 13-3 in SEC action.
“I’m proud as a coach,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. “Against good teams, you have to be pretty stable mentally. That’s a team that can easily get you out of your rhythm. There was a wave of momentum throughout that whole match. I’m proud of our team for sticking to it. We had a chance to break and we didn’t.”
Ole Miss was a 3-1 winner over Georgia, while Auburn swept South Carolina. Tennessee was a 3-1 winner over LSU and Arkansas went to five in its win over Mississippi State to round out SEC play.
Checking in on the Atlantic Coast Conference action from Sunday, Pitt was a 3-0 winner over Boston College. Virginia Tech was a 3-1 winner against Syracuse. Georgia Tech swept Notre Dame, while Louisville swept Clemson. No. 17 Florida State was a 3-1 winner over Wake Forest. Duke went to five in its win over Miami and North Carolina State also needed the full contingent of sets to get by Virginia.
North Carolina, idle on Sunday, continues to lead the ACC at 17-1. Florida State and Duke are each two games back and Georgia Tech is three back.
In the Big Ten, No. 2 Minnesota needed five sets once again to vanquish a team from the state of Michigan. The Golden Gophers were 3-2 winners over Michigan at home. Minnesota was taken to the limit Friday against Michigan State.
The Golden Gophers posted 12 blocks, 72 kills and 77 digs in the marathon win. Sarah Wilhite had a career-high 26 kills and 13 digs. Alexis Hart added 14 kills, while Hannah Tapp had 11 kills and five blocks. Molly Lohman had nine kills and seven blocks against the No. 18 team in the nation. Samantha Seliger-Swenson had a career-high seven kills to go with 55 assists and 13 digs. The match was played in front of 5,337 fans. Minnesota remained unbeaten at home.
Minnesota closes out the regular season with a bang at home this week, welcoming No. 1 Nebraska to town Wednesday and No. 3 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Nebraska leads the Big Ten at 17-1, while Wisconsin is 16-2 and Minnesota is 16-3. Wisconsin hosts Iowa on Wednesday, while Nebraska closes out its regular-season slate at home Saturday against Michigan.
Indiana was a 3-0 winner on the road at Rutgers.
We close it out in the Pac-12 where No. 8 Washington pulled into a first-place tie with UCLA atop the loop with a 3-1 road win over No. 16 Utah in Salt Lake City.
Tia Scambray and Courtney Schwan each had 19 kills for Washington (24-4, 14-4), which hosts UCLA Wednesday where the winner clinches a share of the conference title. Washington then closes out Pac-12 play at Washington State, while UCLA hosts USC in its finale.
The Washington win eliminated both Utah and Oregon from title contention.
“That’s a really impressive Utah team with some great attackers, so to get two road wins this week at two quality Colorado and Utah teams late in the season sure means a heck of a lot,” said Washington coach Keegan Cook. “I think there was a pretty heavy serve and pass battle going on between the two teams that are quite good at that. There were swings between who was serving and passing the ball at a high level, but we were able to swing that in our favor late in the match.”
Stanford (19-7, 13-5) remains one game behind Washington and UCLA after its 3-0 win in Tucson against Arizona. Freshman outside hitter Kathryn Plummer recorded her team-best eighth double-double of the year for the No. 12 Cardinal. Plummer finished with 15 kills and hit .312, to go with 10 digs. Redshirt junior Ivana Vanjak had eight kills and three solo blocks. Inky Ajanaku and Merete Lutz each had seven kills and three blocks. Stanford hosts Oregon and Cal this week to finish out its Pac-12 commitments for the season.
There are only two games on Monday’s NCAA volleyball schedule: Mountain West No. 3 UNLV (22-7, 11-6) hosts MW No. 6 San Diego State (16-15, 8-9).
West Coast Conference No. 5 Gonzaga (16-11, 9-8) goes to WCC No. 4 Portland (17-12, 10-7).
NCAA Division II
With the NCAA Division II tournament right around the corner, a quick look at the most recent AVCA Top 10 Division II teams: 1) Concordia-St. Paul; 2) Minnesota-Duluth; 3) Nebraska-Kearney; 4) Southwest Minnesota State; 5) Wheeling Jesuit; 6) Winona State; 7) Augustana (S.D.); 8) Wayne State (Neb.); 9) Alaska-Anchorage; 10) Palm Beach Atlantic.