Although two Florida wins are required for the Gators to truly host the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, this region is dubbed the Gainesville Regional with Florida as the highest ranked team. Their ranking allows them to host through the entire region should they keep winning, but for rounds one and two, three other schools join them in hosting.
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.
Alabama State at #2 Florida
- Auburn – Florida won 3-1 (twice), Alabama State lost 0-3
- Florida A&M – Florida won 3-0, Alabama State lost 2-3
#2 Florida Gators
How They Got Here: Florida (25-1, 17-1 SEC) earned an automatic berth after winning the tiebreaker with co-SEC champion Kentucky.
NCAA History: 28 NCAA Tournament appearances, Seven Final Four appearances
Stat Leaders: Carli Snyder paces the offense with 3.49 kills per set and is followed by Rachael Kramer (2.93) and Rhamat Alhassan (2.74). In total five players have triple digit kills with four over 200, as Kramer has been the most efficient at .431 with Alhassan at .387.
Two setters will pace the balanced offense in a 6-2 as Allie Monserez starts most often and leads the team at 7.68 assists per set. Cheyenne Huskey ranks second at 4.28 assists per set.
From a serving standpoint, Snyder has 45 aces, more than double anyone else on the team. Defensively, Caroline Knop (4.66 digs per set) covers the back row with Alhassan (1.80 blocks per set), Huskey (1.15 blocks per set) and Kramer (1.12 blocks per set) all above a block per set.
Alabama State Hornets
How They Got Here: Alabama State (28-10, 18-0 SWAC) won both regular and postseason championships in the SWAC to earn the automatic bid.
NCAA History: Second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth in last five years
Stat Leaders: Ni’yesha Brown has 100 more kills than anyone else and a team-best 3.19 kills per set as three others notch two or more per game. Briana Dorsey ranks second in that regard with 2.47 kills per set, but also is the team’s most efficient hitter at .409.
They also run a 6-2 with Kori Kutsch (6.09 assists per set) and Justus Tuiolosega (4.22 assists per set). Both rank highly in aces as well with 37 and 38 respectively, only behind Brown (42).
On the defensive side of the net, Asha Daniels has a team best 3.62 digs per set while Briana Dorsey is the closest to a block per set at 0.98.
Miami (FL) vs. College of Charleston
Miami (FL) Hurricanes
How They Got Here: Miami (FL) (21-5, 15-5 ACC) earned an at-large bid to the 2017 NCAA Tournament after finishing tied for third in the ACC.
NCAA History: Ninth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2015; Has never made the second weekend
Stat Leaders: Olga Strantzali carried the majority of the offense en route to ACC Player of the Year as she notched a team-best 4.56 kills per set while hitting .275. Kolby Bird is second at 3.35 per kills.
Unlike the first two teams mentioned in the bracket, the Hurricanes run a 5-1 (or 6-1 depending on your lingo) as Haley Templeton (10.73 assists per set) facilitates and plays six rotations with a well-balanced game (2.25 digs per set, 0.51 blocks per set).
The only players with more digs per set than Templeton are Strantzali (2.37) and libero Sylvia Hernandez (3.99) while the Hurricanes don’t have a standout blocker but are led by Lucia Pampana (78 total blocks, 0.87 per set).
College of Charleston Cougars
How They Got Here: College of Charleston (27-5, 15-1 CAA) was one of the last four in via at-large bid
NCAA History: Ninth NCAA Tournament appearance, first since 2013
Stat Leaders: Three Cougars are over 300 total kills in Devon Rachel (3.68 per set), Krissy Mummey (3.04 per set) and Kennedy Madison (2.83). Mummey ranks atop the rest in hitting percentage at .419 while Madison is next at .291.
Allison Beckman is the lone setter in the 5-1 to lead that offense with 11.25 assists per set. She’s also part of an efficient serving team that isn’t necessarily ultra aggressive as she has 18 aces to 12 serve errors (127/91 as a team).
Defensively, McKala Rhodes (4.59 digs per set) gobbles up almost two more digs than anyone else. At the front of the net, Jane Feddersen (1.08) is the lone Cougars player over a block per set.
Florida defeats Alabama State 3-0
- The Gators should prove to be too much for Alabama State, who had a great season dominating the SWAC but won’t be able to match Florida’s balance and size.
Miami (FL) defeats College of Charleston 3-2
- Back in 2012 College of Charleston actually downed Miami (FL) in five sets in the opening round, but this time we’ve got things reversed as the Hurricanes are peaking at the right time with six straight wins.
