As one of the top four seeds, Penn State will look to play at home through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but first the Nittany Lions will play host to Howard, Pittsburgh and VCU for opening round play.
Also in the University Park regional are four-team pods which will be played in Omaha, Nebraska; Wichita, Kansas; and Seattle, Washington.
Below is a look at each four team pod followed by VolleyMob’s predictions for the match outcomes.
UNIVERSITY PARK POD:
HOWARD AT #1 PENN STATE
- Ohio – Howard lost 3-1; Penn State won 3-0
- Iowa – Howard lost 3-1; Penn State won 3-1, 3-0
#1 PENN STATE
How They Got Here: Penn State went 29-1 in the regular season, including 19-1 in Big Ten play en route to a co-championship with Nebraska. The Nittany Lions earned an at-large berth after the Huskers claimed the Big Ten’s automatic berth on tiebreakers. PSU enters the tournament on a 19-match win streak.
NCAA History: Has appeared in all 37 NCAA Tournaments, making 12 NCAA final four appearances, 10 NCAA finals and winning seven NCAA titles
Stat Leaders: As a team, Penn State leads the nation in hitting percentage (.347) and ranks seventh in blocks per set (3.03).
Senior outside hitters Simone Lee and Ali Frantti and senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington each have posted more than 2.00 kills per set. Lee has notched 3.93 kills per set while hitting at a .324 clip and adding 2.27 digs per set and 22 aces. Washington is averaging 3.02 kills per set on an NCAA best .515 hitting effort to go with a team-leading 1.50 blocks per set and 19 aces. Frantti has downed 2.40 kills per set, while hitting .252 and adding 1.76 digs per set and 18 aces.
The Nittany Lions run a 6-2 offense led by senior Abby Detering (5.71 assists per set) and redshirt junior Bryanna Weiskircher (6.51 assists per set). Detering has served up a team-best 30 aces and added 1.76 digs per set, while Weiskircher has notched 27 aces and added 1.87 digs per set.
Defensively, sophomore libero Kendall White has pulled up a team-leading 3.73 digs per set followed by Lee (2.27). At the net, redshirt sophomore middle Tori Gorrell (1.01) and senior right side Heidi Thelen (0.95) follow Washington’s 1.50 blocks per set average.
How They Got Here: Howard won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament championship for the third straight season. The Bison (16-15), which entered the event as the No. 2 seed out of the MEAC north division, swept North Carolina A&T, Hampton and Florida A&M en route to the tournament crown.
NCAA History: The Bison are making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance, following berths in 1994, 2015 and 2016. Howard has kicked off the NCAAs against a Big Ten team each of the last three years, facing Penn State in the first round in 2015 and Wisconsin in 2016.
Stat Leaders: Senior outside hitters Khalia Donaldson and Jessica Young lead the way for the Howard offense, turning in 3.61 and 3.22 kills per set respectively. The pair also paces the Bison from the service line with 29 and 27 aces. Sophomore middle Kira Porter also aids the offense with 2.10 kills per set, while hitting at a team-best .323 clip.
Junior middle Olubunmi Okunade is tops on the team with 0.92 blocks per set, while Porter adds 0.80 stuffs per stanza. In the backcourt, freshman libero Fola Wilson has pulled up a team-best 2.79 digs per set, while five other players average nearly two digs per set. Junior setter Tamia Dockery (2.63), Donaldson (2.47), senior defensive specialist Carlise Cardoza (2.44) freshman outside Jurnee Tipton (1.95) and freshman defensive specialist Abby Morrow (1.93) round out the group.
As a team, Howard is hitting at a .231 clip, while limiting foes to a .174 effort.
