Nebraska, Washington, Kansas claim crowns on final day

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Nebraska's Justin Wong-Orantes and Kelly Hunter embrace after the Huskers beat Michigan/Scott Bruhn, Nebraska Communications photo

The last regular-season roundup.

Later Sunday, at 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific, the NCAA will announce its tournament bracket on ESPNU. Check back here later Sunday night for stories, reactions from coaches, an interview with NCAA chair Lisa Peterson and more.

When the balls stopped bouncing Saturday, we finally had outright champions in the Big Ten,  Pac-12 and Big 12, and automatic qualifiers in the Big East and Missouri Valley.

Sarah Wilhite led Minnesota with 23 kills against Wisconsin
Sarah Wilhite led Minnesota with 23 kills against Wisconsin

Big Ten: Nebraska wins the B1G, Minnesota wins in 5, Illinois falls

Nebraska is No. 1 in the AVCA Poll, most likely to be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and now is No. 1 in the Big Ten. It took until the last match of the season, but the Huskers’ 25-19, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21 win over No. 18 Michigan before 8,210 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center left Nebraska all alone at the top of the league.

After No. 2 Minnesota came back to beat No. 3 Wisconsin 22-25, 25-17, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8, here  is how the top of the B1G standings ended up:

Nebraska 27-2, 18-2 Big Ten

Minnesota 25-4, 17-3

Wisconsin 25-4, 17-3

Penn State 22-9, 14-6

“I just told the team this has been one of the toughest grinds for a conference championship,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I don’t know how much they really appreciate and understand it, but I really want them to celebrate this as a great effort by them in the toughest conference I’ve ever seen.”

Mikaela Foecke led the Huskers with 18 kills on .417 hitting. Kadie Rolfzen had 11 kills and 16 digs – and became the seventh Husker all-time to surpass 1,500 career kills. Briana Holman added 11 kills and five blocks and Amber Rolfzen had four kills and seven blocks. Andie Malloy had six kills. Redshirt-freshman Olivia Boender came off the bench in set three and had seven kills, her most since September 24 at Michigan State.

“I can honestly say that this team really worked hard every match,” libero Justine Wong-Orantes said. “Going into a match with the same mindset that we wanted to to take this conference and this was our goal since January. I think we did a really good job of grinding it out for 10 weeks. It’s a really hard conference and a hard season. We did a really good job of just playing match for match.”

Claire Kieffer-Wright and Carly Skjodt led Michigan with 13 kills apiece. Their team is 22-10, 11-9.

As that match finished, Minnesota and Wisconsin were battling like all get out.

And Wisconsin had no answers for Sarah Wilhite.

She had 23 kills, 10 in the fourth set alone, as Minnesota finished an undefeated home regular season. Wilhite also had 19 digs.

Samantha Seliger-Swenson had 51 assists and 16 digs. Paige Tapp had a career-high 21 kills — 14 in the first two sets — and hit .594.

Molly Lohman added eight blocks with four kills and Hannah Tapp had three kills and three blocks.

“I can’t imagine there’s been a better series of four matches played in eight days by any team,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “Here we are with four five-set victories in a row (over Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin).

“Just an incredible performance by this team. I’m so proud of them.”

Wisconsin got 17 kills from Molly Haggerty, 16 from Lauryn Gillis, 12 from Tionna Williams and 11 apiece from Romana Kriskova and Haleigh Nelson, who hit .423. Haggerty, a strong candidate for national freshman of the year, also had 17 digs.

“We gave it a heck of a run there,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Like I told our team, I think we showed how far we’ve come since the previous time that we played them and can we continue to get better.

“The team is bummed, there was an opportunity there, but I’m not even giving them the night. Usually it’s like, ‘By the time you wake up tomorrow, this is gone,’ but we said that by the time they get on the plane tonight, the match is forgotten about. We’ve improved quite a bit since the previous time that we saw them, so how much more improvement can we do in whatever time that we have together?”

In our projections by Kyle Walton elsewhere on this site, we have Illinois in the NCAA field despite losing to Penn State to fall to 17-14, 10-10.

