No upsets, but plenty of drama as NCAA volleyball tourney gets down to eight

After all the twists and turns through eight NCAA Tournament matches Thursday, in the end there were no upsets. The seven top RPI teams are in the remaining eight, and once again, there will be no outliers in the final four.

The closest thing to it is Oregon, the No. 3 seed from the Louisville region, which went down 2-1, fought off four match points in the fourth, and then ousted second-seeded Nebraska 25-14, 24-26, 22-25, 32-30, 15-11. And Oregon is No. 11 in the RPI. 

From the “Out of the mouths of babes” department:

“It’s exciting,” said Oregon freshman Mimi Colyer, who led the Ducks with 26 kills. “Obviously I’m new here, and we don’t see a lot of stuff like that in high school and club.”

Uh, no.

But, yes, Wisconsin squandered a 2-0 lead and had to beat Penn State in five; Stanford rallied from a 21-13 first-set deficit before sweeping Houston, the last upstart in the field; and San Diego continued to justify its battle cry of “Why not us?”

Nebraska is out. Hugh McCutcheon is done.

So, on Saturday, these are the matchups with berths in the national semifinals on the line:

At Louisville
Oregon vs. Louisville, 4 p.m., ESPNU
At Texas
Ohio State vs. Texas, 6 p.m., ESPNU
At Wisconsin
Pittsburgh vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., ESPNU
At Stanford
San Diego vs. Stanford, 10 p.m., ESPNU

We’ve got all eight recaps, a coaching note and the NIVC update.

RPI don’t lie

After Thursday, the updated RPI reflects the regional finalists in a kind of eerie way.

  1. Texas
  2. Louisville
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Stanford
  6. Ohio State
  7. San Diego
  8. Kentucky
  9. Minnesota
  10. Nebraska
  11. Oregon

The top seven and Oregon are in the final eight and Kentucky, Minnesota and Nebraska all lost on Thursday.

By conference, the final eight has two teams from the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Ohio State), two from the Pac-12 (Stanford, Oregon), two from the ACC (Louisville, Pitt), one from the Big 12 (Texas) and one from the West Coast Conference (San Diego).

The tournament started with seven teams from the SEC, six each from the B1G and Pac-12, five from the ACC, five from the Big 12, and two each from the American Athletic, Big East, Conference USA and Mountain West.

Oregon overcomes Nebraska

Oregon of the Pac-12 (26-6), which has won 16 in a row, is back in the round of eight for the first time since 2018. Now the Ducks will try to get back to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since they lost to Texas in the 2012 national-championship match. 

Mimi Colyer led Oregon with 26 kills. She hit .254 after having eight errors in 71 attacks and added an assist, an ace, three blocks and 13 digs. Brooke Nuneviller had 16 kills but hit .089 and had three assists, two blocks and 15 digs. Morgan Lewis, who had a total of seven kills in her previous five matches, came up big with 13 kills, hitting .385 after having three errors in 26 attacks, and added four digs. Kiari Robey had five kills, hit .333 and had five blocks, one solo. Hannah Pukis had six kills, 57 assists, two aces, a solo block and 20 digs as her team hit .217. Georgia Murphy had 21 digs and four assists.

Nebraska’s season ended 26-6. The Huskers lost three of five to finish the regular season. They lost to Ohio State, beat Iowa and Purdue, and lost to Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the tournament, they swept Delaware State and then beat Kansas in four.

Nebraska of the Big Ten hit .199 against Oregon. Lindsay Krause had 16 kills, hit .324 and had an assist, a dig and six blocks, one solo. Ally Batenhorst had 15 kills, an assist, two aces, 12 digs and three blocks, two solo. Whitney Lauenstein had 12 kills, an assist, three blocks and a dig. Madi Kubi had nine kills, an assist, an ace, two blocks and 17 digs. Nicklin Hames and Anni Evans combined for 46 assists, three aces and 27 digs. Lexi Rodriguez had 18 digs, seven assists and an ace.

Louisville blasts Baylor

The Cardinals (29-2) looked as sharp as ever in their 25-23, 25-16, 25-17 victory over Baylor (25-7). Louisville, the ACC co-champion, won its 11th in a row. 

Claire Chausee and Anna DeBeer had 11 kills each. Chausee added an assist, an ace, a block and 12 digs. DeBeer, who hit .364, had two blocks and eight digs. Aiko Jones had eight kills, a dig and two blocks, one solo, and PK Kong had seven kills with no errors in 15 attacks to go with five blocks. Raquel Lazaro had two kills, 38 assists, two aces, four blocks and four digs. Her team hit .269.

