NCAA stays close to form: Regionals set at Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas

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Taylor Formico of UCLA gets the dig against Baylor/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Just as you would have expected, we move on to Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas.

The first two rounds of the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament are in the books and, in essence, things pretty much held form.

Except if you want to consider that Nebraska’s Kadie Rolfzen ended the first set with a kill off her nose, but more on that later.

There were a few surprises, but far fewer than you would have imagined. This was not December Delirium. Perhaps geographic restrictions related to bracket placement played a major role. Or that the NCAA selection committee was spot on in most regards.

Regardless, there’s not a bad team left in the round of 16 and, while the aforementioned big four have to be the favorites, any one of those 16 could move on to Columbus and the national semifinals and final.

All the recaps follow, but first an upset discussion.

No. 5 Kansas was the first to go, falling to Creighton on Friday. By all accounts, that was an upset, but Creighton has established itself as a very good team. A year ago, the Bluejays knocked off another host, North Carolina, to get to the round of 16 before losing in four to USC. They followed that with an 18-0 season in the Big East and this past December lost to Kansas in five, 15-13 in the fifth. So it wasn’t like David taking out Goliath. No, coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth has it going on at Creighton. And Creighton and BYU of the West Coast Conference are the only mid-majors left.

Saturday, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 11 Florida and No. 14 Kansas State were ousted.

No doubt you can say that Arizona beating Michigan State was an upset. Coach Dave Rubio’s team rode a roller-coaster all season long and Arizona was like what you hear at girls club tournaments. “Well, we’ll see which team shows up … “ In Arizona’s case, the 20-14 Wildcats ran the gamut. When they were good, they were very good. They went to L.A. and beat UCLA and USC in the same trip for the first time ever in Rubio’s 25 years. They beat Stanford this season and beat Oregon. But Arizona also had losses to Cal and Oregon State  and then to Arizona State to end the regular season.

Michigan State was playing at home and lost in the second round to a Pac-12 team for the third consecutive season.

On paper, Florida State winning at Florida is an upset. But consider that Florida State was No. 16 in the last AVCA Division I Coaches Poll and No. 22 in the last RPI and, if you watched the Seminoles all season, you knew that under the right circumstances that coach Chris Poole’s 26-5 Seminoles were a round of 16 team. And so they are.

And then there’s Ohio State (see Arizona note about girls club volleyball). This is the same team that won at Nebraska — say it again, Ohio State won at Nebraska — but also in Big Ten play lost to Maryland, Indiana and Illinois. But again, back to the eyeball test, if you saw the good Ohio State play this season, you knew that coach Geoff Carlson’s 22-12 Buckeyes were also round-of-16 worthy. And their five-set win at Kansas State was worth the price of admission.

So 12 of the 16 seeds advanced and we will have an all-Central Time Zone set of NCAA regionals.

The regionals schedule is set. All of the first matches are on Friday with the regional finals one after the other on Saturday (all times listed are Central):

Nebraska Regional

No. 1 Nebraska (29-2) vs. No. 16 Penn St. (24-9), 11 a.m., ESPNU

No. 8 Washington (28-4) vs. Arizona (20-14), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday’s final 3 p.m, ESPNU

Wisconsin Regional

No. 3 Wisconsin (27-4) vs. Ohio St. (22-12), 1 p.m., ESPNU

No. 6 Stanford (23-7)  vs. Florida St. (26-5), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday’s final 5 p.m., ESPNU

Texas Regional

No. 4 Texas (27-4) vs. No. 13 BYU (29-3), 3 p.m., ESPNU

No. 12 Michigan (24-10) vs. Creighton (28-6), 5:30 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday’s final 7 p.m, ESPNU                          

Minnesota Regional

No. 2 Minnesota (27-4)  vs. No. 15 Missouri (27-5), 7:15 p.m., ESPN3

No. 7 North Carolina (29-3) vs. No. 10 UCLA (26-6), 9:45 p.m., ESPNU

Saturday’s final 9 p.m., ESPNU

Nebraska Regional

Nebraska 3, TCU 0: There were 8,204 fans inside the Devaney Center on Saturday night. They’ll squeeze at least that many in there Friday when the Huskers (29-2) play Penn State. They were hitting on all cylinders against TCU in a 25-22, 25-12, 25-16 victory.