Simone Lee had 20 kills for Penn State in its 25-18, 26-24, 19-25, 25-21 victory. Ali Frantti added 16 kills, seven digs and two blocks.

Freshman Jacqueline Quade led the Illini again with a team-high 14 kills and only four errors in 28 swings for a .357 hitting percentage. Senior Michelle Strizak had 11 kills, five digs and four blocks.

Ohio State improved to 20-10, 10-10 by beating visiting Indiana 25-14, 21-25, 25-17, 16-25, 15-11. Taylor Sandbothe led with 22 kills and hit .514, while Valeria Leon had 17 kills.

Allison Hammond had 17 kills for Indiana, which ended its season 17-16, 6-14.

Michigan State improved to 24-8, 13-7 by beating Iowa 25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 25-21. Brooke Kranda had season highs of 17 kills and seven digs.

“We played Iowa in the first and final matches of the season, and both of these teams were a lot different than when we met back in September,” MSU coach Cathy George said. “Iowa is vastly improved and very, very scrappy – we knew that they would fight and battle us every point. I’m happy that we ended the regular season on a high note – and now we just have to wait for the selection show.”

Iowa, which dropped to 19-13, 9-11, got 10 kills from Meghan Buzzerio.

And Rutgers lost for the 28th consecutive time, falling to visiting Northwestern 25-17, 25-23, 25-23. Northwestern finished next to last in the league at 10-22, 3-17, while Rutgers ended 4-29, 0-20, after winning two sets in B1G play this season.

McKenna Woodford of Washington State hits through the block of Washington's Avie Neice, left, and Crissy Jones
McKenna Woodford of Washington State hits through the block of Washington’s Avie Niece, left, and Crissy Jones

Pac-12: Huskies alone at the top

No. 7 Washington won at No. 25 Washington State 25-20, 25-23, 25-21 and left the top of the Pac-12 looking like this:

Washington 26-4, 16-4

UCLA 24-6, 15-5

Stanford 21-7, 15-5

Oregon 20-9, 13-7

The 2016 title joins outright conference titles for the Dawgs in 2004, 2005, and 2013, and UW was co-champions in 2015 with USC. Keegan Cook has won Pac-12 titles in both of his first two seasons as coach.

“It’s just such a long journey and takes so much work by so many people that it takes a little while to set in,” Cook said. “I don’t know that it’s really hit me yet, but I also know we have some more things to accomplish, so I’m already eager to see tomorrow’s selection show.”

Tia Scambray led UW with 14 kills and four blocks. Courtney Schwan had 10 kills and nine digs.

WSU dropped to 21-11, 11-9, but is in the tournament according to Walton’s projections.

Kyra Holt led with 11 kills.

“We feel like we’ve done a great job this season and our resume is good enough to get us in,” WSU coach Jen Greeny said. “But it always depends on what the committee thinks.

“I’m very proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished. We were picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 and we ended up finishing fifth. And we have the most wins that we’ve had in a season since 2002. This group of seniors, especially, has done a fantastic job of getting Cougar volleyball back on the right track. I’m just overall really proud of this team and hopefully we can keep on playing.”

Another team on the edge, USC, lost to No. 8 UCLA 17-25, 25-20, 20-25, 30-28, 17-15 but Walton has the Women of Troy in, too. USC is 18-13, 10-10.

UCLA’s Jordan Anderson had 17 kills, seven digs and three blocks, Claire Felix added 12 kills, a .455 hitting percentage and three blocks and Jennie Frager had 10 kills, a .421 percentage and six blocks.

USC was led by freshman Khalia Lanier, who had 26 kills, 10 digs, two aces and a block. She had a career-high 71 attacks.

Arizona didn’t help its tournament seeding by losing at Arizona State. The Wildcats dropped to 18-14, 10-10, while ASU ended its season 12-20, 5-15.

Kendra Dahlke led Arizona with 21 kills and 11 digs, while Ivana Jeremic led the home team with 21 kills and 10 digs.

Big 12: Kansas sweats out 5-set win at Baylor

The Jayhawks finally got to lay claim to the outright title but Baylor made them work for it 25-20, 25-15, 16-25, 22-25, 15-9.

