There’s a new sheriff in the Mountain West, where the Boise State Broncos celebrated Tuesday night winning the Mountain West league crown for the first time, while the Colorado State Rams are left in limbo until Sunday to learn if their team goes to the NCAA Tournament for the 23rd consecutive year or not.
And what would a night of NCAA volleyball be without an upset? To wit, No. 11 San Diego was stunned by Pepperdine while BYU won at Loyola Marymount to win the West Coast Conference regular-season title.
No matter who wins it won’t be an upset, but Wednesday night has what could well be a preview of the national-title tilt as No. 1 Nebraska goes to No. 2 Minnesota for a Big Ten showdown that has must-see written all over it. It’s on the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m. Central and if it’s anything like the last time they met — a 3-2 win for Nebraska Oct. 23 in Lincoln — volleyball fans don’t want to miss it.
First a look at the rest of Wednesday’s key matches — and there are some potentially great ones — starting in the ACC where Duke is playing for its postseason life at No. 6 North Carolina. The Blue Devils are 21-7, 15-3 in the ACC, and tied with No. 16 Florida State (21-4, 15-3), two games behind Carolina (25-3, 17-1).
But Duke has an RPI of 59, putting the Blue Devils in a very tenuous situation in a 64-team field in which 32 spots go to conference winners. Duke finishes the regular season Saturday at NC State.
The aforementioned Seminoles play host to Clemson (6-24, 1-17). Pittsburgh (22-8, 13-5), which has an RPI of 37, entertains Virginia Tech (12-17, 7-11). But Georgia Tech (23-7, 14-4), with an RPI of 47 — a scary place to be sitting — goes to Miami (14-16, 8-10) and needing to win Wednesday before finishing at Florida State on Friday. A loss to FSU won’t be an RPI killer, but a victory would all but assure that Georgia Tech is in.
Also in the ACC Wednesday, Wake Forest (9-20, 5-13) is at NC State (18-12, 11-7), Syracuse (7-21, 6-12) goes to Louisville (10-18, 5-13) and Boston College (8-20, 3-15) is at Notre Dame (20-10, 11-7). Notre Dame is 64 in the RPI after losing six of its last eight.
Another ACC note: West Virginia Tweeted on Tuesday that former USC setter Baylee Johnson, who left the Women of Troy last summer, has joined the program.
Nebraska is atop the Big Ten at 26-1, 17-1. No. 3 Wisconsin is a game back at 24-3, 16-2, while Minnesota is third at 23-4, 15-3.
The last time Nebraska played Minnesota, the final was 24-26, 25-18, 26-24, 22-25, 15-8.
Wisconsin plays host to Iowa (19-11, 9-9), which is 68 in the RPI. Purdue (17-12, 7-11) goes to Maryland (11-19, 3-15). Despite its record, Purdue is No. 22 in the RPI. And in the battle of the Michigans, No. 14 Michigan State (23-7, 12-6) goes to No. 18 Michigan (21-9, 10-8. They played just 11 days ago and State won in four. State is 14 in the RPI and still hoping to be a first-round NCAA host.
All three ranked SEC teams — No. 9 Florida, No. 22 Missouri and No. 23 Kentucky — plus NCAA-bound Texas A&M play Wednesday night. Florida (24-3, 14-2) plays host to Auburn (15-14, 9-7), Mizzou (23-5, 14-2) goes to Georgia (13-16, 1-15), Kentucky (22-6, 15-2) is at Tennessee (16-13, 6-10) and A&M (19-8, 13-3) gets LSU (9-18, 4-12). Kentucky can wrap up the SEC title with a victory, which would be its first since 1988.
Also, Arkansas (8-20, 6-10) is at South Carolina (18-10, 6-10, and Ole Miss (16-13, 5-11) is at Alabama (18-11, 7-9).
There are two Big 12 matches on Wednesday as Iowa State (16-10, 8-6) goes to Baylor (21-9, 9-5) and West Virginia (12-16, 3-11) goes to TCU (13-12, 6-9). Iowa State, Baylor and TCU are going to get at-large NCAA bids.
The Pac-12 has a full slate with a lot of rankings and seedings on the line, especially with No. 8 UCLA (23-5, 14-4) at No. 7 Washington (24-4, 14-4) in a battle for first place. As the U-W news release said, “Alaska Airlines Arena will be the site of a de facto Pac-12 title match this Wednesday night, as the first-place Huskies and Bruins meet for the first and only time this season in the penultimate regular season match for both squads.”
No. 19 Oregon (19-8, 12-4) is at No. 12 Stanford (19-7, 13-5) as the league race comes down to the wire. Two other matches with NCAA-bound matches include No. 17 Utah (20-9, 11-7) goes to Arizona (17-13, 9-9) and USC (18-11, 10-8) goes to Washington State (20-10, 10-8). All four of those teams will make the tournament.