VCU VS. PITTSBURGH
- Notre Dame – Pittsburgh won 3-0; VCU lost 3-1
- Dayton – Pittsburgh won 3-0; VCU won 3-2, 3-2
- Saint Louis – Pittsburgh won 3-0; VCU won 3-0
- Virginia – Pittsburgh won 3-0, 3-0; VCU won 3-0
How They Got Here: VCU (30-2) ran the table on the Atlantic 10 Conference at 14-0, then captured the league’s tournament title with wins over Rhode Island and Dayton. The Rams enter the NCAA Tournament on a 27-match win streak, with its last loss coming on Sept. 1 against Notre Dame. VCU played two other NCAA teams besides the Irish, in High Point (W 3-2) and Howard (W 3-2).
NCAA History: The Rams are making the second NCAA appearance in program history and first since 2005.
Stat Leaders: VCU leads the nation in blocks per set (3.27) and opponent hitting percentage (.126) and ranks 18th in aces per set (1.61).
Senior outside hitter Alica Kandler leads a trio of players averaging more than 2.00 kills per set. Kandler turns in 2.77 kills and 2.22 digs per set to go with 29 aces. Sophomore outside Vicky Giommarini (2.65) and sophomore opposite Gina Tuzzolo (2.37) follow, while also serving up a team-best 39 and 38 aces respectively. Junior middle Tori Baldwin chips in 1.83 kills per set at a team-best .360 clip and putting up a team-high 1.56 blocks per set. Sophomore middle Jasmin Sneed (1.52) and Tuzzolo (1.04) also add more than a block per set.
In the backcourt, senior libero Rebekah Strange has pulled up a team-high 5.01 digs per set. Kandler (2.22), Giommarini (1.88) and sophomore setter Dajah Ard (1.72) also aid the defense.
How They Got Here: Pittsburgh (25-6) earned an at-large berth after tying Louisville for the regular season Atlantic Coast Conference title. Both teams managed an 18-2 league mark, but the Cardinals took the automatic berth on tiebreakers.
NCAA History: The Panthers are making their second straight NCAA appearance, and 15th overall. Pitt advanced to the second round in 2016, before falling to host Penn State in University Park. That ended a postseason drought dating to 2004.
Stat Leaders: As a team, Pitt ranks among the top 20 nationally in kills per set (11th with 14.48), assists per set (14th with 13.51) and hitting percentage (18th with .273).
ACC Player of the Year Nika Markovic is averaging nearly 3.93 kills per set to pace the Panther offense, while hitting at a .313 clip. The sophomore right side hitter also has served up a team-high 34 aces and added 2.10 digs and 0.89 blocks per set. Redshirt sophomore outside Stephanie Williams (3.30) and sophomore middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk (2.28) also contribute more than two kills per set. Van Buskirk is hitting at a team-best .314 clip, while Williams has served up 31 aces and paces the team on the block with 0.93 stuffs per set. Freshman right side Chinaza Ndee follows with 0.88 blocks per set.
In the backcourt, redshirt junior libero Angela Seman leads a group of five players averaging nearly two digs per set. Seman has posted 3.61 digs per set, followed by Williams (2.23), Markovic (2.10), freshman outside Kayla Lund (2.00) and junior setter Kamalani Akeo (1.99).
Penn State defeats Howard 3-0
- In the end, the physicality, efficiency and experience of Penn State will be too much for Howard.
VCU defeats Pittsburgh 3-2
- In a battle of the nation’s best net defense and one of the top 15 teams offensively, the Rams may eventually wear down the Panther attack.
- The key to the match will be how balanced Pitt can be offensively. Too much reliance on Markovic could cause the match to be much shorter.
Penn State def. VCU 3-0
- Penn State, at home, with the Sweet 16 on the line. Russ Rose’s squad will be ready. VCU may statistically be the nation’s blocking leader, but they haven’t faced the likes of Simone Lee or Haleigh Washington before. This could get ugly.
KANSAS VS. MISSOURI
- Kentucky: Kansas won 3-0; Missouri lost 3-1
How They Got Here: Kansas (22-7) earned an at-large berth after finishing tied for third in Big 12 play. The team lost four of its last seven, falling to Iowa State, Baylor, Texas and unranked West Virginia.
NCAA History: The Jayhawks are making their sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and the ninth in program history (also 2003, 2004 and 2005). Kansas advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013 and Final Four in 2015.
