You know it was a heck of a night when Alabama’s Krystal Rivers, who on Wednesday was named the SEC player of the year, doesn’t make the headline after getting 35 kills and hitting .408 in a win over Ole Miss.

So, yes, it was a heck of night, when No. 2 Minnesota came back from 0-2 to knock off visiting No. 1 Nebraska 21-25, 22-25, 28-26, 25-17, 17-15 in truly a Big Ten match for the ages.

“It was a couple of heavyweights going toe to toe in the fifth,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said.

And a night in which No. 7 Washington beat visiting No. 8 UCLA to win the Pac-12 title, its third in four years, and when No. 6 North Carolina clinched the ACC crown.

There are more matches to recap from Wednesday, but first Happy Thanksgiving on a day when, yes, there are two matches, as the Missouri Valley Conference tournament gets under way at Northern Iowa.

Illinois State plays Southern Illinois and Loyola faces the home team. Play resumes Friday when top-seeded Missouri State awaits the winner of the first match and Wichita State the winner of the second. And as an aside, it’s possible the Valley will get two at-large bids, since Wichita State is 35 in the NCAA RPI, UNI 44 and Missouri State 46.

Big comeback for Minnesota as Big Ten race tightens

In what could well have been a preview of a rematch in Columbus in either the national semifinals or NCAA title match, Minnesota turned the tables on Nebraska, which had beaten the Gophers in five when they came to Lincoln on Oct. 23. But this one was even closer.

“The fans got their money’s worth tonight,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Numbers 1 and 2 in the country and it came down to two points in the end.

“Minnesota played really well. They held us off in game three, and we kept coming back in game five and couldn’t get a lead on them. We earned some chances to win it, but just didn’t execute.”

It left the top of the Big Ten still up for grabs.

Nebraska still leads at 26-2 overall, 17-2 in the league, but dropped into a tie with idle Wisconsin, 26-3, 17-2. But Wisconsin — which win four over Iowa — goes to Minnesota (24-4, 16-3) on Saturday, while Nebraska finishes up at home against Michigan (22-9, 11-8), which put the hammer on Michigan  State on Wednesday night.

In other words, the title is up for grabs between those three teams with one match left.

Meanwhile, back to Minnesota-Nebraska, as the Gophers had 72 kills, 100 digs, and 10 blocks.

Senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite had 19 kills and career-high 25 digs. Sophomore setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 59 assists and 19 digs. Senior middle Hannah Tapp had 16 kills with three blocks, freshman outside Alexis Hart had 13 kills, and senior middle Paige Tapp had 11 kills with four blocks. Junior Molly Lohman added nine kills hit .533, and a team-high seven blocks.

“Samantha did a really good job at balancing the offense and getting the ball to the middles and right sides,” Wilhite said. “It opened things for me and Lexi on the outside and changed the game. I don’t think they were able to stop us offensively.”

If they got the chance. Both teams were tight at the end of the fifth. At 15-15, Sydney Townsend of Nebraska — as Hart of Minnesota had done just two points earlier — missed her serve. And then Minnesota closed it out on a block by Wilhite and Lohman.

“Obviously Nebraska’s a very good team,” Minnesota’s McCutcheon said. “Defensively they were playing with a lot of discipline and I thought in the beginning of the match  I thought our athletes thought they had to do something really special to get the ball to the floor. So we ended up forcing some stuff, especially out of system.”

McCutcheon said that during the break he told his team to be patient.

“It was really about committing to a lot of hard work for a really long time and we just kept making plays for long enough we’d have a chance.”

Wilhite said they talked about “playing Gopher volleyball.”

In set three, McCutcheon said, “there was a little ebb and flow and we were able to turn that and all of a sudden we got going on the offensive end.”

Nebraska, which had won 14 in a row overall and 17 in a row on the road, got 20 kills and 10 digs from senior right side Kadie Rolfzen, who hit .333. Sophomore outside Mikaela Foecke and senior outside Andie Malloy had 12 kills each and junior middle Briana Holman had 11 kills and six blocks. Senior middle Amber Rolfzen had seven blocks and had six kills. Junior setter Kelly Hunter had 48 assists and 12 digs, and senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes had 26 digs.