*Florida defeats Miami (FL) 3-1*
- Assuming those first two matches go down, Florida would meet Miami (FL) for an in-state battle. The Gators are ranked second for a reason as their strong block should be enough to help quiet Strantzali as we pick the same final result as when these teams met back in the 2014 second round.
Los Angeles/UCLA Pod:
Austin Peay at #15 UCLA
How They Got Here: UCLA (19-10, 12-8 Pac-12) earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament
NCAA History: Four-time NCAA National Champions, 12 Final Four appearances
Stat Leaders: Four players average over 2.50 kills per set, led by Reily Buechler (3.40), Jenny Mosser (2.94) and Madeleine Gates (2.85). Gates is the most efficient hitter with a .354 mark.
The Bruins utilize one setter in Loyola Marymount senior transfer Sarah Sponcil, who averages 11.27 assists per set. She was an outside hitter before her time with UCLA though, so is plenty versatile with 3.18 digs per set and 0.55 blocks per set as well.
Speaking of defense, only libero Zana Muno (4.94 digs per set) logs more digs than Sponcil, while Gates (1.23) is the top performer in blocks per set.
Austin Peay Governors
How They Got Here: Austin Peay (30-5, 14-2 OVC) earned an automatic bid by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
NCAA History: First appearance since 2010, 2nd ever tournament bid
Stat Leaders: A trio of Governors are over 200 kills, led by Ashley Slay (3.69 per set) who also hits at a high .302 clip. Kaylee Taff was next in efficiency at .280, although she is sixth in kills per set. Kristen Stucker is the lone setter for Austin Peay and paces the offense with 11.54 assists per set.
Christina White (50 aces:47 serve errors) and Brooke Moore (44 aces: 30 serve errors) also pack a punch in the serving game.
Defensively, Ginny Gerig (3.79) and Allie O’Reilly (3.58) lead the back row in digs with Taff (0.80) the best blocks per set mark even though Slay has more total blocks.
Denver vs. Cal Poly
- UC Davis – Cal Poly won 3-0 (twice); Denver won 3-0
- UC Riverside – Cal Poly won 3-0 & 3-1; Denver won 3-0
How They Got Here: Denver (23-5, 12-2 Summit) earned an automatic bid by winning the Summit League Tournament.
NCAA History: Fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance
Stat Leaders: Becca Latham is both the leader in kills per set (3.23) and hitting percentage (.353) on an offense with six players at over 1.3 kills per set.
That offense is a 6-2, as the Pioneers utilize a pair of setters in Piyusha Boteju (5.47 assists per set) and Ellie Anderson (5.51 assists per set).
Defensively, Cassidy Rooke (4.07 digs per set) is one of six Pioneers over two digs per set. They get plenty of help from the front of the net as Emma Willis (1.15 blocks per set) and Tina Boe (0.97 blocks per set) steady the block.
Cal Poly Mustangs
How They Got Here: Cal Poly (26-2, 16-0 Big West) earned an automatic bid by winning the Big West.
NCAA History: 15th NCAA Tournament appearance
Stat Leaders: Sisters Torrey Van Winden (4.69 kills per set) and Adlee Van Winden (3.38 kills per set) lead the way for the Cal Poly offense on the year. There’s plenty of efficiency to go around too, as Torrey hits .343 with Adlee at .262, but those marks sit behind Savannah Niemen (.398, 2.15 kills per set).
Taylor Nelson also hits at a high clip (.386), but it comes from dumps and slides, as the lone setter for the Mustangs posts 11.90 assists per set.
On the other end of things, Katherine Brouker (3.95 digs per set) is the leader in digs with a trio of others at two or more digs per set. They don’t have a great blocking team as Niemen posts a team-best 0.63 blocks per set.
UCLA defeats Austin Peay 3-1
- Austin Peay should put up a solid fight as a 30-win team who’s played some tough competition in Missouri (a five-set win) and Northern Iowa (a four-set loss). However, UCLA’s balance at home should be enough.
Cal Poly def. Denver 3-1
- Denver is one of the better mid-major automatic bids so they should be able to keep things close. The Cal Poly offense is too deadly though even if they don’t have the strongest block.
*Cal Poly defeats UCLA 3-2*
- Our first big upset prediction! Torrey Van Winden would have the opportunity to take down her former team as Cal Poly has some experience vs. Pac-12 opponents (Washington and Oregon). Regardless of the result though, this one could be a high-flying offensive affair.