Stat Leaders: Senior right side hitter Kelsie Payne and senior outside Madison Rigdon put down more than 3.50 kills per set to lead the Kansas offensive charge. Payne downs 3.73 kills per set, while hitting at a .302 clip, while Rigdon adds 3.62 kills per set, while hitting .214 and serving up a team-high 27 aces. Sophomore outside Jade Burse follows with 2.48 putaways per stanza.
Sophomore middle Zoe Hill paces the team at the net with 0.99 blocks per set, while sophomore libero Allie Nelson is tops in the backcourt with 4.30 digs per set. Senior setter Ainise Havili (3.05), Rigdon (2.57), senior Tori Miller (2.36) and Payne (1.92) also manage nearly two digs per set. Havili ranks 17th nationally with 11.47 assists per set.
As a team, Kansas is hitting at a .258 clip and tallies 2.00 blocks per set.
How They Got Here: Missouri went 20-11, including a 13-5 mark in SEC play, good for third place behind co-champions Florida and Kentucky. The Tigers won eight of their last 10 matches, with both losses coming to Florida.
NCAA History: The Tigers are making their third straight NCAA appearance and the 14th in program history. Missouri has advanced to the second round eight times and to the Sweet 16 on three occasions, including 2016. (Missouri and Kansas last played in the 2015 NCAA Tournament with the Jayhawks winning 3-0 in the second round)
Stat Leaders: The Tigers rank sixth nationally in blocks per set (3.03), including two players that put up more than a block per stanza.
Junior middle Alyssa Munlyn leads the way with 1.52 stuffs per set, ranking eighth nationally, while also hitting at a .401 clip (16th nationally). Joining her with more than a block per set is Kayla Caffey (1.03).
Munlyn is one of six players who average nearly two kills per set for the Tigers. Freshman Leketor Member-Meneh paces the team with 2.64 kills per set, followed by redshirt senior outside Melanie Crow (2.43), redshirt senior opposite Kira Larson (2.36), senior outside Sydney Deeken (2.27), Munlyn (2.14) and freshman outside Dariana Hollingsworth (1.99). Larson is clutch behind the service line with a team-best 36 aces, while also adding 2.29 digs per set and 0.76 blocks per set.
The Tigers run a 6-2 offense led by seniors Courtney Eckenrode (7.67 assists per set) and Ali Kreklow (4.07), which have guided the team to a .245 hitting efficiency. In the backcourt, Mizzou relies on redshirt sophomore libero Riley Sents (3.51 digs per set), but Larson (2.29) and Eckenrode (2.00) also assist with the defensive efforts.
RADFORD AT #16 WICHITA STATE
- Miami (Ohio) – Wichita State won 3-1; Radford lost 3-0
- East Tennessee State – Wichita State won 3-0; Radford won 3-2
How They Got Here: The Highlanders earned an automatic berth by winning the Big South Tournament championship. Radford entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed and defeated Winthrop and top seeded High Point en route to the title.
NCAA History: Radford is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013 and fourth overall (also 1993 and 2000).
Stat Leaders: The Highlanders rank 10th nationally in opponent hitting percentage at .149, but that may be a product of the caliber of opponents faced (just five matches against RPI Top 100 teams). Radford is hitting .251 as a team in its own right.
Senior outside Maddie Palmer is the team’s all-around leader, turning in 4.61 points and 4.04 kills per set (ranking 35th and 40th nationally), to go with a team-high 3.58 digs per set and 27 aces. Three other players join Palmer with more than two kills per set: junior right side Valerie Gonzalez (2.75), sophomore right side Stephanie Neast (2.62) and sophomore middle Mallory McKnight (2.07). McKnight is hitting at a team-best .316 clip. Junior setter Haley Kleepsies has dished out 10.23 assists per set, while also serving up a team-leading 37 aces and adding 2.07 digs per set.