No. 4 Kansas, 26-2, 15-1, made it to the NCAA national semifinals last year. Texas, which swept West Virginia 25-18, 25-13, 25-14, finished the regular season 22-4, 14-2.

“Rock Chalk! I’m proud of this group,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “Now we can close the chapter on a great regular season and get ready for what we hope is a great postseason.”

Freshman outside hitter Jada Burse led Kansas with 16 kills for the second-straight match, while junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon had 11 kills and 13 digs.

“It feels great,” Bechard said. “I need to get beyond the fact that we let Baylor back in the match and enjoy what this team has accomplished over a 16-match conference schedule. We are one true champion as a member of the only power-five conference which plays a double round-robin schedule. We had to take everybody’s best shot twice. I’m very proud of our team. Over the last seven matches we have played five five-setters, but remained resilient enough to win.”

Baylor’s Katie Staiger had yet another great match with 22 kills, 14 digs and six blocks. She ended the regular season with 664 kills to finish third in the NCAA this season. Danielle Rygelski of Saint Louis led with 715, while Alabama’s Krystal Rivers — who had 30 Saturday at LSU — was second with 705.

Baylor is 21-11, 9-7 and is projected in by Walton.

“It would be a disappointing not to hear our name called,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “I’ve been on committees before, and it’s always a tough process. I’ve been on the other end; if I’m still at Florida State, I don’t want to play Baylor. We’re a team that other teams don’t want to see in the first round. That means we’re competitive and playing hard. We know how to win, and we have some great wins on our résumé.”

Sophomores Yaazie Bedart-Ghani and Morgan Johnson led the way for No. 5 Texas. Bedart-Ghani had 10 kills on 12 swings and hit .750, while Johnson had nine kills, also hit .750 and a career-high tying eight blocks.

“There’s always room for improvement, but right now the areas we’ve been focusing on are big in our routines and our confidence level,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I think we’ve been challenging them with that, I think they’ve bought into that, and I think they’re doing a really nice job. For us, I would say the one area where we need to do a better job is our serving routines. Game one we were up big and we ended up making ten errors in game one, and it’s a tribute to the missed serves. I think there are some more things we can do that we can dive into right now, because we have a 50-percent kill percentage, and that’s high. We’re also under a 12-percent hitting error, and that’s what we want to be at. If we can manage those kinds of numbers and pass the ball, we’ll be in good shape.”

Two other NCAA-bound teams, Kansas State and Iowa State, also won Saturday.

K-State beat Texas Tech 25-16, 25-21, 25-17 to improve to 20-9, 9-7. Texas Tech ended its season 10-21, 0-16.

Brooke Sassin led the Wildcats with 12 kills and eight digs.

Iowa State dispatched Oklahoma 25-19, 25-22, 25-14, to improve to 18-10, 10-6, while Oklahoma’s season ended 14-15, 5-11.

SEC: Missouri, Florida share the crown

No. 22 Missouri beat Tennessee 25-16, 26-24, 25-16, while No. 9 Florida beat Arkansas 34-32, 26-24, 25-15 and they both ended up 16-2 in league play.

Missouri, 25-5, beat Florida in their only matchup, in five a week ago. For the purpose of getting the league’s automatic qualifier, Missouri wins the tiebreaker.

Against Tennessee Alyssa Munlyn led with 10 kills and hit .600. Carly Kan added nine kills.

Florida’s 22 SEC titles are tied for the 10th most in conference history in any sport, regardless of gender. The Gators’ 22 league titles are also the fourth-most by any SEC team, regardless of sport or gender, since 1979, the first season the conference crowned a volleyball champion.

Three-time All-American right side Alex Holston led the Gators with a season-high 24 kills, tying Jenny Manz (Oct. 13, 1996) for the most by a UF player in a three-set match since at least 1996. It was also just the 15th time this season any Division I player had 24-plus kills in a three-set match.

Texas A&M, also NCAA-bound, won at Auburn 19-25, 25-12, 25-21, 25-23 to improve to 21-8, 15-3. Jazzmin Babers broke the school career record for blocks after getting 11.

