Kentucky comes into the first round of the tournament as the unexpected #4 seed in the tournament while they have an easier than normal first two rounds they will see some struggles later on. Nebraska was snubbed of a top-four seed in the tournament but was placed in the #5 slot, which could set up a strong Elite Eight match if Kentucky or themselves don’t get upset early in the tournament.
Below are individual pod breakdowns of that quartet of groups in the first and second round, featuring team bios as well as predictions for the matches that come this week.
ETSU at #4 Kentucky
Common Opponents: None
#4 Kentucky Wildcats
How They Got Here: Kentucky (16-3, 17-1 SEC) won the SEC title for the first time since 1988.
NCAA History: 13th consecutive NCAA appearance
Stat Leaders: Leah Edmond has been the driving force for Kentucky this season with an average of 4.56 kills per set along with a team-best 36 aces. Avery Skinner is another one to watch as she has put down an average of 3.30 kills per set on the season.
The Wildcats run a 5-1 behind freshman setter Madison Lilley who ranks fourth in the nation with 12.12 assists per set.
On defense, Ashley Dusek has picked up a team-best 345 digs on the year while Kaz Brown produces 1.18 blocks per set.
How They Got Here: ETSU (19-11, 12-4 SoCon) won the SoCon conference tournament over Wofford in a sweep.
NCAA History: Second NCAA Tournament appearance with last in 2012 when they won the ASUN tournament and were swept by Kentucky in the first round.
Stat Leaders: Two Bucs have posted more than 300 kills this season, with Rylee Milhorn (395) posting an average of 3.56 kills per set while Leah Clayton (346) adds 3.15 kills per set.
The Bucs run a 6-2 offense with Alyssa Kvarta (6.35 assists per set) and Lexie Libs (4.94 assists per set). Both setters have picked up a considerable amount of digs for the year 216 and 161, respectively, staying behind the team’s leader Marija Popovic who has 467 on the year.
At the net defensively, Braedyn Tutton leads the squad with an average of 1.14 blocks per set and a total of 116 this season while Kaela Massey adds another 0.90 blocks per set.
WKU vs. Notre Dame
- Louisville – WKU lost (1-3), Notre Dame lost (2-3)
- Ohio State – WKU won (3-0), Notre Dame split – Lost (0-3), won (3-1)
How They Got Here: WKU (30-3, 13-1 C-USA) won their fourth-straight C-USA tournament, first in the league to accomplish
NCAA History: 11th NCAA Tournament, ninth automatic bid and fourth straight
Stat Leaders: Two Toppers have produced huge attacking numbers this season – Alyssa Cavanaugh (4.00 kills per set) and Rachel Anderson (3.59 kills per set).
The squad’s setter, Jessica Lucas, has dished out an average of 10.99 assists per set in the team’s 5-1 offense while remaining an active attacker with 1.73 kills per set.
On defense, Anderson blocks an average of 1.03 balls per set while Emma Kowalkowski has picked up 320 digs on the year along with a team-best 31 aces.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
How They Got Here: Notre Dame (22-9, 11-8 ACC) the Fighting Irish earned an at-large bid into the tournament
NCAA History: 18 NCAA Tournament, six Sweet 16 appearances
Stat Leaders: Jemma Yeadon has been the top offensive force for the Irish this season with an average of 3.91 kills per set along with 2.75 digs per set. The team is a tough serving squad with 187 aces on the year led by Natalie Johnson with 50 followed by Ryann Dejarld with 41.
The squad runs a 5-1 offense behind Caroline Holt who dished out an average of 10.26 assists per set.
On the defensive end of things, Dejarld had picked up 731 digs on the year for an average of 6.14 digs per set. At the net, two players average more than one block per set – Sam Fry (1.36) and Meg Morningstar (1.16).
Kentucky def. ETSU 3-0
- The Wildcats have a strong backing this season and an impressive resume that will help them advance a few rounds in the tournament. They will easily take down the Bucs in three.
WKU def. Notre Dame 3-1
- While Notre Dame had great serves and defense they don’t match the offensive firepower that WKU offers, which will be a struggle for the Fighting Irish.
Kentucky def. WKU 3-1
- The two squads met earlier this season in an exhibition match, with the Toppers showing off their flare but the Wildcats will prevail with a more consistent base.
Stony Brook at #5 Nebraska
Common Opponents: None
How They Got Here: Nebraska (26-4, 19-1 Big Ten) claimed the Big Ten title for an automatic berth in the tournament
NCAA History: 36th straight NCAA Tournament, 2015 National Champion
Stat Leaders: A well-balanced Husker offense comes into the tournament with all five players consistently in the offense recording more than two kills per set on average – Mikaela Foecke (3.50), Annika Albrecht (2.98), Briana Holman (2.42), Jazz Sweet (2.21) and Lauren Stivrins (2.10).