In addition to Palmer (3.58 digs per set), senior libero Kaylor Nash holds things down in the backcourt with 3.53 digs per set alongside freshman defensive specialist Alyssa Carruth (2.80) and Kleepsies (2.07). Junior middle Amaya Rousseau is the team’s best blocker with 0.86 per set.
How They Got Here: The Shockers (28-3) earned the American Athletic Conference’s automatic berth running the table with 20-0 mark. Sixteen of the team’s conference wins came via sweep. In addition, Wichita State faced seven NCAA teams during non-conference play, tallying four wins.
NCAA History: The Shockers are making their third straight NCAA appearance and 11th overall. Wichita State, which has made the tournament 10 of the last 11 years, is a top 16 seed for the first time in program history.
Stat Leaders: The Shockers rank in the national top 10 in four categories: opponent hitting percentage (6th, .145), kills per set (7th with 14.69), assists per set (7th, 13.81) and hitting percentage (9th, .301). The teams also is top 30 in blocks per set (29th with 2.63) and digs per set (29th, 17.19).
Senior middle Abbie Lehman, the school’s all-time block assists leader, paces the team offensively with 3.68 kills per set on a .446 hitting effort (fourth nationally) to go with her 1.38 blocks per set average (25th nationally). Lehman is far from the team’s only option, however, as junior outside Tabitha Brown (3.58) and senior outside Mikaela Raudsepp (2.77) are right behind and each hits at a .240 or better clip.
Defensively, WSU looks to redshirt freshman libero Giorgia Civita, who delivers 5.23 digs per set. Senior defensive specialist Gabi Mostrom (2.48), senior setter Emily Heibert (2.37) and senior defensive specialist Hanna Shelton (2.26) follow. Lehman is the lone player with more than a block per set, but redshirt freshman middle Emma Wright (0.99) and Heibert (0.88) are not far behind. Heibert also guides the Shocker offense with 11.50 assists per set (15th nationally).
Missouri def. Kansas 3-2
- This battle will be won at the net. If Missouri’s blocking can keep Kansas one dimensional, it could be over sooner than five sets.
- With this being a border war and renewing of an old rivalry, however, all bets are off. Expect a barnburner.
Wichita State def. Radford 3-0
- The Shockers are playing at home and are 10-1 in Charles Koch Arena this season.
- Wichita State is battle tested for a mid-major and is just too good across the board, although with Radford’s offensive balance and efficiency, expect close sets.
Wichita State def. Missouri 3-1
- The Shockers will be rested for the match after a short night against Radford, while the Tigers could be battle weary. This could be a good one, however, if Missouri takes care of business early vs. Kansas.
- This could be closer if Missouri can spread the ball around and force Lehman to beat them single-handedly offensively.
COASTAL CAROLINA AT #9 CREIGHTON
How They Got Here: Creighton (25-6) won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Bluejays went 16-2 in the Big East to claim their fourth-straight regular season crown and topped Villanova and Marquette in the tournament to earn the league’s automatic berth.
NCAA History: Creighton is making its sixth straight NCAA appearance and the seventh in program history. The Bluejays are acting as a host school for the first time in school history.
Stat Leaders: The Bluejays are ranked 15th in the nation in both hitting percentage (.281) and kills per set (14.37) and 19th in assists per set (13.31).
Senior setter Lydia Dimke is a key cog in the Creighton machine, whether dishing out assists (10.78 per set), serving up aces (26), racking up digs (2.58 per set), downing kills of her own (1.41 per set) or stuffing balls at the net (0.70 per set). She also has the Bluejay offense clicking and has four offensive options registering more than two kills per set. Junior outside hitter Jaali Winters is option No. 1, averaging 3.41 kills per set. Junior outside Taryn Kloth (3.05), senior middle blocker Marysa Wilkinson (2.85) and sophomore middle Megan Ballenger (2.33) follow. Wilkinson is hitting at a team-best .370 clip and also accounts for a team-high 0.93 blocks per set.
Big East Libero of the Year Brittany Witt paces the defense with 4.30 digs per set, while also serving up at a team-high 29 aces. Winters (2.82), Dimke (2.58) and junior defensive specialist Samantha Bohnet (2.23) also aid the defense with more than two digs per set.