Baylor, outblocked 10-3, had just 29 kills and hit .098. Elise McGhee had eight kills and Lauren Harrison seven. The Bears beat Stephen F. Austin and Rice in the first two rounds.

Ohio State’s Emily Londot splits the blocks of Minnesota’s Carter Booth, leftk, and Jenna Wenass/Matt Smith photo

Ohio State thumps Minnesota

Emily Londot went off for a career-high 29 kills and the Buckeyes (22-9) are in a regional final for the first time since 2004. Now they get to play the top-ranked Texas team that beat them twice to open the season, only that was at home in Columbus. 

And the result ended the coaching career of Minnesota’s Hugh McCutcheon, who took the USA men to Olympic gold in 2008, the USA women to Olympic silver in 2012, and ended his career as head coach of the Gophers 277-74. 

Ohio State beat Minnesota 22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-19, hitting .298. Londot had just four errors in 50 attacks and hit .500 and added an assist, two blocks and 13 digs. Jenaisya Moore had 13 kills, a block and two digs. Rylee Rader had 12 kills, hit .435, and had four blocks and a dig. Mac Podraza had three kills in seven errorless tries, 51 assists, three blocks and five digs. 

Hugh McCutcheon celebrates a point in his last match as the Minnesota coach/Kelly Hagenson photo

Minnesota (22-9) hit .173. Taylor Landfair led with 16 kills, an ace, a block and three digs. McKenna Wucherer had nine kills, two blocks and two digs and CC McGraw had 17 digs, two assists and an ace.

Minnesota beat Southeastern Louisiana and Northern Iowa in the first two rounds.

Texas too much for Marquette

The Big 12-champion Longhorns (25-1) came out and overpowered Marquette, the Big East co-champ (29-4), in the first two sets, saw the Golden Eagles show their mettle in the third, and then closed out a 25-14, 25-13, 19-25, 25-17 victory. Texas won its 11th match in a row and is back in a regional final for the 16th time in 17 seasons.

Texas, which hit .343, got 15 kills from Logan Eggleston. She had two errors in 37 attacks and hit .351 and added three assists, three aces, four blocks and nine digs. Madisen Skinner had 11 kills, hit .381 and had a dig and five blocks, two solo. Asjia O’Neal had nine kills, two digs and eight blocks, one solo. Molly Phillips had eight kills with one error in 18 attacks and three blocks, and Bella Bergmark had three kills in five errorless attacks and four blocks. Zoe Fleck had 14 digs, five assists and three aces.

Texas outblocked Marquette 15-4 and had 10 aces, while the Golden Eagles had three. 

Marquette, which hit .098, got 12 kills from Jenna Reitsma, who had an assist, an ace, a block and 11 digs. Marquette advanced with sweeps of Ball State and Georgia Tech. 

Pittsburgh ousts Florida

Like ACC counterpart Louisville, the Panthers (30-3) are a victory away from returning to the national semifinals after their 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 25-22 win over Florida. 

Pittsburgh, in the round of eight for the third year in a row, got 19 kills from Courtney Buzzerio, who added an ace, five blocks and eight digs. Serena Gray, who had five kills and six digs, and Valeria Vazquez Gomez had nine kills each. Gray had no errors in 22 attacks. Rachel Fairbanks had five kills but also five errors, 38 assists, two aces, a block and eight digs.

SEC co-champion Florida (25-6) lost despite hitting a higher percentage than Pitt (.304 to .224) and having more kills (59-56), blocks (10-7) and digs (55-49). Marina Markova led the Gators with 15 kills and hit .400 after having three errors in 30 attacks to go with five blocks and four digs. Merritt Beason had 13 kills, three assists, two blocks and nine digs. Alexis Stucky had five kills, 45 assists, a block and eight digs, and Eli McKissock had 17 digs, eight assists and an ace. Florida advanced with sweeps of Florida A&M and Iowa State.

Wisconsin battles past Penn State

The defending national champions (28-3) won their 21st match in a row, but it took all they had in a 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 20-25, 15-8 victory between the Big Ten teams.

“I think everyone here was treated to an unbelievable epic, gritty match,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said.

Wisconsin held a 23-9 blocks advantage and held Penn State to a .056 hitting percentage.