Kelly Hunter led the offense this season with 10.74 assists per set bring the Huskers to a .282 hitting percentage on the year.
In the back row, Kenzie Maloney led the team with 3.65 digs per set. Holman led the team with 1.12 blocks per set while Stivrins added another 0.98.
Stony Brook Seawolves
How They Got Here: Stony Brook (18-12, 6-6 American East) won the American East to claim a spot in the tournament
NCAA History: First-ever NCAA Tournament appearance
Stat Leaders: Five Seawolves averaged more than two kills per set on the year – McKyla Brooks (2.69), Emily Costello (2.62), Maria Poole (2.47), Lix Pulver (2.39) and Jordan Gels (2.28).
LeAnne Sakowicz led the 5-1 offense this season with an average of 10.75 assists per set while leading the team to a .221 hitting percentage on the year.
On defense, Kiani Kerstetter picked up an average of 4.66 digs per set.
Florida State vs. Washington State
- Baylor – Florida State won (3-1), Washington State lost (2-3)
Florida State Seminoles
How They Got Here: Florida State (18-10, 12-8 ACC) earn an at-large bid into the tournament
NCAA History: 20th NCAA Tournament, ninth straight
Stat Leaders: Milica Kubura led the offensive line this season with 3.61 kills per set on a .305 hitting clip and 1.08 blocks per set. Natasha Calkins added in another 2.70 kills per set along with Christina Ambrose‘s 2.32.
The team has primarily run a 5-1 offense led by Brianne Burket who has 8.51 assists per set while leading the Seminoles to a .241 hitting percentage.
On defense, Cecilie Woie has picked up 4.24 digs per set while Taryn Knuth has averaged 1.50 blocks per set.
Washington State Cougars
How They Got Here: Washington State (17-15, 6-14 Pac-12) earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament
NCAA History: 12th NCAA Tournament, second straight
Stat Leaders: Taylor Mims has been an all-around player for the Cougars with 4.10 kills per set and 2.10 digs per set along with 23 aces.
The setting position is run by two players – Ashley Brown (5.61 assists per set) and Penny Tusa (4.51 assists per set) that have led the team to a .209 hitting clip on the year.
On defense, Alexis Dirige has picked up 537 digs for an average of 4.51 digs per set. Three Cougars have more than one block per set average – Jocelyn Urias (1.38), Ella Lajos (1.18) and Claire Martin (1.09)
Nebraska def. Stony Brook 3-0
- The Huskers have too much power all-around and will quickly down Stony Brook in the first round
Florida State def. Washington State 3-2
- The Seminoles have a more consistent front line than the Cougars do but Washington State has faced off against more competitive opponents on the year. It will be a gritty battle but the Seminoles will come away with the five-set win.
Nebraska def. Florida State 3-1
- Again, the Huskers have a more consistent and stronger all-around team that will claim their way into the Sweet 16 in four.
Miami (OH) at #12 Baylor
Common Opponents: None
How They Got Here: Baylor (23-6, 13-2 Big 12) enter the tournament with an at-large bid along with the #12 overall seed
NCAA History: Sixth NCAA Tournament, first time hosting
Stat Leaders: Yossiana Pressley has led the Bears with 360 kills on the year and an average of 3.53 kills per set, just slightly behind Katie Staiger who has 3.90 kills per set.
Hannah Lockin has led the team with 11.21 assists per set in a 5-1 offensive scheme.
On defense, Aniah Philo had picked up an average of 3.70 digs per set while Shelly Fanning and Camryn Freiberg have 1.10 and 1.03 blocks per set, respectively.
Miami (OH) Redhawks
How They Got Here: Miami (OH) (23-8, 13-3 MAC) earned their automatic bid after winning the MAC Tournament
NCAA History: 10th NCAA Tournament, second straight
Stat Leaders: Katie Tomasic and Olivia Rusek have led the Redhawks floor this season with 2.69 kills per set apiece while Margaret Payne adds in another 2.50 kills per set.
The team has run both a 5-1 and 6-2 this season with Morgan Seaman leading the way with 6.60 assists per set while Mackenzie Zielinski joined in with 6.43 assists per set.
On defense, Maeve McDonald had picked up an average of 5.60 digs per set and 638 digs on the year. At the net, Meredith Stutz has blocked an average of 1.06 balls per set.
Colorado vs. James Madison
Common Opponents: None
How They Got Here: Colorado (23-5, 11-5 Pac-12) earned an at-large bid to claim a spot in the tournament
NCAA History: 19th NCAA Tournament
Stat Leaders: Alexa Smith has carried the Buffs this season with 4.01 kills per set on the year followed by Frankie Shebby with 3.50 kills per set. Smith also has the second most digs on the team with 328 while Gabby Carta-Samuels lead the way with 392.
