Random weird thoughts and associations as we comb through the gold mine that is the NCAA Division I volleyball tournament bracket.
BOWLING GREEN, BOWLING GREEN: Kentucky of the SEC, located in Lexington, Kentucky, will play host to MAC-champion Bowling Green, Atlantic 10-champion Loyola Chicago, and Western Kentucky, which represents Conference USA. Bowling Green is located in Bowling Green, Ohio. WKU is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky (no relation, presumably), and Loyola is located nowhere near the Atlantic …
LSU/BATON ROUGE: There’s a Louisiana theme to be explored.
In the first round at Stanford, LSU of the SEC plays Big West-champion Hawai’i. The Rainbow Wahine’s best player is Amber Igiede, who is from Baton Rouge. Igiede, fourth in the NCAA in hitting percentage (.439), third in the Big West in kills per set (3.79) and second in the conference in blocks (1.3/set), was not recruited by her hometown school …
LSU coach Fran Flory retired after last season, but one of her former players, Tonya Johnson, replaced her. Johnson has gotten the Tigers back into the tournament for the first time since 2017. Another former of Flory’s players, Lyndsey Benson Oates, has been the coach at Northern Colorado since 2005. She’s got the Bears back into the tournament for the third time in four years and they will play at San Diego …
And back to Kentucky. Bowling Green head coach Danijela Tomic was an LSU assistant from 2003-04 and WKU assistant coach Craig Bere was an LSU assistant from 2004-06 …
Southeastern Louisiana is located in Hammond, Louisiana, about 45 miles east of Baton Rouge, and the Southland champion is making its first NCAA appearance. One of its players is sophomore DS/libero Lexi Gonzalez. Lexi is not only from Baton Rouge, but the last player from my old club, Volleyball Baton Rouge (2000-2019) playing in Division I (Hey, a little self indulgence is OK once in a while). And Lexi and Amber Igiede were teammates at St. Michael High School for one proud coach, Rob Smith. SLU, by the way, has 15 players from Louisiana on its roster …
REHR ROARS: Speaking of Volleyball Baton Rouge, back in the day at club tournaments, I became friends with the then-Arkansas State coach, Dave Rehr. We just used to hang around and visit and I always figured one day he would move to a bigger program. Indeed he did and what he’s done in just four seasons at Houston is incredible.
The Cougars play South Dakota at Creighton and that should truly be one of the best of the 32 first-round matches. Houston, which finished 25-7 last year but didn’t get a bid, is back in the NCAA for the first time since 2015. The Cougars are 28-3 and had won 20 in a row before their five-set loss at UCF on Friday. The Houston-UCF rivalry in the American Athletic Conference has been awesome for both programs and will continue when they move to the Big 12 next year. Houston will now have the distinction of playing against the top two attackers in the NCAA. UCF’s McKenna Melville leads at 5.56 kills/set, while South Dakota’s Elizabeth Juhnke is second at 5.37. And Juhnke leads by far in overall kills with 660.
The kills list is worth a note. In second place was Youngstown State’s Paula Gursching with 576, but she missed the Penquins’ last two matches with an injury. Evansville’s Giulia Cardona had 574 kills and USC’s Skylar Fields has 570. She and the Trojans of the Pac-12 play Big South-champion High Point at Ohio State in the first round …
GLOBALLY SPEAKING: The random ties that bind with a TK (Tim Kelly, Bring It) shoutout. When we went to Croatia last summer for the Global Challenge, one of the coaches was Quinnipiac’s Kyle Robinson. There are Global Challenge players in the NCAA tourney, too, including Quinnipiac’s Maggie Baker and Alexandra Tennon, Pepperdine’s Emma Ammerman, and Colgate’s Julia Kurowski.
Tennon is second in kills for Quinnipiac (more on that in a bit) and third in blocks, Ammerman got back in the mix for Pepperdine that last third of the season, and Kurokowski is second in kills and digs for Colgate and third in aces and blocks.
TINY QUINNIPIAC? Quinnipiac is a most unlikely participant in the NCAA Tournament when it will play at defending national champion Wisconsin. Quinnipiac was the No. 6 seed in the MAAC and has to be the shortest team overall in the field. A photo is in order with Wisconsin’s 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek and Quinnipiac’s 5-foot-4 Aryanah Diaz, who leads the Bobcats with 333 kills. No, really, she’s 5-4 and leads Quinnipiac in kills with 84 more than Tennon.
PARENTS AND KIDS: The only father-daughter combo in the tourney?
Jason Williams is the first-year coach at TCU, which is back in the tournament for the first time since 2016. Williams, the former Baylor assistant, not only guided the Horned Frogs to a fantastic turnaround, but his setter is his daughter, Callie, who came with him for her graduate-student year. They play Washington at Wisconsin. Callie averaged 9.28 assists this season, led the team in digs and was second in aces. TCU finished 8-18 last year, 2-14 in the Big 12. This season the Horned Frogs are 16-10, 11-5.
There is at least one mother-daughter combo. Make that mother-daughters, because Northern Iowa’s Bobbi Peterson has both her twins on the floor for her. That’s because libero Sydney transferred home for her graduate year after four seasons at Texas and is playing with her sister, Baylee
SISTER COACHES: Back to Loyola, which is in the tournament for the first time since 2005. The Ramblers are coached by Amanda Berkley, whose older sister, Susie Johnson, coaches Milwaukee. We featured NCAA volleyball sisters during the 2021 season and included Berkley and Johnson.
SISTER PLAYERS: Speaking of sisters, there are a bunch in this tournament. For that matter, there are a ton in NCAA volleyball (we had this story about NCAA sisters last season) but for this story, here are all the ones we could find in the NCAA Tournament, in no particular order:
Start with Baylor, which has the McGhees, Kara and Elise.
BYU has the Bowers, Whitney and Eden and Morgan (Bower) Clinger.
Minnesota has the Wucherers, Miranda and McKenna.
Quinnipiac has Damla and Yagmur Gunes.
Bowling Green has Julia and Jaden Walz.
Southeastern Louisiana has Jolie and Cicily Hidalgo. Their teammate, Kailin Newsome, has a sister, Jaden, who plays at Iowa State.
Colgate has Abby Shadwick and Yale has Emma. And Yale has Renee Schultz and Cara Schultz.
TCU’s Cecily Bramschreiber’s sister Shanel plays at Wisconsin.
Colorado’s Katie Lougeay’s sister Alex plays at Stanford.
One Farris sister, Kennedy, plays for Kansas, and the other, Kamryn, plays for South Dakota.
Erika Williams plays for Penn State and her sister Alia plays for LSU.
Hawai’i has Braelyn Akana, while Texas has Keoloni Akana. Their mother played at Hawai’i.
There are the Hames sister. Nicklin plays at Nebraska and Kayleigh plays at Pepperdine, and the Huskers have the Kubiks, Madi and Hayden.
Finally, Greta Davis of Sacramento State is not in the tournament, nor does she have a sister playing. But she is from Sisters, Oregon.
Did we miss any sisters? Please add them in the comments section.
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