Sarah Franklin and Anna Smrek led with 13 kills each and Devyn Robinson had 11 kills. Franklin had six digs and six blocks, one solo. Smrek, who had two errors in 19 attacks and hit .579, had two digs and eight blocks. Robinson had an assist, a dig and six blocks. Danielle Hart had six kills with one error in 12 swings and fight blocks. Caroline Crawford had two kills and hit minus .250 with five errors, but had a career-high 12 blocks — two solo — three in the fifth set. Wisconsin hit .182.

Penn State, with the only first-year coach in the round of 16 (Katie Schumacher-Cawley), finished its season 26-8 as it lost to Wisconsin for the third time and second in five sets.

The Nittany Lions got 14 kills from Kashauna Williams, who hit minus .018. She had four digs and five blocks, three solo. Katie Clark had 13 kills, a block and a dig and Zoe Weatherington had 11 kills but hit negative .031. 

Penn State beat UMBC and UCF in the first two rounds.

San Diego sweeps Kentucky

The Toreros (30-1) not only won their 27th match in a row, they moved to the regional final for the first time in program history. San Diego took it to SEC co-champion Kentucky 25-22, 25-19, 25-18.

After all the debate about whether or not San Diego was worthy of a top seed, the Toreros’ claim of “Why not us?” seems pretty justified at this point.

San Diego hit .327 after having 47 kills and 15 errors in 98 attacks. Breana Edwards led with 13 kills, a block and two digs. Grace Frohling had 11 kills, hit .333, and had four blocks and a dig. Katie Lukes had 10 kills with two errors in 20 attacks and added an assist, three blocks and six digs. Leyla Blackwell had seven kills and five blocks, one solo, and Haylee Stoner had six kills with one error in nine swings, an ace and four blocks. 

Kentucky (22-8), which won the spring 2021 NCAA title and last year lost in the second round, advanced this time with sweeps of Loyola Chicago and Western Kentucky. Against San Diego, the Wildcats hit .127. Adanna Rollins led with 11 kills but had 10 errors and added four digs and four blocks. 

Stanford rallies past Houston 

The Cardinal (27-4) have won 21 matches in a row and was certainly considered a strong favorite over American Athletic co-champion Houston (30-3). But the Cougars got Stanford’s attention by bolting to a 21-13 first-set lead.

After that, it was all Stanford as the Pac-12 champions rallied in the first and then cruised to a 26-24, 25-16, 25-17 victory. Stanford is back in a regional final for the 16th time but the first since winning the NCAA title in 2019.

Stanford, which ended up hitting .371, got 19 kills from Kendall Kipp, who hit .472 and had three blocks and six digs. Four of her kills came when Stanford made its late first-set run.

Elia Rubin had 12 kills, hit .304 and had two assists, a block and 10 digs. Caitie Baird had 11 kills, hit .364 and had an assist, a block and seven digs. McKenna Vicini had five kills in nine errorless attacks and four blocks, and the other middle, Sami Francis, played for the first time since October 23 and had three kills but four errors and three blocks, one solo. Elena Oglivie had 15 digs, four assists and three of her team’s five aces, and Kami Miner had four kills with an error in six tries, 41 assists, an ace, a block and six digs. 

Houston, which went five both times in beating South Dakota and Auburn in the first two rounds, had just 36 kills against Stanford, Isabel Theut led with nine, a block and two digs. Kortlyn Henderson had seven kills, hit .357 and had a block and a dig.

Coaching carousel spins in Oklahoma

There are now eight openings in Power 5 conferences, the most at the same time in recent memory. Oklahoma announced Thursday that Lindsey Gray-Walton has resigned after five seasons. She had an overall record of 65-64 and this past season, the Sooners finished 15-13, 5-11 in the Big 12.

There are now at least 19 Division I openings, including UCLA and Oregon State in the Pac-12, Minnesota in the Big Ten, Kansas State in the Big 12, and Texas A&M, Missouri and Ole Miss in the SEC.


The semifinals are set with Southern Miss of the Sun Belt  (21-11) playing at Boston College of the ACC (22-13) on Saturday and Drake of the Missouri Valley (29-7) going to Davidson of the Atlantic 10 (23-10) on Sunday. For more, click here for the NIVC Tournament Central and here for the bracket.

Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres, left, and Bella Bergmark puts up the Texas block against Marquette/Matt Smith photo

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