North Dakota at #7 Minnesota
- Idaho State – Minnesota won 3-0; North Dakota won 3-0
Minnesota Golden Gophers
How They Got Here: Minnesota (26-5, 15-5 Big Ten) earned an at-large bid after finishing third in the Big Ten standings.
NCAA History: 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, Five Final Four appearances, One Runner-Up Finish
Stat Leaders: A pair of Golden Gophers carry most of the offensive load in Stephanie Samedy (4.14 kills per set) and Alexis Hart (3.73 kills per set). While both hit efficiently (.312, .281 respectively), Molly Lohman (.380) and Regan Pittman (.343) have stepped up in their swings at the highest rates.
That offense is fueled by an All-American setter in a 5-1/6-1 system, as Samantha Seliger-Swenson notches 12.24 assists per set. She’s also the team leader in aces at 32.
Defensively, Dalianliz Rosado (4.31 digs per set) leads the back row. In the front, Lohman (1.34 blocks per set) and Pittman (0.95 blocks per set) are in charge. Samedy (2.87 digs per set, 0.71 blocks per set) and Seliger-Swenson (2.52 digs per set, 0.50 blocks per set) do a little of both.
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
How They Got Here: North Dakota (30-7, 12-4 Big Sky) earned an automatic bid by winning the Big Sky Tournament.
NCAA History: Back-to-back NCAA berths
Stat Leaders: Four Fighting Hawks average between 2.50 and over three kills per set for this team, led by Faith Dooley (3.07). She’s also the most efficient hitter with a .364 mark, although Sydney Griffin (.362, 1.17 kills per set) and Jordan Vail (.346, 2.50 kills per set) are close behind. That offense has a lone setter in Griffin, who averages 10.67 assists per set.
On the defensive side, Alivia Fraase (4.15 digs per set), Tamara Merseli (3.83 digs per set) and Teodora Tepavac (3.61 digs per set) come together for a stingy defense that averages over 18 digs per set. That’s helped by a solid block with Dooley (1.44 blocks per set) and Vail (1.04 blocks per set).
Northern Iowa vs. Louisville
- Kentucky – Louisville lost 0-3; Northern Iowa lost 2-3
Northern Iowa Panthers
How They Got Here: Northern Iowa (26-8, 15-3 MVC) earned an at-large bid after finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference.
NCAA History: 21st NCAA Tournament appearance
Stat Leaders: A trio of Panthers average over three kills per set in Piper Thomas (3.99), Karlie Taylor (3.83) and Bri Weber (3.27). Thomas has also been hitting at a high rate with a .362 hitting percentage.
The setter passing the ball to that threesome is Heather Hook in the 5-1/6-1 system. Hook is averaging 11.70 assists per set this season.
Defensively, Northern Iowa has a mantra of being stingy with everyone pitching in. Kendyl Sorge (4.74 digs per set) leads the way, but Weber (3.89 digs per set) and Taylor (3.59 digs per set) notch plenty as well. For players who consistently play, Thomas (0.92) is the teams best blocker by a strong distance.
How They Got Here: Louisville (24-6, 18-2 ACC) earned an automatic bid by winning the tiebreaker as co-ACC Champions with Pittsburgh.
NCAA History: 26th NCAA Tournament appearance
Stat Leaders: Melanie McHenry has been the top option on offense with 400 kills (3.60 per set) with three others over two kills per game. Jasmine Bennett (2.05) is part of that group, and is the most efficient with a .330 hitting percentage.
In a 5-1/6-1, Wilma Rivera is the lone setter for the Cardinals system and leads the team with 10.66 assists per set. She also has a team-high 36 assists.
Rivera is also second on the team in digs (2.91 per set), as Molly Sauer (4.11 digs per set) is the leader in that clubhouse. Maggie DeJong (1.15 blocks per set) has also been the team’s best blocker.
Minnesota defeats North Dakota 3-0
- The Golden Gophers are playing at home and have plenty of size and offense that they shouldn’t have too much of a problem with North Dakota.
Northern Iowa defeats Louisville 3-2
- This could be one of the best first round matches, as you have two teams who play in a lot of rallies going at it. Beyond that, Northern Iowa has shown the ability to beat some top tier teams, while Louisville is the ACC Champion. The Panthers use their NCAA Tournament experience to squeak one out in five.
*Minnesota defeats Northern Iowa 3-1*
- Northern Iowa did down Nebraska earlier in the year – albeit they had some injuries – so they have the blueprint to beating some of the Big Ten’s best. This one should be very close because of that and Northern Iowa”s balance and scrappiness, but Minnesota should have enough to make the Sweet 16.
