By earning the #3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Stanford Cardinal could legitimately host the first four rounds of the tournament, as long as they win the first two. The quest of defending their national championship starts Friday night against Cal State Bakersfield, and the winner of that match plays the winner of the match between Colorado State and Michigan on Saturday evening.
Other pods included in the Stanford regional are hosted at Ames, Iowa (#14 Iowa State), Salt Lake City, Utah (#11 Utah) and Austin, Texas (#6 Texas).
Written below are each individual pod, their match-ups, and VolleyMob’s predictions of each match.
PALO ALTO POD (#3 STANFORD):
CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD AT #3 STANFORD
- Arizona State: CSUB lost 0-3; Stanford won twice, 3-0 and 3-1
#3 STANFORD CARDINAL
How they got here: The Cardinal won the Pac-12 conference title with a 19-1 conference record, and currently are 26-3 overall.
NCAA History: Stanford is the only other school other than Penn State to be in all 36 NCAA Tournaments.
Stat Leaders: Kathryn Plummer is far and away the Cardinal’s primary attacker, averaging 4.7 kills per set. Merete Lutz pounds 2.99 kps. Blocking is exception for Stanford, as Audrianna Fitzmorris leads with 1.46 blocks per set, with Tami Alade right behind her at 1.43 bps.
The Cardinal run a 5-1 offense with Jenna Gray at the helm, averaging 12.12 assists per set.
Defensively, libero Morgan Hentz is the floor general with 4.03 digs per set.
CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD ROADRUNNERS
How they got here: The Roadrunners won the Western Athletic Conference tournament title with wins over Seattle, New Mexico State and UT-Rio Grande Valley. They enter their second NCAA Tournament ever as a Division I institution with a 19-13 record.
NCAA History: The ‘Runners had much success at the Division II level, but this is their second ever NCAA Division I Tournament, the other being in 2014, when they lost to Stanford in 3 sets.
Stat Leaders: CSUB have a very balanced offense, with 5 players getting between 2 and 2.5 kills per set. That group is led by Haylee Roberts with 2.48 kills per set, and also leads the front row attackers with a .279 hitting percentage. She also leads the ‘Runners in blocks per set with a .94 average.
CSUB run a 6-2 offense, with setters Fabiana Andrade (6.21 aps) and Sidney Wicks (5 aps) directing the attack.
On floor defense, libero Emily Lopes led the way with 5.35 digs per set.
COLORADO STATE VS. MICHIGAN
- Colorado State knocked off Michigan in Fort Collins earlier this season, 3-0
- Albany: Colorado State won, 3-0; Michigan won, 3-0
- Idaho State: Colorado State won, 3-0; Michigan won, 3-0
- Ball State: Colorado State won, 3-1; Michigan won, 3-1
COLORADO STATE RAMS
How they got here: CSU won the Mountain West Conference title for the 8th time in 9 years, earning the automatic bid with a 28-3 record.
NCAA History: This is Colorado State’s 23rd consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Stat leaders: Mountain West Conference player of the year Katie Oleksak leads the Ram offense with 11.79 assists per set, currently 7th nationally. The offense is quite efficient; the Rams are hitting .319 on the season—fourth nationally.
Offensively, Paulina Hougaard-Jensen is ranked #2 nationally in hitting percentage (.470). Kirstie Hillyer leads the MWC in blocks per set at 1.47. Both Breanna Runnels (3.21) and Jasmine Hanna (3.01) average over 3 kills per set for the Rams.
Defensively, libero Amanda Young paces the floor defense with 3.77 digs per set.
How they got here: Michigan won their final five matches, including three against top-25 competition, to earn an at-large bid out of the Big Ten conference. The Wolverines enter the contest with a 21-11 record.
NCAA History: This is the Wolverines 11th trip in 12 years to the NCAA Tournament, and it is their 17th trip overall.
Stat leaders: Carly Skjodt is the 6-rotation player that does a little of everything for Michigan. She leads the team in kills per set (3.65), is second on the team in digs per set (2.26) and is tied for third in solo blocks with 11. Second on the team in kills per set is Claire Kieffer-Wright with 2.67, who also leads UM with .99 blocks per set and has the most aces on the team with 31.