How They Got Here: The Chanticleers (20-7) won the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles to earn the league’s automatic berth. Coastal went 15-1 in league play and topped Arkansas State and Texas State to claim the tournament title.
NCAA History: Coastal Carolina is making its fourth straight NCAA appearance and the seventh in program history. The Chants are coming off a 2016 season in which the program earned its first NCAA victory, a five set win over James Madison in the first round.
Stat Leaders: Four-time Player of the Year Leah Hardeman is the headliner for the Chanticleers, averaging 4.62 kills and 3.01 digs per set, while hitting at a .301 clip and serving up a team-best 23 aces. The senior outside was a two-time Big South Player of the Year and is now a two-time Sun Belt honoree. Freshman outside Kyla Manning (2.24) and sophomore opposite Kinga Windisch (1.95) are next on the team offensively. Senior middle Larissa Dos Santos is hitting at a team-best .358 clip, while adding 1.55 kills per set and a team-leading 0.94 blocks per set.
Junior libero Sydney Alvis has pulled up a team-best 4.16 digs per set, while Hardeman (3.01) and junior setter Sara Boothe (2.19) follow. Boothe also averages 7.24 assist per set in leading the Chanticleers’ 6-2 offense alongside senior setter Kate Feredico (4.25).
Coastal is hitting .247 as a team and averaging 2.30 blocks per set.
MISSOURI STATE VS. MICHIGAN STATE
- Illinois – Michigan State won 3-0; Missouri State lost 3-2
- Ohio State – Michigan State won 3-0; Missouri State won 3-1
- Southern Illinois – Michigan State won 3-0; Missouri State won 3-0, 3-0
How They Got Here: The Bears earned the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic berth, winning the league’s regular season and tournament titles. Missouri State went 18-0 in league action and defeated Indiana State and Northern Iowa via sweep in the tournament.The Bears enter the NCAAs on a 21-match win streak.
NCAA History: Missouri State is making its third straight NCAA appearance and the 13th in program history. The Bears are 1-12 all time at the NCAAs.
Stat Leaders: Missouri State boasts the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in Lily Johnson, the Libero of the Year in Emily Butters, and the Coach of the Year in Melissa Stokes.
Johnson is among the steadiest players nationally with 4.59 kills and 3.96 digs per set to go with 40 aces and a .259 hitting percentage. The senior outside ranks in the top 15 nationally in kills (13th with 4.59) and points (13th with 5.17) per set. Senior middle Lynsey Wright is a nice second option for the Bears at 3.24 kills per set and with a team-best .328 hitting efficiency. Sophmore outside Aubrey Cheffey (2.34) also is a factor offensively.
Butters notches 5.83 digs per set (10th nationally) to lead the Bears’ backcourt. Johnson (3.96), sophomore setter Daniele Messa (3.18) and senior defensive specialist Brianne Dixon (2.48) also add more than two digs per set. Junior middle MacKenzie Irwin is the team’s top blocker at just 0.88 stuffs per set. Messa dishes out 8.63 assists per set, while freshman setter Emelie Orlando adds 4.47 helpers in the team’s 6-2 offense. The team also has used a 5-1 with Messa running the show.
Missouri State is hitting at a .250 clip with 14.54 kills per set (10th nationally) and averaging 19.32 digs per set (fourth nationally). The team also is fifth nationally in assists per set (13.85).
How They Got Here: The Spartans (21-8) earned an at-large berth after finishing fourth in the Big Ten at 14-6.
NCAA History: Michigan State is making its seventh straight NCAA Touranment appearance and 20th overall. The Spartans have made it to the second round in each of the last six seasons and have advanced to the regional semifinals four times (last in 2013).
