Courtesy: American Athletic Conference
Six American Athletic Conference volleyball teams earned postseason bids, as No 21 UCF and Cincinnati prepare for the NCAA Tournament, while USF, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State were each selected to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) field.
The league’s six postseason bids are the most in conference history, as The American’s two NCAA Tournament teams are the most since 2016 when SMU and Cincinnati each earned trips to the national championship. The American holds a .640 winning percentage against nonconference opponents this season.
- Each team played its respective travel partner in the 2018 American Athletic Conference league-play finale on Wednesday, Nov. 21, as home teams went 5-1. UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Temple, Tulane and Wichita State each concluded their conference slates with victories. UCF (27-3, 18-0) became the third American team to complete a perfect conference slate after winning its second conference title in five years. Wichita State (2017) and Louisville (2013) also had undefeated seasons in American play.
- The American boasts six top-100 RPI teams with UCF leading the way at No. 10, Cincinnati at No. 24, Tulane at No. 61, Tulsa at No. 80, Wichita State at No. 86 and USF at No. 98. The Knights have also spent six weeks in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national polls, coming in at No. 21 in Week 14.
- UCF and Cincinnati each brought home two major conference awards. UCF head coach Todd Dagenais earned his second American Coach of the Year nod, while freshman outside hitter McKenna Melville picked up the Knights’ first Freshman of the Year honor. Outside and right side hitter Jordan Thompson collected her second-career unanimous Player of the Year accolade, while senior setter Jade Tingelhoff earned her second-career Setter of the Year honor. Thompson and Tingelhoff also both earned these awards in 2016. Wichita State earned its fifth major award with sophomore libero Giorgia Civita voted Libero of the Year.
- Riding a 24-match winning streak, UCF became the second American Athletic Conference team to host a regional in as many years, earning the conference’s highest national seed at No. 13. Wichita State hosted the First and Second rounds of the NCAA Tournament as the No. 16 seed in 2017.
- The Knights will welcome Florida Gulf Coast to the Venue on Thursday, November 29 with Sunshine State foes No. 16 Florida and Florida State making up the rest of the four-team field in Orlando. UCF went 2-0 against Florida Gulf Coast this season with 3-1 and 3-0 wins over the Eagles in August and September. The Knights own a 15-0 record at home this year and are averaging 11.3 blocks per match and a .163 opponent hitting percentage during their 24-match swing. Their last loss came on September 2 to then-No. 4 Florida in four sets. The second round of the tournament will be played on Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET. UCF will make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2014, as its bid marks back-to-back postseason appearances for the Knights after being selected to the NIVC in 2017.
- Melville has shined through her rookie campaign, leading the conference with 21 double-doubles. She ranks No. 10 in the nation in kills (505) and No. 12 in points (561) and has reached double-digit kills 26 times this season. Outside hitter Kristina Fisher, libero Jordan Pingel and middle blocker Anne-Marie Watson joined her in earning All-Conference recognition.
- Cincinnati (25-7, 15-3) remains the only American Athletic Conference team to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, earning its second at-large selection since 2016. It marks the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance for the program. The Bearcats will head to Milwaukee, Wis., to face Illinois State in the opening round on Friday, Nov. 30, as No. 14 seed Marquette will be the host of the four-team field that will also include High Point. The second round will be played on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
- Cincinnati sealed second place in American standings and brings a four-match winning streak into the postseason. The Bearcats rank third in the nation in kills (1,770) and fourth in assists (1,665). Cincinnati also leads the conference and ranks top 15 in the NCAA in service aces (184) and hitting percentage (.273). Thompson has been one of the most electric hitters in the country this season, leading the nation in kills (791), points (872), kills per set (6.28) and points per set (6.92). Tingelhoff broke the conference’s all-time career assists record last Wednesday and leads the league with 9.21 assists per set. Freshman outside hitter Maria Mallon joined them in earning first team All-Conference honors.
- Chosen as one of seven teams to earn an automatic bid to the NIVC, Tulane (25-8, 13-5) is slated to host the First and Second rounds. The Green Wave will make its first postseason appearance since 2009, and is set to take on Arkansas State in the opening round on Thursday. Its field also features Arkansas-Little Rock and Cal Baptist. Picked to finish 10th in The American’s preseason coaches’ poll, Tulane clinched third place in the conference’s standings this season. The Green Wave rode an 11-match winning streak from Oct. 5-Nov. 11 and ranks No. 6 in the nation with a .148 opponent hitting percentage. Right side hitter Erika Hansel was one of three unanimous first team All-Conference selections this year.
- Tulsa (19-11, 11-7) and Wichita State (13-17, 8-10) will each make trips to Denton, Texas, after earning at-large bids to the NIVC. Tulsa will take on host North Texas on Thursday, while Wichita State is set to face Central Arkansas in the first round. Tulsa finished fourth in American standings, while Wichita State, the conference’s favorite in the preseason coaches’ poll, took seventh place. The Golden Hurricane will make its first postseason appearance since 2013 and first under head coach Ryan Wills. Tulsa defeated North Texas 3-2 on Sept. 26. Wichita State will make its fourth-straight postseason appearance.
- USF (20-11, 9-9) tied for fifth place in American standings and received an at-large bid to the NIVC, earning its first postseason appearance since 2002. The Bulls head to Atlanta, Ga., to take on host Georgia Tech on Thursday. The four-team field also includes Charleston and St. John’s. USF went 7-2 in three-set matches and earned seven five-set victories in 2018, posting its first 20-win season since 2002. Outside hitter Jac’cara Walker and middle blocker Clara Payne each earned All-Conference honors.
Thursday, November 29
Central Arkansas vs. Wichita State – 5:30 p.m. ET | NIVC
Florida Gulf Coast at No. 13 seed UCF – 7 p.m. ET | NCAA Tournament
Tulsa at North Texas – 8 p.m. ET | NIVC
USF at Georgia Tech – 8 p.m. ET | NIVC
Arkansas State at Tulane – 8:30 p.m. ET | NIVC
Friday, November 30
Illinois State vs. Cincinnati – 5:30 p.m. ET | NCAA Tournament