“Our serving was very tentative and they were in system,” Cook said. “They’re a very tough team when they’re in system. I knew serve and pass was going to win it, and we lost serve and pass tonight. We also got out-dug by 14 balls. We’re used to out-digging teams, and I thought we got outworked tonight.”

The NCAA bracket will be announced Sunday and the volleyball-watching world can only hope these two teams are on opposite sides to set up a meeting in Columbus.

“These matches are very rare,” McCutcheon said. “This kind of environment and this kind of team where you really get put to the test. We learned a ton tonight and I think we also grew a little bit and got to evolve.”

Michigan sweeps Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue win

What crazy scores as the Wolverines won 25-16, 25-11, 32-30 to get revenge after losing to State in four earlier this season. Michigan is 22-9, 11-8, while Michigan State is 23-8, 12-7

Michigan, which improved to 15-2 at home, got 12 kills from Claire Kieffer-Wright, who hit .476. Abby Cole added 10 kills.

State’s Alyssa Garvelink led the Spartans with just eight kills on a night when they hit .091. Michigan hit .350, its best in a Big Ten match this season.

“We really didn’t get going until the third set, and credit has to go to Michigan for keeping us out of sorts,” MSU coach Cathy George said. “I thought we played much better in the third, which looked a lot more like the sets between these teams 10 days ago at Jenison.

“We’ll take stock of ourselves tomorrow and get some rest – because we know that we’re going to get an “A” effort from Iowa in their building on Saturday.”

Wisconsin and visiting Iowa grinded until the fourth set when the Badgers came away with a 25-15, 22-25, 25-16, 25-7 victory. It dropped the Hawkeyes to 19-12, 9-10 and at 68 in the RPI, left them on the outside looking in on Sunday.

Sophomore Tionna Williams led Wisconsin with 14 kills and a .737 hitting percentage with no errors on 19 attempts, to go with a match-high seven blocks. Freshman Molly Haggerty had 13 kills, senior Haleigh Nelson 12 and six blocks and junior Lauryn Gillis had 10 kills.

Senior setter Lauren Carlini had 57 assists, one fewer than her season-high, and had seven digs and two blocks.

“I thought it was a really good match, so many positives out of this,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “I thought we came out and played really well. Iowa came out in the second and upped their service game a little bit and we got kind of knocked back on our heels. I thought we responded great.

“That’s probably the most important quality. I told the team afterwards, that’s probably the most important quality going into the tournament is how do you respond because you’re not going to keep a good team down for an hour and a half or two hours. I thought we responded in a great way.”

Junior Jess Janota led Iowa with 12 kills as her team took a set off Wisconsin for the first time in more than three years.

“Great effort by our gals tonight,” Iowa coach Bond Shymansky said. “When you come into a top-ranked team’s gym on senior night, there’s a lot of energy and emotion out there, but I thought we responded really well after the first set and played some great volleyball.

“I’m proud of our group and how far we’ve come. Everything is about the process and the progress for us, and you can see it in our group. You can see it in the way we are willing to execute.”

Nothing comes easy for Purdue this season and Wednesday was a perfect example as the visiting Boilermakers improved to 18-12, 8-11 with a 25-18, 24-26, 25-17, 22-25, 15-9 win to give coach Dave Shondell his 300th college victory.

Junior Danielle Cuttino had a match-high 17 kills and added a team-best four blocks, while junior Azariah Stahl had 13 kills and 18 digs. Sophomore Sherridan Atkinson followed with 12 kills and hit .471. Senior Faye Adelaja had eight kills and four blocks, while redshirt freshman Blake Mohler had seven kills and four blocks.

Junior middle blocker Hailey Murray led Maryland with 15 kills as the Terps dropped to 11-20, 3-16.