MacKenzi Welsh runs a 5-1 offense for the Maize and Blue, averaging 10.87 assists per set. She is also second on the team with 29 aces.
Defensively, libero Jenna Lerg leads the Wolverines with 4.1 digs per set.
Stanford over CSUB, 3-0
- Too much size and skill for Stanford in this one.
Michigan over Colorado State, 3-2
- Beating a team twice is tough. This one won’t be at altitude in Fort Collins, however. With Michigan playing red-hot right now, I give the edge to the Maize and Blue.
Stanford over Michigan, 3-0
- No question, this is Stanford’s pod to lose, and they won’t.
AMES POD (#14 IOWA STATE):
PRINCETON AT #14 IOWA STATE
- Iowa: Princeton lost, 0-3; Iowa State won, 3-1
How they got here: Princeton needed a one-match tie-breaker to win the Ivy League’s automatic bid over Yale in straight sets. The Tigers enter the tourney with a record of 18-7. Princeton was two matches behind league leader Yale with five matches to play. They ended the season tying Yale in the standings, with a one-match playoff leading to the Tigers’ third straight crown.
NCAA History: This is Princeton’s third straight NCAA Tournament and seventh overall.
Stat Leaders: 2017 Ivy League player of the year Maggie O’Connell averages 3.38 kills per set and hits .282 on the season. She is joined by Natasha Skov with 3.25 kills per set. Caroline Sklaver (.9 bps) and Nnenna Ibe (.89) lead the blocking defense. Both are also the top kills percentage players, with Ibe hitting .374 followed by Sklaver hitting .345.
The Tigers run a 5-1 offense, led by Jessie Harris with 10.61 assists per set.
Defensively, libero Maddie Huber averages 4.09 digs per set.
#14 IOWA STATE CYCLONES
How they got here: Iowa State earned an at large bid with an excellent out-of-conference record and a 21-6 overall record on the season. The Cyclones finished tied for third in the Big 12 Conference at 11-5.
NCAA History: This is Iowa State’s 12th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Stat Leaders: All-everything for the Cyclones is Jess Schaben with 3.28 kills per set and 3.05 digs per set. The Cyclones ranked 8th nationally in blocks per set, led by Avery Rhodes (1.23), Grace Lazard (1.22) and Alexis Conaway (1.02).
Monique Harris runs the 5-1 offense with 9.44 assists per set.
Libero Hali Hillegas leads the Big 12 Conference with 5.61 digs per set.
MARQUETTE VS. WISCONSIN
- Wisconsin defeated Marquette earlier this season, 3-1
MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
How they got here: Marquette earned an at-large bid out of the Big East conference, finishing runner up to four-time defending Big East champion Creighton (the #9 overall seed). They enter the tournament with a 22-9 record.
NCAA History: This will be the seventh straight NCAA Tournament the Golden Eagles will be playing in.
Stat Leaders: 6-5 outside hitter Allie Barber leads the MU attack with 4.74 kills per set, hitting at a .334 clip. Anna Haak gets into the offense as well with 2.83 kps and is second on the team with 2.98 digs per set. Jenna Rosenthal leads the Golden Eagle net defense with 1.08 blocks per set and leads MU behind the service line with 31 aces on the season.
Setter Lauren Speckman runs the 5-1 offense with 11.68 assists per set. Speckman’s 24 aces are also third on the team.
For the floor defense, look no further than libero Martha Konovodoff with 4.14 digs per set. Konovodoff is also second on the team in aces with 28.
How they got here: Wisconsin earned an at-large bid out of the Big Ten Conference, one of eight Big Ten teams to do so. They enter play in the NCAA Tournament with a 20-9 record.
NCAA History: This is Wisconsin’s 21st NCAA Tournament appearance.
Stat Leaders: Big Ten Freshman of the Year and 6-8 middle blocker Dana Rettke leads the Badgers in four categories. Rettke pounds 3.37 kills per set, attacks at a .445 clip, has 25 aces and leads the net defense with 1.42 blocks per set. Tionna Williams is second on the team among starters in blocks per set with 1.03. Outside hitters Lauryn Gillis (2.69) and Kelli Bates (2.59) are second and third, respectively in kills per set.
The 5-1 offense is directed by freshman setter Sydney Hilley with 11.64 assists per set.