“I thought our team got off to a great start in every game and really put a lot of pressure on TCU,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I thought (TCU) played some really good defense. They served really tough, but I thought our block and defense put a lot of stress on them. They couldn’t really ever get into a side-out routine or a rhythm, and that’s what we wanted to do going in.”

Nebraska, which got the 100th postseason victory in its history, was led by senior Kadie Rolfzen, who had 14 kills and hit .400. She ended the first set by attacking, having the ball come right back at her, and hitting her flush in the face. It went back over the net and fell untouched for the point and she almost lost it, she was laughing so hard.

“Oh yeah, that’s actually the second time that happened this year,” Rolfzen said. “The first one was against Florida, but that one went off the top of my head, this one was square on my nose. I knew it happened and I knew it hit me and went over the net, but I don’t know what they were doing I just watched the ball hit the floor. It was a different way to end the set, I guess.”

Rolfzen also had seven blocks, four digs and two assists.

Sophomore Mikaela Foecke added 10 kills, while senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes broke one Nebraska postseason record and tied another. Wong-Orantes had 24 digs, tying the Husker record for most digs in a three-set NCAA Tournament match. She also passed Kayla Banwarth as the Huskers’ all-time digs leader in NCAA Tournament matches.

TCU, an at-large from the Big 12, ended its season 15-13. Ashley Smith led with nine kills and Ashleigh Martin had six. Their team hit .056.

TCU director of volleyball Jill Kramer thanked Nebraska for being such a good host, but that pointed out that “the only downside is we had to see them on the other side of the net. It’s a great team, and I thought they came out ready to go. I thought they played defense really well. Probably the best defensive team we’ve seen all year and that made it a little bit more difficult for us to get something going offensively.”

Kramer’s team advanced by beating Wichita State, but Nebraska is something else, especially at home.

“We’ve sided-out pretty well for the majority of the matches we’ve competed well in, and that was tough for us tonight,” Kramer said. “Anyway, I’m proud of this team I’m proud of our group of leaders, I’m proud of our seniors for giving four great years to TCU. I really didn’t want the season to end tonight but I’m proud of their effort this year.”

Penn State 3, Pittsburgh 1: Pittsburgh won the first set and then the Nittany Lions steamrolled the visitors 20-25, 25-16, 25-13, 25-18. Penn State improved to 24-9 as it advanced to a regional for the 13th consecutive season.

Junior middle Haleigh Washington led with 14 kills and six blocks. Junior Simone Lee also had 14 kills and added nine digs and two blocks. Sophomore Ali Frantti had 11 kills.

“I thought it was a very competitive match,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “Pitt’s a great opponent and when we lost the first game it was clear they were better prepared to play at the onset than we were but I thought we steadied out.”

Pittsburgh, which advanced by beating Dayton, ended its season 25-9. The at-large from the ACC got 14 kills apiece from Stephanie Williams and Nika Markovic, who also had 12 digs. The Panthers were making their first NCAA appearance since 2004.

“This is a team that’s been on the doorstep of making the tournament for a few years now and we did it this year and won the first round,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher said. “We came up a little short tonight but we were definitely pleased with the heart we showed, especially in the fourth set.”

Arizona 3, Michigan State 2: The Wildcats moved on with a 17-25, 25-16, 25-19, 24-26, 15-10 victory that was as up and down as the scores indicate. They are in the round of 16 for the first time since 2005.

“I was really proud of the way we played,” said Arizona coach Dave Rubio, whose team is an at-large from the Pac-12. “It was an unbelievable match. Both sides were terrific. Michigan State gave us everything we could handle. In the first set, we were getting annihilated, and for us to be able to recover from that was tough for us.”

Senior outside Kalei Mau had a big match with 23 kills. She hit .321 and had 10 digs. Sophomore outside Kendra Dahlke had 22 kills, hit .314 and had 16 digs. An senior setter Penina Snuka had another tremendous all-around match with 57 assists, three blocks and 15 digs.

Typical of Arizona was that the Wildcats lost the fourth set on a net violation and a double, and led 8-3 in the fifth before MSU pulled to 10-8. Dahlke ended the match with a kill.

Michigan State’s season ended 25-9. The at-large from the Big Ten got 17 kills from Autumn Bailey. Chloe Reining had 15 kills and hit .355 and Allyssah Fitterer had 10 kills and hit .381.