Stat Leaders: Redshirt senior outside Autumn Bailey leads a group of four Spartan players averaging more than 2.50 kills per set. Bailey turns in 3.53 kills per set and also adds 3.19 digs per set and 24 aces. Redshirt senior outside Brooke Kranda (3.05), senior outside Holly Toliver (2.98) and senior middle Alyssa Garvelink (2.55) follow. Garvelink is hitting at a team-best .384 clip (29th nationally), while also putting up a team-leading 1.33 blocks per set (31st nationally). Toliver and Kranda also help out from the service line with a team-best 39 aces and 29 respectively.
Defensively, the Spartans look to freshman libero Jayme Cox (3.24 digs per set) along with Bailey (3.19). Senior setter Rachel Minarick (2.34) and Tolliver (2.22) also add more than two digs per set. Minarick runs the show with 11.14 assists per set and 33 aces.
The Spartans rank ninth nationally in aces per set (1.71), 17th in kills per set (14.33) and 20th in hitting percentage (.272).
Creighton defeats Coastal Carolina 3-0
- The Bluejays will overpower the Chanticleers offensively for the win.
- If Hardeman can get going, with Creighton’s lack of a strong block, this one could be closer than expected.
Michigan State defeats Missouri State 3-2
- Serving could be key in this one. If the Spartans can keep the Bears off-balance with strong serving, the match could be much shorter.
- In a battle of high powered offenses, Garvelink’s block and the Spartans’ senior laden team could be the other X factors.
Michigan State defeats Creighton 3-1
- Home court advantage may not be enough for the Bluejays. Experience takes over for the Spartans, but don’t expect a blowout.
ILLINOIS VS. HAWAII
How They Got Here: The Fighting Illini (21-10) earned an at-large berth after finishing tied for fifth in the Big Ten at 12-8.
NCAA History: Illinois is making its first NCAA appearance since 2015, eighth in the last 10 seasons and 24th overall. The Illini have advanced to the Sweet 16 or further in each of its last seven appearance, including a national runnerup finish in 2011.
Stat Leaders: The Fighting Illini are top 20 nationally in blocks per set (13th, 2.91) and hitting percentage (17th, .278).
Leading the team at the net is junior middle Ali Bastianelli, who ranks fourth nationally with 1.59 stuffs per set. Bastianelli also ranks 25th in hitting percentage (.388), while turning in 2.56 kills per set. Joining Bastianelli offensively are sophomore outside Jacqueline Quade (3.38 kills per set), redshirt sophomore outside Beth Prince (3.11) and freshman outside Megan Cooney (1.90). Quade is hitting .249 and adds 18 aces.
In the backcourt, senior libero Brandi Donnelly manages 4.48 digs per set, followed by junior setter Jordyn Poulter (2.43) and freshman defensive specialist Megan O’Brien. Poulter has turned in 10 double-doubles, including a 23-dig effort against Missouri State, while dishing 10.83 assists per set and adding 95 kills of her own.
How They Got Here: The Rainbow Wahine (20-7) earned an at-large berth after finishing second in the Big West at 14-2. Hawai’i enters the tournament on a five-match win streak and went 9-1 in its last 10 matches.
NCAA History: Hawai’i is making its 25th straight NCAA appearance and 36th overall. The team exited in the second round in 2016 after making it to the Elite Eight in 2015. The Rainbow Wahine have advanced to at least the second round every year since 1997.
Stat Leaders: The Rainbow Wahine rank 21st nationally in opponent hitting percentage (.158), 29th in hitting percentage (.257) and 37th in blocks per set (2.50).
Senior middle blocker Emily Maglio leads the team at the net with 1.50 stuffs per set, (13th nationally), while also turning in a .392 hitting effort (21st nationally). Offensively, Hawaii leans on junior outside McKenna Granato and Maglio, who post 3.94 and 3.34 kills per set respectively. Granato also aids the team with 2.54 digs per set and 33 aces. Junior outside Casey Castillo is the third offensive option, averaging 2.11 kills per set.
In the backcourt, senior libero Savanah Kahakai leads the way with 3.98 digs per set. Sophomore setter Norene Iosia (2.78) and Granato (2.54) also add more than two digs per set. Iosia also dishes out 10.12 assists per set and has served up a team-leading 34 aces.