“Hats off to Purdue. They are a tournament team that competed hard and made plays at crucial times,” Maryland coach Steve Aird said. “We are moving on to Indiana right now. I expect us to play really hard on Friday.”

Washington celebrates beating UCLA and winning the Pac-12 title/Stephen Burns photo
Washington celebrates beating UCLA and winning the Pac-12 title/Stephen Burns photo

Pac-12: UW gets share of the title, Stanford still in it, Utah falls

Basically, it was winner take all in Seattle, where UCLA and Washington were 14-4 atop the league. So Washington’s 25-11, 22-25, 25-22, 25-15 victory left the Huskies 25-4, 15-4 and guaranteed a share of the title.

But UCLA (23-6, 14-5) and Stanford (20-7, 14-5) can force a tie. Washington finishes at Washington State on Saturday, while Stanford ends up with Cal at home on Friday and UCLA entertains USC on Saturday.

Junior outside hitter Courtney Schwan had a career-high 27 kills and hit .440 for Washington, which won the Pac-12 outright in 2013 and shared the title last year with USC. U-W also won back-to-back Pac-10 titles in 2004 and 2005.

“It takes a lot of people to accomplish anything of significance,” second-year U-W coach Keegan Cook said, “and on days like this it’s easy to feel grateful for all those people.”

Tia Scambray added 13 kills and Crissy Jones had 11.

Freshman Torrey Van Winden led the Bruins with 11 kills and had eight digs, while junior Reily Buechler added 14 digs and eight kills. Senior Claire Felix had seven kills in 15 attempts with no errors and hit .467.

No. 12 Stanford beat visiting No. 19 Oregon for the ninth time in a row with a 25-22, 25-11, 25-22 sweep. Oregon dropped to 19-9, 13-6 as Stanford hit .356.

Stanford got 10 kills apiece from freshman Kathryn Plummer and senior Inky Ajanaku, who also had five blocks.

Freshman Ronika Stone led Oregon with 14 kills and hit .524.

No. 17 Utah lost at Arizona 22-25, 25-18, 25-16, 25-15 to fall to 20-10, 11-8, while Arizona improved to 18-13, 10-9.

Kalei Mau had 21 kills and three aces, Kendra Dahlke had 13 kills and Katarina Pilepic had nine kills and three blocks.

“I was proud of the way we played today,” Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. “We came out a little flat in the first set, but we executed well in the last three sets. That was a big win for us against a good team. We had some energy that I felt we had been lacking the last couple of matches.”

Adora Anae led Utah with 16 kills. Carly Trueman added 15 kills and two blocks and Tawnee Luafalemana had eight kills and two blocks.

Washington State won a big match between teams hovering on the NCAA edge when the Cougars beat visiting USC 17-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-25, 15-8.

It left WSU, 45 in the RPI, 21-10, 11-8. USC, 43 in the RPI, is 18-12, 10-9.

Kyra Holt led the Cougars with 18 kills, 12 digs and five blocks. McKenna Woodford added 14 kills and four blocks and Taylor Mims and Claire Martin had seven blocks apiece.

“I’m very proud of this team for getting the win against a very, very tough USC team,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said.

“We were able to grind it out in five. It was a little inconsistent at times but I was glad we were a little more consistent in the fifth set. We needed to settle down and get our defensive going more. Our serve wasn’t great until the end of the match and that definitely helped us. I thought Taylor Mims, especially, had some great blocks and shifted the momentum.”

Khalia Lanier led USC with 27 kills and 12 digs, Niki Withers had 12 kills and Elise Ruddins had nine kills and six blocks.

Also in the Pac-12, Oregon State won at Cal in five and Arizona State beat visiting Colorado in four.

ACC: UNC douses Duke hopes, FSU, Pittsburgh win

Duke, 59 in the RPI, desperately needed the upset of the No. 6 Tar Heels to get into the NCAA mix, but North Carolina beat the visitors 22-25, 25-17, 25-13, 25-20 to claim the school’s 13th ACC title.