Tia Scambray of Washington hits between the Kentucky blockers/Stephen Burns photo
Tia Scambray of Washington hits between the Kentucky blockers/Stephen Burns photo

Washington 3, Kentucky 0: The No. 8 seed is in the round of 16 for the fifth year in a row. The Huskies, 28-4, won the Pac-12 and continued to play at a high level, blasting Kentucky 25-21, 25-11, 25-20.

“I thought we played well in all phases of the game, which you don’t always get every night,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “So we had some great results mostly because of how on top of their assignments (our players) were. I’m really happy for this team and think that they’ve got some more work to do here heading to Lincoln.”

Junior outside and Pac-12 player of the year Courtney Schwan led with 14 kills, hit .440 and had five digs. junior Crissy Jones had 11 kills and 10 digs and junior Tia Scambray had 19 kills and nine digs.

“I love absolutely everything about (going to Lincoln),” Cook said. “You don’t come to Washington to play in front of small crowds or in matches that aren’t meaningful. So everyone here is getting what they signed up for, and I hope they all soak it in. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Kentucky’s season ended 23-8. The at-large from the SEC just couldn’t keep up with Washington.

“Credit Washington for the way they played tonight,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. “I thought they played error free and didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes and we needed to create our own opportunities to score points. They won the serving battle tonight and created a lot of opportunities to score points.”

Freshman Leah Edmond led UK with 11 kills and three blocks but hit .129. Junior middle Kaz Brown had nine kills, hit .529 and had three blocks.

Minnesota Regional

North Carolina 3, Coastal Carolina 1: The Chanticleers won the first set and then seventh-seeded North Carolina woke up and won 23-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-16 to improve to 29-3.

Junior outside Leah Hardeman had 25 kills and hit .377. But UNC had way many more weapons as senior right side Hayley McCorkle had 14 kills and hit .565, Beth Nordhorn had 11 kills and hit .667 and Taylor Fricano had eight kills, no errors and hit .500.

“That first set was really tough,” UNC coach Joe Sagula said. “They came out playing unbelievable defense, and what can I say about Leah Hardeman? She was phenomenal, and she’s definitely a force for that team.”

Taylor Leath had 13 kills and 11 digs for UNC and Taylor Borup had seven kills and hit .438.

“We’re excited that we were able to play and get better as the match went on,” Sagula said. “We can carry this momentum into the next round. I told our team this doesn’t come easy, and to be in the top 16 is a big deal. I’m really proud of what they did.”

Coastal Carolina ended its season 28-5 after winning the league in its first season in the Sun Belt and beating James Madison in the first round.

UCLA junior Reily Beuchler gets ready to unload against Baylor/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
UCLA junior Reily Beuchler gets ready to unload against Baylor/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

UCLA 3, Baylor 0: The Bruins got past Baylor. Now there are finals and North Carolina.

“Our team has 17 finals this weekend,” junior Reily Buechler said. “It’s a balance of volleyball and school all year long. We know how to prepare. We’ve been on the road a bunch of times and we know how it works. It’s the life of a student-athlete, and hopefully we’ll be ready this weekend.”

That balance was evident against the Bears, an at-large from the Big 12. Buechler had 13 kills and six digs in the 25-21, 25-20, 25-20 victory that left UCLA, an at-large from the Pac-12, 26-6.

Freshman Torrey Van Winden had 12 kills, hit .346 and had nine digs.

“It’s one of those things, you know, where it’s survive and advance. I think if you get to the later rounds it’s thrive and advance, a little bit,” UCLA coach Michael Sealy said. “I think that offensively we could be a little cleaner, I think we took some great swings and scored. I think if we can dial in the consistency and trajectory of the set, we’ve shown in previous matches that we can be cleaner.

“Hitters have done a great job of getting their feet to the ball, setters have done a great job of running it, I think we can control the quality of the dig, the quality of the set transition, we can really fire back, clicking on offense.”

Baylor’s season ended 22-12. Sophomore Aniah Philo had 16 kills, tying her career best, set last season against Wake Forest before Philo transferred from Louisville. Junior Katie Staiger had 14 kills and finished with 698, just two off the Big 12 record and left her ranked third in total kills in the nation this year behind Dani Rygelski of Saint Louis (715) and Krystal Rivers of Alabama (705).

Baylor returns almost its entire roster.