Brynna DeLuzio has led the Buffs 5-1 offense with 11.07 assists per set and a .249 hitting percentage on the year.
Defensively at the net, Naghede Abu led the way with 1.20 blocks per set.
James Madison Duke Dog
How They Got Here: James Madison (23-5, 11-5 CAA) won the CAA tournament to claim an automatic bid
NCAA History: Fourth NCAA Tournament, second consecutive
Stat Leaders: Bryn Recker has led James Madison this season with 3.48 kills per set on a .250 hitting percentage.
The squad runs a 6-2 offense with Sarah Martin (5.53 assists per set) and Tilbe Yaglioglu (4.91 assists per set). The two have led the Dukes to a .239 hitting clip this season.
On defense, Taylor Austin has picked up 520 digs for an average of 5.78 digs per set on the year. Four Dukes have more than one block per set on the season – M’Kaela White (1.53), Allison Lake (1.17), Martin (1.12) and Taylor Gail (1.10).
Baylor def. Miami (OH) 3-0
- Baylor has a steady all-around team and if Staiger is full-force for the tournament they will be hard to stop.
Colorado def. James Madison 3-1
- James Madison has a good enough defensive squad to thwart the Buffaloes for at least one set in the tournament, but the more consistent Colorado team will take the match.
Baylor def. Colorado 3-1
- It will be a tough second round match, but the Bears will surpass the Buffs to move onto the Sweet 16.
American at #13 BYU
- Santa Clara – BYU won (3-0), American lost (2-3)
How They Got Here: BYU (28-2, 17-1 WCC) won WCC to pick up automatic bid
NCAA History: 29 NCAA Tournament appearances, 2014 runners-up
Stat Leaders: Veronica Jones-Perry guides the team with 4.72 kills per set on a .280 hitting percentage while McKenna Miller adds another 3.12 kills per set.
The team runs a 5-1 offense behind Lyndie Haddock who has handed out 9.96 assists per set for the year.
Defensively, Mary Lake leads the way with 4.43 digs per set. Blocking-wise, Cosy Burnett has blocked an average of 1.38 balls per set along with Kennedy Reddings 1.29 blocks per set.
How They Got Here: American (16-7, 15-1 Patriot League) won the Patriot League to earn an automatic bid
NCAA History: 15 NCAA Tournaments, fifth straight
Stat Leaders: Aleksandra Kazala led the pack with an average of 4.77 kills per set on a .320 hitting clip this season while picking up 3.02 digs per set. Kazala was more than 300 kills ahead of her closest teammate Helena Elbaek who produced 2.29 kills per set.
The team has waffled back and forth between a 5-1 and 6-2 offense but have primarily been led by Kennedy Etheridge with 8.87 assists per set while Olivia Wassner adds 5.85 assists per set.
On defense, Kristen Largay leads the way with 4.36 digs per set. At the net, Cheyenne Orsi averaged 1.21 blocks per set while Loren McKenzie added another 1.00 blocks per set.
Kennesaw State vs. Oregon
Common Opponents: None
Kennesaw State Owls
How They Got Here: Kennesaw State (21-4, 13-1 ASUN) won the ASUN tournament to earn an automatic bid
NCAA History: First-ever NCAA Tournament
Stat Leaders: The Kennesaw State offense is not particularly strong but were led by Anaiah Boyer with 3.32 kills per set. The squad runs a 5-1 offense behind Kristi Piedimonte who has dished out an average of 10.51 assists per set on the year.
Defensively, Katarina Morton led the way with 4.37 digs per set while Liesl Engelbrecht added 1.17 blocks per set.
How They Got Here: Oregon (17-11, 10-10 Pac-12) earned an at-large bid into the tournament
NCAA History: 15th NCAA Tournament appearance, seventh straight
Stat Leaders: The Ducks were led by Taylor Agost with 2.98 kills per set and a .282 hitting percentage on the year.
Oregon runs a 6-2 offense with Maggie Scott (6.25 assist per set) and August Raskie (4.98 assists per set).
On defense, Alex Hojnar set the pace for the Ducks with an average of 3.17 digs per set. At the net, Sumeet Gill blocked an average of 1.10 balls per set along with Ronika Stone‘s 1.09 blocks per set.
BYU def. American 3-1
- BYU has the natural tools to advance deep into the tournament but American has the potential as well. However, American won’t be able to handle the stead defense of the Cougars and will eventually fall in four in the first round.
Oregon def. Kennesaw State 3-0
- Oregon has more depth than the Owls can provide which will cause a problem for Kennesaw State, therefore, the Ducks will advance with a sweep.
BYU def. Oregon 3-2
- The second round in the Provo Region will be a gritty match-up with two teams that have fairly consistent and steady squads. BYU will pull ahead to move onto the Sweet 16 in five.