Defensively, libero Tiffany Clark scoops 3.79 balls per set.
Iowa State over Princeton, 3-0
- Although the Tigers had to play near perfect volleyball to even get this far, Iowa State’s block will be more than they’ve ever seen all season.
Wisconsin over Marquette, 3-1
- I see Marquette and the Fighting Allie Barbers stealing an early set from Wisconsin, but the Badgers will right the ship in time for a four-set victory. Aside from Barber, there just isn’t enough firepower for the Golden Eagles to stay with the Badgers.
Wisconsin over Iowa State, 3-2
- This will be a dog-fight to the end, with the team making fewer mistakes earning the victory.
SALT LAKE CITY POD (#11 UTAH):
CLEVELAND STATE AT #11 UTAH
CLEVELAND STATE VIKINGS
How they got here: The Vikings earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League tournament. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a 22-7 record.
NCAA History: This is Cleveland State’s third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and fifth overall, all under current coach Chuck Voss.
Stat Leaders: Sara Skeens leads the Viking attack with 3.16 kills per set, followed by Alexis Middlebrooks at 3.06 kps. Middlebrooks also leads the Vikings in blocks per set at 1.04.
CSU’s 5-1 offense is run by setter Gina Kilner with 10.85 assists per set.
Libero Shannon Grega leads the team in two categories; digs per set (4.68) and total aces (48).
#11 UTAH UTES
How they got here: The Utes earned an at-large bid through the Pac-12 Conference with a 22-9 overall record.
NCAA History: This will be the 4th time in the last 5 seasons that Utah will participate in the NCAA Tournament and 14th time overall. They are hosting for the first time since 2005. Utah’s 13 Pac-12 wins are the most in their history in the conference.
Stat Leaders: Adora Anae is far and away the Utes’ primary attacker with 4.28 kills per set. Anae is also second on the team in total aces (19) and digs per set (3.19). Carly Trueman (2.55 kps) and Berkeley Oblad (2.33 kps) will also contribute to the Ute attack. Tawnee Luafalemana leads the team in blocks per set (1.2), while Oblad is second in that category (1.13).
The Ute attack is paced by 5-1 setter Bailey Choy with 9.5 assists per set. Choy is also third on the team in digs with 2.38 per set.
Defensively, Brianna Doehrmann is the floor general with 3.3 digs per set.
HIGH POINT VS. PURDUE
HIGH POINT PANTHERS
How they got here: HPU earned the first-ever at-large bid from the Big South Conference. The Panthers won the regular season title, only to lose in the conference championship to Radford. They start play on Thursday with a 24-7 record.
NCAA History: This is the second-straight season HPU made the NCAA Tournament and their third tournament overall since joining Division I in 1999.
Stat Leaders: The Panthers are led offensively by Haley Barnes with 3.25 kills per set. She also leads the team behind the service line with 50 aces on the year. Additionally, Barnes is second in digs per set, averaging 2.98 per set. Other attackers include Molly Livingston (2.98, .384) and Katie Tylman (2.36, .314). Livingston also leads HPU in blocking with an average of .95 per set.
The Panthers run a 6-2 offense with Jenna Smith (6.76 assists per set) and Carly Jimenez (5.03 aps).
Libero Abby Bottomley leads the floor defense with 5.25 digs per set.
How they got here: Purdue earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament through the Big Ten Conference. They start play on Thursday evening with a 22-9 record.
NCAA History: Thursday will mark Purdue’s 19th venture into the NCAA Tournament. The Boilers have never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Stat Leaders: Danielle Cuttino leads all Boilermaker attackers with a 4.08 kills per set average while owning a hitting percentage of .334 as both an outside hitter and a middle blocker. Her .9 blocks per set are tops on the squad for full-time players. Sherridan Atkinson has come on late this season, and will contribute 3.48 kps with a .329 hitting percentage.
The Boilers run a 5-1 offense with fifth-year senior Ashley Evans running the show. She averages 11.56 assists per set and is second on the team in aces with 30.
Defensively, first-year libero Brooke Peters is the floor general with 3.7 digs per set.
#11 Utah over Cleveland State, 3-0
- Utah at home over a one-bid conference champ. Not too tough to call this one.