Minnesota 3, Hawai’i 0: Hawai’i was dealt a tough blow when its best player, two-time Big West player of the year Nikki Taylor went down with an injury three points into the first set and couldn’t return. The senior landed on a Minnesota player’s foot coming down from a block and was helped off the court. She returned on crutches in the middle of the second set and did not return to the match. Taylor finished her standout career ranked No. 12 in UH history with 1,377 career kills and No. 8 with 117 service aces. In her four years, she amassed 665 digs, 373 blocks, and 1,694.5 career points.

Minnesota, meanwhile, stayed unbeaten at home with its 25-17, 25-17, 25-19 to improve to 27-4. The Gophers hit .348, led by Sarah Wilhite, who had 13 kills and 11 digs. Paige Tapp and Molly Lohman had 10 kills apiece. Tapp hit .625 and Lohman had four blocks.

Hawai’i’s season ended 23-6. Senior middle Annie Mitchem tied her career-high with 13 kills  and sophomore outside McKenna Granato added 11 kills.

“We’re not the same team without Nikki Taylor, that’s obvious,” said UH coach Dave Shoji, who ended his 42nd season with the Rainbow Wahine.

“We showed heart and didn’t give up.”

Missouri defeated Purdue on Friday to advance to its match with Minnesota.

Wisconsin Regional

Ohio State 3, Kansas State 2: What a match. K-State looked totally out of it after the first two sets, rallied back, and then the teams played as exciting a fifth set as you can get. The final: 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 23-25, 17-15.

Junior outside Luisa Schirmer had a big night for the Buckeyes with 21 kills and 10 digs. Senior middle Taylor Sandbothe had 15 kills and eight blocks, one solo. Setter Taylor Hughes had 14 kills and 15 digs and sophomore Audra Appold added 23 kills and 17 digs.

It was an epic match,” Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston said. “It really was. Hats off to K-State. They made some really great adjustments. That was a game of heart by two really great teams. I am happy that we are moving on, but that was an incredible match. It was probably one of the best matches I have ever been a part of. Both teams played at a really high level defensively.

“It was a really incredible match to be a part of.”

Junior Bryna Vogel led K-State with 12 kills and 11 blocks, one solo. Sophomore Kylee Zumach and senior Brooke Sassin had 11 kills apiece. And freshman Elle Sandbothe, playing against her sister, had eight kills and six blocks.

“It hurts because it is good,” K-State coach Suzie Fritz said. “It’s hard to explain. It hurts when it is over because it is really, really good. This team and these seniors, in particular, brought so much to us – to me, personally, to my life – and they have enriched us in so many ways. They are extraordinary, and it is hard to know that we will not get to see them every day, maybe more important than anything.

“I thought that we did not play as well as we would have liked to have played, especially early, After the break, we talked about just trying to empty the tank, let’s empty the tank coming out for set three, and we did that. I think we came back in three, four, five and gave it everything we had.”

Much was made of the battle of the Sandbothe sisters.

“To be a a part of this and share that with my family and my little sister, that is something that dreams are made of,” Taylor said.

They did their best to hide it on the court, although a tight shot of Elle after she blocked Taylor early was priceless.

“Overall, it was just so cool,” Elle said. “Honestly, it made me one happy girl to have all of the squad in town. And, it was so cool, it was my sister’s first time in Manhattan since she has been to Columbus, so it was so exciting to have her here in our town. It was just really, really cool, one of the coolest experiences I have ever been a part of.”

The Sandbothes are from Lee’s Summit, Mo., an Eastern suburb of Kansas City, just more than a two-hour drive to Manhattan, Kansas.

“I told her I would not be able to look at her during the match because she is just so cute,” Taylor  said. She reminds me of everything I love and I am so proud of her and her composure.”

Florida State 3, Florida 2: The Gators seemed so in control, totally dominating the first two sets. But then Florida State came alive and won 13-25, 16-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-12.

“They played tougher at the end of the match than we did,” Florida junior Carli Snyder said.

Florida State, an at-large from the ACC, is 26-5, while Florida, an at-large from the SEC, ended its season 27-4.

Florida State was led by senior Katie Horton, who had 18 kills and 12 digs. Junior Milica Kubura had 14 kills and hit .414. Junior Natasha Calkins had eight kills and five blocks, one solo, senior Melanie Kiel had five kills and also five blocks, one solo.

Kiel’s ace ended the match.

“We’ve been this kind of team all year – the good and the bad,” FSU coach Chris Poole said. “There’s been times where we’ve played exceptionally for the first couple of sets and then start drifting off, and there’s been times where we’ve started off slow and then we’ve gained steam.