Babers also had five kills. Kiara McGee led with 16 kills and hit .429. Ashlie Reasor had eight kills and hit .467.

“I am really relieved that this match is over. It was really a struggle most of the way through. I thought we started really flat. Emotionally it seemed really hard to get really excited and super high for this one, for whatever reason,” Texas A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “I was really proud of our attackers. I thought Kiara McGee came ready to play in a really strong fashion. [Ashlie] Reasor did some awesome things, and she just needed a match like this to get her confidence up and let her see herself as the great player she is.

“As always, I think Steph Aiple directed the offense beautifully, and Jazz Babers with no errors, and with all the blocks that we had. Our blocking is only getting better and better, and that is really a highlight for me. At the end of the season that’s what we really like to have happening.”

Alabama improved to 20-11, 9-9 and has slim hopes for a bid, but isn’t in according to Walton. The Tide was led, as it always is, by senior Rivers, whose 30 kills included hitting .308 to go with eight blocks and an ace. Rivers was featured here on Saturday.

Finally in the SEC, Mississippi State put Georgia out of its misery. The Bulldogs, 0-18 in SEC play last year, finished 13-18, 1-17 after losing 25-22, 25-22, 22-25, 25-14. State’s season ended 14-18, 6-12.

ACC: No. 6 UNC, Pitt, NC State win

The Tar Heels had already clinched the league title, but improved to 27-3, 19-1, by sweeping visiting Wake Forest 25-15, 25-21, 25-15. Wake’s first season under coach Bill Ferguson ended 9-22, 5-15.

Taylor Treacy led UNC with nine kills and Beth Nordhorn added eight. Kylie Long had 10 kills for the Demon Deacons.

NC State put an end to Duke’s season 25-23, 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, as the Blue Devils dropped to 21-9, 5-15. NC State improved to 20-12, 13-7, and is likely done for the year.

“What a great way to send our seniors out,” first-year NC State head coach Linda Hampton-Keith said. “They capped off what turned out to be a fabulous senior campaign in new Reynolds and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end their senior season. It was awesome.”

Julia Brown had a monster day for NC State with 24 kills, three blocks and 11 digs. Jessica Kemp added 12 kills and hit .435.

Jordan Tucker led Duke with 17 kills and Leah Meyer added 16.

NCAA-bound Pittsburgh improved to 24-8, 15-5 by beating Virginia 25-17, 18-25, 25-17, 25-11, as Stephanie Williams had 15 kills and Nika Markovic added 14 and hit .448.

“This was one of our stronger serving games of the season but the thing we were most pleased with was the offense,” Pitt coach Dan Fisher said. “One of the priorities going into the season was to be a very balanced team and so it’s fitting that in our last game of the season we had so many players contributing.”

Tabitha Brown of Wichita State attacks against Missouri State in the MVC final.
Tabitha Brown of Wichita State attacks against Missouri State in the MVC final.

Creighton, Wichita State win big

No. 21 Creighton beat Xavier 25-19, 25-15, 27-25 in the Big East tournament title match to improve to 26-6 with its 20th consecutive victory.

Creighton is the first team since Notre Dame in 2001 to go unbeaten in both the Big East regular-season and tournament, and CU is the first to win 20 matches against league foes in a year. The title was Creighton’s third in a row, last done by Louisville from 2008-10, and the program’s fourth in five years when you include the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title.

Jaali Winters, the tourney MVP, had 16 kills, hit .353, and had 11 digs. Lauren Smith had 12 kills and hit .588.

In the Missouri Valley Conference the top two teams faced off and second-seeded Wichita State fended off four set points in the first and then went on to win 31-29, 25-19, 26-28, 25-23.

The Shockers have won back-to-back league tournament titles for the first time in program history and will represent the MVC in the NCAA Tournament as the automatic qualifier, but Missouri State will get an at-large bid.

Wichita State is 24-7, while Missouri State is 26-8. They had split their regular-season matches.

Tabitha Brown led WSU with 18 kills and Jody Larson added 16 and was named tourney MVP. Lily Johnson led the Bears with 23 kills.

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