Purdue over High Point, 3-0
- High Point wasn’t even expected to be here. Without a top-50 win on their resume, I don’t see the Panthers competing.
Utah over Purdue, 3-1
- The offensive and serve receive inconsistencies will doom the Boilers. Don’t get me wrong—they’ve knocked off some big time programs in the closing weeks (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State). But they’ve also lost to Ohio State, Maryland and twice to Michigan. Utah at home is a tough out. Utes prevail in 4, with too much Anae for the Fighting Shondells to handle.
AUSTIN, TEXAS POD (#6 TEXAS)
FAIRFIELD AT #6 TEXAS
How they got here: Fairfield won the automatic bid from the MAAC by winning the MAAC Tournament Championship for the third straight year. The Stags carry a 25-6 record on the season.
NCAA History: Fairfield has won 10 MAAC Championships, five of them under current head coach Todd Kress.
Stat Leaders: MAAC Player of the Year Skyler Day leads the Stags with 3.8 kills per set and contributes an additional 2.76 digs per set. Expect Megan Theiller to get in the act offensively with 3.02 kills per set. Luci Albertson leads Fairfield in blocking with .91 blocks per set.
Manuela Nicolini runs the 5-1 Fairfield offense with 10.5 assists per set.
Libero Taylor Rudeen patrols the back twenty with 4.5 digs per set.
#6 TEXAS LONGHORNS
How they got here: Texas won the Big 12 Conference to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and have a 24-2 record.
NCAA History: This will be the Longhorns’ 34th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, two shy of the leaders, Penn State and Stanford.
Stat Leaders: Freshman sensation Lexi Sun leads the Longhorn attack with 3.44 kills per set on .289 hitting. Micaya White brings more punch with her 3.4 kills per set on .278 hitting. The top blocking team in the country boasts two of the best the nation has to offer in that category. Chiaka Ogbogu (1.74 bps) and Morgan Johnson (1.25) lead the net defense regularly, with Ebony Nwanebu (.94 bps) not far behind.
Ashley Shook runs the efficient (.314) 5-1 offense with 10.8 assists per set.
The floor general, libero Cat McCoy, leads the Longhorns with 4.4 digs per set.
OREGON STATE VS. N.C. STATE
OREGON STATE BEAVERS
How they got here: The Beavers earned an at-large bid out of the Pac-12 conference. Their record on the season is 21-11.
NCAA History: This will be Oregon State’s fourth overall appearance to the NCAA Tournament. The 2014 squad, the last Beaver volleyball team to go to the tournament, made it to the Sweet 16.
Stat Leaders: The Beavers are led by Mary-Kate Marshall, the only current Oregon State player with tournament experience. She leads the program with 4.36 kills per set, while adding a team-leading 40 aces. Three other players average more than 2 kills per set, including Maddie Goings (2.75), Kory Cheshire (2.13, .310) and Haylie Bennett (2.11). Maddy Gravley leads the net defense with 1.14 blocks per set.
Kylee McLaughlin leads the 5-1 Beaver attack with 10.72 assists per set.
Libero Grace Massey patrols the back line with 3.48 digs per set.
N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
How they got here: The Wolfpack earned an at-large bid out of the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 20-11 record.
NCAA History: This is only the third time in program history that N.C. State is going to the tournament, with the last time being in 2012.
Stat Leaders: Julia Brown is the clear-cut leader on offense, averaging 3.75 kills per set, while she digs 2.53 balls per set, second on the team. Her 21 aces also lead the team. Expect Kaitlyn Kearney to rule the net defense with an average of 1.29 blocks per set.
Setter Kylie Pickrell runs the 5-1 Wolfpack attack with 10.61 assists per set.
Libero Emily Harris digs 3.35 balls per set.
#6 Texas over Fairfield, 3-0
- This is the second time Fairfield has traveled to Austin in three years for their first round opponent. Both times it has been Texas.
Oregon State over N.C. State, 3-1
- Oregon State is a legit Pac-12 team that boasts starting four freshmen. N.C. State just won’t have enough attack to counteract what the Beavers will bring.
Texas over Oregon State, 3-0
- The future is bright in Corvallis, as two regulars went down with career-ending injuries to start the season. Unfortunately, those freshmen will get a taste of what elite volleyball looks like in the second round.