“I told girls even between sets two and three that the one thing that I was positive was that they were capable of coming back because that’s who they’ve been all year. They’ve been that team that rarely stays down an entire match, they’ll fight and they’ll try to continue to work to get themselves back into it.”

Alex Holston, Florida’s only senior, led with 23 kills, hit .354 and had 14 digs. Junior Rhamat Alhassan had 12 kills and hit .370 and Snyder had 18 kills, hit .317 and had 17 digs. Freshman Rachael Kramer had 11 kills, hit .550 and had five blocks, one solo.

“Sure lived up to its billing,” said Florida coach Mary Wise, whose record against FSU in NCAA play is 3-2. “Easily one of the most disappointing losses, to be up 2-0, have the lead in the third, but give credit to Florida State, I thought their seniors were terrific. The defense that they played, the job that they did blocking. We came out and played so well in those first two sets and for them to come back they deserve the win, congratulations.”

Stanford 3, Boise State 0: Freshman Kathryn Plummer led with 17 kills and the No. 6-seeded Cardinal won 25-11, 25-22, 25-18. Stanford is 23-7 and will make its 13th regional appearance under 16th-year coach John Dunning.

The Cardinal, an at-large from the Pac-12, hit .362. Plummer hit .342 and also had six digs and a block. Senior Inky Ajanaku had nine kills and hit .500, while junior Merete Lutz had eight kills and hit .368 to go with four blocks.

Boise junior Sierra Nobley capped a tremendous season with 12 kills and 12 digs as the Broncos ended their season 26-7, the best in school history after winning the Mountain West.

“I thought Stanford was fantastic to start off,” Boise coach Shawn Garus said. “We passed pretty well, we were taking some high swings, but Stanford just played better.

“We talked in the timeouts to keep doing what we’re doing and the more we see it the more comfortable we’ll get out there. I think it was 10 or 12 points into the second set that we got a little bit of rhythm going, got some good serving going, got them out of system and it seemed like the match was on. We were playing from behind in the second set, but we were playing much better. But Stanford just didn’t give us much room to breathe, they played just great tonight.”

Wisconsin defeated Washington State on Friday to advance to its match with Ohio State.

Texas Regional

Texas 3, SMU 0: The Longhorns steamrolled the visitors 25-15, 25-18, 25-12 as junior Ebony Nwanebu led with 15 kills and hit .577. Senior Paulina Prieto Cerame had 14 kills and hit .312, while freshman Micaya White had 13 kills and hit .414. Their team, an at-large from the Big 12, hit .438.

Cerame and setter Chloe Collins actually graduated earlier in the day.

“It was a hectic day, but with my family not being here, it was awesome to have my teammates and Jerritt there at the graduation and just a blessing to be able to get a college degree,” Cerame said.

SMU ended the best season in program history 26-8 that included going 18-2 in the American Athletic Conference.

Katie Hegarty led with 11 kills. Janelle Girodano had eight.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the course of the last four months,” SMU coach Lisa Siefert said. “I don’t know if anybody other than the SMU staff in here saw us play in September, but we’ve definitely developed and grown. We took another huge step in the history of the program, and I’m really proud of that.”

BYU 3, UNLV 0: The Cougars are in the round of 16 for the fifth consecutive year after sweeping   UNLV 25-23, 25-21, 25-12.

BYU is 29-3. The West Coast Conference champions got 17 kills from Veronica Jones-Perry and 14 kills from Amy Boswell. She also hit .444 and had two blocks.

“Congrats to UNLV on a great match and a great season,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “It was a good opportunity for us to play them early in the season and then again today. We just played point for point. That first set was a battle. I was super proud of our team for being resilient. Good things started happening, the crowd gave us some momentum and we started making great plays.”

UNLV, an at-large from the Mountain West and one of the last two teams in the tournament, upset Utah on Friday. Against BYU Bree Hammel had 12 of UNLV’s 30 kills and 10 digs as the Rebels’ season ended 24-8.

“I love how my team responded to being in (the tournament),” UNLV coach Cindy Fredrick said. “Some teams with their first time in it, they get overwhelmed and blown out that first round. I love the fact that they did not ever say that. They were not happy to just say `We’re happy to be here,’ it was `We’re happy to be here and we want to win.’ ”

Creighton beat Kansas on Friday to advance to its match with Michigan, which beat Oregon on Friday.

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