Also, Colorado (13-15, 5-13) plays at Arizona State (10-20, 3-15) and Oregon State (11-18, 4-14) is at Cal (9-19, 3-15).
New Mexico State, which has already clinched the Western Athletic Conference and the NCAA bid that goes with it, goes out of conference to play UTEP.
SMU has already won the American Athletic Conference title, but two others, Cincinnati and Temple, are playing for their postseason lives. Cincinnati, 40 in the RPI, plays host to East Carolina, while Temple, 49 in the RPI, entertains SMU in a match that could go a long way in helping its cause.
Boise State celebrates MW title
The Broncos made short work of visiting Air Force 25-15, 25-15, 25-20 and then took a lot of photos with the Mountain West championship trophy. Boise State (25-6, 16-2) takes a 14-game win streak – third longest in school history and which began with a sweep of Air Force – into the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m excited about where the program is at, but I’ve also been thinking a lot this past week about how many alumni helped us get here,” said Boise State coach Shawn Garus, whose team in 2015 finished 23-7, 15-3, but didn’t get an NCAA bid. “I wish they could all understand how important they’ve been to our current players. The current players may have won the conference this year, but we wouldn’t have been able to have done it without some of the alumni in the past who have really helped us be ready for this moment.”
Junior Sierra Nobley, who has had a fantastic season for the Broncos, led Boise with 14 kills and hit .344. She also had three of the Broncos’ 18 blocks. Sabryn Roberts added 10 kills, while Kaitlyn Oliver had five kills and five blocks.
The 25 wins this season are the second most in school history and gives the Broncos back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1990.
“Coming in as a freshman, we were definitely underdogs as a team, but we had a lot of potential,” Nobley said. “I think this showed how hard we’ve worked for it.
“Last year we missed it and it really motivated us to get into the gym during the spring and the summer. I think that really prepared us. This is a talented group of girls, but I think our work ethic is what did it for us.”
Sunday night the Broncos will see where they’re headed.
“I think the NCAA tournament is going to be a blast, but a coaching friend of mine told me it goes fast,” Garus said. “We need to get our kids honed in on specifics, because it’s one-and-done. We need to be really sharp and ready for that first opponent, or we’re going to be out really early. I’m excited for them to take a few days off and rest, but I want them to get right back in it and get ready to attack whoever that first opponent is.”
Conversely, Colorado State is left hanging. The Rams beat visiting Wyoming 22-25, 25-20, 28-30, 27-25, 15-12 in a thriller to improve to 21-8, 15-3. Their RPI is 48.
“I am still definitely hopeful and optimistic,” CSU senior libero Cassidy Denny said. “If for some reason we do not get (a bid) I think in a week or two it will really set in that this was my last game. In my head this was not my last game. You cannot think of it like that.
“This is my last game at Moby, that is bitter-sweet, but I went out the best possible way I could, in a five-set Border War win after having lost at Wyoming (earlier in the year). I could not ask for anything more, but it’s definitely not my last game.”
Veteran coach Tom Hilbert was optimistic, too.
“The Mountain West significantly improved their conference RPI this year. You know, we moved from 14th to seventh and I think that is a case to put three teams from the Mountain West in, and maybe that means (UNLV) gets in too,” Hilbert said.
CSU setter Katie Oleksak had 71 assists, the most in CSU history in the 25-point rally scoring format. It was also the third-highest total in a five-set match by any player in the NCAA this season.
Teammate Sanja Cizmic led the Rams with 27 kills on 55 swings and hit .436. Jasmine Hanna added 20 kills, while Kirstie Hillyer had nine blocks, one solo.
Wyoming’s Kayla Slofkiss and Laura Beach had 14 kills apiece.
“That was a pretty crazy match,” Hilbert said.
Toreros fall at Pepperdine, BYU wins WCC
USD would probably rather be building momentum heading into postseason than losing 25-23, 25-22, 23-25, 25-22 in Malibu. It left the Toreros 24-5, 15-3 in the West Coast Conference. Meanwhile, No. 10 BYU won at Loyola Marymount in a wild one 16-25, 16-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-13 to clinch the title. BYU is 27-3, 16-2.
“I am so proud of the team,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “Loyola Marymount came out on fire and played a great match. Our team stayed positive and never gave up. That was a total team effort tonight and everyone contributed.”
McKenna Miller led BYU with 21 kills and hit .317. Whitney Young Howard had nine kills and seven blocks and Amy Boswell had 15 kills. LMU’s season ended 19-11, 10-8, as Sarah Sponcil led with 18 kills and 17 digs.
USD got 16 kills from Lisa Kramer. Pepperdine ended its season 13-17, 7-11. Gaby Palmeri ended her career in style with 11 kills, five blocks and four digs.