“This one feels as good as the first one,” said UNC coach Joe Sagula, who tied the ACC record by winning his seventh league title.

“I’m really proud of this team. I think there were a lot of expectations and pressure from the beginning of the season to be able to fulfill the goals and the predictions. The fact that we could do it was a relief, especially against a really good opponent and a rival. To do it before the last match of the year was a chance to just take a deep breath, to take it in, and to really appreciate it more.

“It may sound corny, but the appreciation we have for this team, especially here at Thanksgiving— we just have a huge amount of gratitude for everyone’s hard work to make this happen this year.”

It left UNC 26-3, 18-1 ACC, and Duke 21-8, 15-4.

Sophomore Taylor Leath had 17 kills and 17 digs, hitting .372 with a career-high six blocks.

“I think it’s really special for this team,” Leath said. “It’s one of those things that we need to do. We’re not only thinking about ACC’s but we’re thinking about the postseason as well. The energy we brought today is really going to help us, and we’re gaining momentum at the right time. So it’s not only the ACC championship, it’s also the statement we want to make about Carolina Volleyball.”

Freshman outside Julia Scoles added 10 kills, 12 digs and three aces, while senior opposite Taylor Treacy had nine kills and seven blocks. Junior middle Taylor Fricano hit .471 with eight kills and eight blocks and junior middle Beth Nordhorn had seven kills and five blocks.

“It’s insane,” Fricano said. “It feels amazing just for our seniors. I was getting choked up just thinking about them and all the effort they’ve put into this program and everything they’ve done for this program. That was for them more than anybody else.”

Duke senior middle Jordan Tucker led the Blue Devils with 17 kills and hit .333.

We just didn’t sustain it like we needed to against a good team like this,” Duke coach Jolene Nagel said. “We had some really good things going for us. Their blocking had a strong impact. If we could’ve minimized those errors just a little bit and controlled that ball a little bit better, maybe we could’ve picked at that block a little bit more and it would’ve been a different outcome.”

No. 16 Florida State had to go four to beat Clemson 25-16, 24-26, 25-17, 25-17 to improve to 23-5, 16-3. Milica Kubura had 18 kills and Mara Green and Katie Horton 14 each for the Seminoles, who hit .389.

Pittsburgh improved to 23-8, 14-5, with its 25-23, 25-18, 25-19 win over Virginia Tech. The Panthers, 37 in the RPI, got seven kills and four blocks from senior Jenna Potts, who hit .462. Freshman Stephanie Williams had 15 kills and hit .444.

How about these scores: Georgia Tech, 47 in the RPI, kept its NCAA hopes alive with a 21-25, 25-17, 25-17, 20-25, 21-19  victory over Miami, its first in Miami since 2011.

Teegan Van Gunst led the Yellow Jackets with 23 kills and 21 digs. Gabriela Stavnetchei added 14 kills and 12 digs.

Georgia Tech is 24-7, 15-4, while Miami is 14-17, 8-11.

“The players came together and said we’re going to do this,” GT coach Michelle Collier said. “They played with so much confidence on the court. I don’t think there was one second in their mind where they thought they couldn’t win that match. I’m so proud of their demeanor on the court. They were really resilient and kept going after it. It was a very deserving win for this group.”

Olga Strantzali led Miami with 19 kills and 16 digs. Anna Haak had 17 kills and 21 digs.

“I was excited to be in a match like that,” Miami coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “I think the first three sets were very different from game four and five. It’s good to be in matches that close. We know the margin is thin and they played better in key points.

“I’m proud of the girls and the way they competed. We made a lot of good plays and some not so great plays, but it was a good match.”

Also in the ACC, Notre Dame swept Boston College, Louisville beat Syracuse in four and NC State swept Wake Forest.

Alabama's Krystal Rivers
Alabama’s Krystal Rivers

SEC: Rivers! No. 23 Kentucky upset, Florida, Mizzou win

Start with the amazing Rivers, who goes into her final match needing 40 kills to catch Saint Louis’ Daniele Rygelski for the most kills in the NCAA this season.