LIU BROOKLYN AT WASHINGTON
How They Got Here: The Blackbirds (20-9) earned the Northeast Conference’s automatic berth after finishing in a three-way tie for the regular season title at 11-3 and winning the league’s tournament championship. LIU finished the season on an eight-match win streak, including wins over Robert Morris and Central Connecticut State in the NEC Tournament.
NCAA History: LIU is making its second straight NCAA appearance and 11th overall. The Blackbirds advanced to the second round in 2005.
Stat Leaders: Backcourt defense has been LIU’s trademark in 2017. The Blackbirds rank 20th nationally in digs per set (17.69), while sophomore libero Natalia Rivera is 17th with 5.46 digs per set. Three other players average more than two digs per set: junior outsides Nina Petranovic (2.82) and Viktoria Fink (2.69) and sophomore defensive specialist Emily Magee (2.05).
Offensively, LIU looks to Fink (3.47 kills per set) and Petranovic (3.06) with assistance from redshirt sophomore outside Julia Azevedo (2.27) and sophomore middle Filippa Hansson (2.16). Hansson is hitting at a team-best .278 clip and putting up 0.89 blocks per set and serving up a team-high 32 aces, while sophomore middle Katharina Krepper leads the way at the net with 1.02 stuffs per stanza. The Blackbirds do have a strong service game with seven players posting double-digit ace tallies, including four with 20 or more.
The team is hitting just .192 and averaging 2.1 blocks per set, while foes average a .165 hitting effort.The Blackbirds run a 6-2 offense with sophomore Amanda Hubbard (7.14 assists per set) and freshman Piper Matsumoto (5.97) splitting the setting duties.
How They Got Here: The Huskies (24-7) earned an at-large berth after finishing tied for second in the Pac-12 at 14-6. Washington won eight of its last 10 matches, including a road win at Oregon.
NCAA History: Washington is making its 16th straight NCAA appearance and the 22nd in program history. The Huskies, which won the 2005 NCAA title and have made four Final Four appearances, advanced to the Elite Eight in 2016.
Stat Leaders: The Huskies excel on the block, ranking fifth nationally (3.05 per set), with freshman middle Lauren Sanders leading the way with 1.47 stuffs per set (15th nationally). Senior middle Marion Hazelwood (1.33) and sophomore middle Avie Niece (1.07) also add more than a block per set.
With 181 aces to its credit, including 43 by senior libero Tia Scambray and 41 by senior outside Courtney Schwan, UW ranks 19th nationally. That it so say nothing of the team’s balanced offensive attack with four players averaging more than two kills per set, including the late emergence of sophomore outside Kara Bajema (3.25). Senior outside Carly DeHoog (2.89), Schwan (2.70) and senior outside Crissy Jones (2.08) round out the group. DeHoog is hitting at a .307 clip and adding 0.96 blocks per set.
Defensively, Scambray managed 3.91 digs per set, followed by Schwan (2.94) and sophomore defensive specialist Shayne McPherson (2.56).
The Huskies switched to a 5-1 offense in their second to last Pac-12 match, so opponents will have to prepare for both offensive formations. Senior Tanner Bailey has dished out 9.02 assists per set, while freshman Natalie Robinson (4.67) and senior Jade Finau (3.49) also are options.
Illinois def. Hawaii 3-2
- This one could go either way, but it should be a real show with two talented offensive and blocking squads. The Illini are more battle tested with 19 matches against the RPI Top 50, while Hawaii has just eight. History is on Hawaii’s side, but we give Illinois the edge by a tiny margin.
- Jordyn Poulter has proven she can run an efficient offense and may be the X-factor.
Washington defeats LIU Brooklyn 3-0
- On its home court, this one could get ugly fast if Washington is clicking on all cylinders, especially from the service line.
Washington defeats Illinois 3-1
- Illinois has battled through the rigorous Big Ten slate, but beating UW at home has proven tough, even for the likes of No. 3 overall seed Stanford.