Rivers not only was named the SEC player of the year on Wednesday, she was also named the league’s scholar-athlete of the year, the first time a player in the SEC has won both those awards in the same season. Rivers is a Spanish major with a 3.65 GPA. She is a two-time honoree on the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team and the SEC Academic Honor Roll. Rivers was also named a CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2014. She is a six-time honoree on the Dean’s List and a two-time honoree on the President’s List.

Rygelski, whose career ended when the Billikens lost in the Atlantic 10 final to Dayton, finished this season with 715 kills. Rivers, after getting 35 on Wednesday in a 25-22, 24-26, 25-17, 13-25, 15-6 win over visiting Ole Miss, had 675. She needs 40 in the finale Saturday against LSU, which is not likely but don’t put anything past this 5-foot-11 right side who not only became Bama’s all-time kills leader, has 69 block assists this season, 12 solo and averages .70 blocks per set. She was named the SEC player of the year on Wednesday.

Bama’s season ends Saturday, but Kentucky has its eyes on the postseason and obviously got a wake-up call at Tennessee as the Vols won 18-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-17.

If left UK 22-7, 15-3, while Tennessee, in dire need of a season-ending pick-me-up, improved to 17-13, 7-10.

“I was really proud of the team and the energy and fight they showed,” Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said. “Kentucky is obviously a great team all around. My hat’s off to my team and how they went after Kentucky. They were aggressive all match, offensively and defensively.”

Tennessee sophomore middle Erica Treiber, had eight kills, hit. 533, had three aces, five blocks and three digs.

Junior Kendra Turner led Tennessee with 12 kills and had eight digs. Junior Kanisha Jimenez had seven kills, a season-best 16 digs and two aces.

Emily Franklin led Kentucky with 11 kills, three aces and three digs. Freshman Leah Edmond had 11 kills, while junior Kaz Brown added nine blocks and nine kills.

No. 22 Missouri extended Georgia’s misery with a 25-20, 25-17, 25-19 in Athens as sophomore Alyssa Munlyn, who is from Suwannee, Ga., had nine kills and hit .818. Her team improved to 24-5, 15-2, as Georgia dropped to 13-17, 1-16. The Bulldogs were 0-18 in the SEC last year.

No. 9 Florida improved to 25-3, 15-2, with a 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-14 win over visiting Auburn (15-15, 9-8).

Alex Holston led with 13 kills and three blocks, while Rhamat Alhassan had 11 kills and 10 blocks, and Carli Snyder had 10 kills, three blocks and three aces.

Also in the SEC, Texas A&M improved to 20-8, 14-3, as it beat LSU in four and Arkansas did the same at South Carolina.

Big 12: Iowa State, TCU get big victories

Iowa State rallied to win at Baylor 27-25, 14-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-9 to improve to 17-10 and tied for third in the league at 9-6. Baylor dropped to 21-10 and is also 9-6. Iowa State was 30 in the RPI, but at 41 Baylor put itself in a potentially precarious position as it finishes the season Saturday at No. 4 Kansas.

Morgan Kuhrt led Iowa State with 16 kills and hit a career-best .583. Jess Schaben also had 16 kills, while Samara WestClick had 12.

Katie Staiger had a career-high 32 kills and is one behind Rivers for the overall NCAA kills lead with 644.

“Very frustrating loss. It was frustrating for me, personally, because the team didn’t reflect some of the core values from training that have been important to us all year. It’s ultimately on me in making sure they’re doing that, inspiring them to do that, motivating them to do that,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said.

“Sometimes you could just see looks on faces where we weren’t ready to battle. We’ve only been good this year because we showed up ready to battle, and know the outcome, we can’t control. Tonight we didn’t battle like we know how to and we were disappointed with the outcome.”

Also, SMU, which already clinched the title, dealt Temple a four-set blow. Temple is 49 in the RPI. Cincinnati, 40 in the RPI, swept East Carolina.

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