Los Angeles/USC Pod:
Central Arkansas at #10 USC
How They Got Here: USC (22-9, 14-6 Pac-12) earned an at-large bid after finishing tied for second in the Pac-12.
NCAA History: 35th NCAA Tournament appearance and 27th straight, 10 Final Four Appearances, Three National Championships
Stat Leaders: Four Trojans average over two kills per set, led by Khalia Lanier (4.10) and Brittany Abercrombie (3.15). Abercrombie is also hitting .289, which is only trumped by Jordan Dunn (.363) for players who consistently play.
That offense is ignited by a two-setter system with Reni Meyer-Whalley (6.19 assists per set) and Cindy Marina (5.25 assists per set) in charge. Marina also contributes heavily in the serve game with 28 aces, second on the team to only Lanier (34).
The back row of the defense is patrolled by Victoria Garrick (3.88 digs per set), while Lanier (2.42) and Meyer-Whalley (2.07) chip in over two digs per set as well. Dunn is the top defender at the front of the net with a team-best 95 total blocks (0.99 per set).
Central Arkansas Bears
How They Got Here: Central Arkansas (27-4, 13-3 Southland) earned an automatic berth by winning the Southland Conference tournament.
NCAA History: Third NCAA Tournament appearance, first since 2013
Stat Leaders: Four Bears have totaled over 250 kills, led by Samantha Anderson (375, 3.35 kills per set). She also hits at a team-best .331 mark, while Megan Nash (.295) isn’t far behind as another member of the 250+ club.
The distributor for those terminators is Elizabeth Armstrong (10.63 assists per set), who plays a versatile game in six rotations. As part of that, she has 21 aces on a team that is led by Nash (37) that has the same amount of aces as serve errors.
Defensively it’s a team system, as Emily Doss (3.08 digs per set) is closely followed by Amanda Dimon (2.88 digs per set) and Haley Tippett (2.81 digs per set) in keeping balls off the court. Nash (110, 0.99 per set) and Anderson (106, 0.95 per set) get things done up front as the team’s leaders on a strong blocking team.
San Diego vs. LSU
- Missouri – San Diego won 3-0; LSU lost 0-3
San Diego Toreros
How They Got Here: San Diego (24-4, 17-1 WCC) earned an automatic bid by winning the tiebreaker as co-WCC champions with BYU
NCAA History: 21st NCAA Tournament appearance, Three Sweet 16 appearances
Stat Leaders: Jayden Kennedy (3.85) is the leader of a group of five who averaged over two kills per set for San Diego. She’s also hitting an efficient .317, only to be surpassed by Addie Picha (.413, 2.32 kills per set) and Kaity Edwards (.401, 2.74 kills per set).
The setter initiating the attack is Kristen Gengenbacher, who is averaging 11.66 assists per set. She’s also second on the team with 2.63 digs per set.
Speaking of digging up attacks, Lizzy Tardieu is the team leader in that category with 4.06 per set. Staying on the defensive end, Picha has just less than double the amount of blocks of anyone else with 114 (1.31 per set).
How They Got Here: LSU (20-9, 11-7 SEC) earned an at-large berth by finishing fourth in the SEC
NCAA History: Two Final Four appearances
Stat Leaders: Four Tigers average over two kills per set led by Taylor Bannister (3.24). She’s also one of the most efficient strikers with a .254 mark as Olivia Beyer (.309, 1.86 kills per set) and Jacqui Armer (.273, 2.11 kills per set) are two that rank above her.
Another who ranks higher is Anna Zwiebel, the team’s setter who is hitting .352 on 145 attempts. She also averages a team-best 9.68 assists per set.
Defensively, LSU has Raigen Cianciulli (4.41 digs per set) and Gina Tillis (3.18 digs per set) in the back while Armer (1.25 blocks per set) and Beyer (0.93 blocks per set) patrols the front of the net.
USC defeats Central Arkansas 3-1
- USC gave up a set to a few lesser opponents this season and with a strong Central Arkansas team, they can take one. However, USC should have more than enough to move on.
San Diego defeats LSU 3-1
- LSU has a chance to prove their spot as one of the last four in was no mistake, as they can down a ranked San Diego squad (in the AVCA and VolleyMob rankings). The Toreros are plenty closer to home though and should be playing with a chip on their shoulder after not getting to host.
*San Diego defeats USC*
- The second upset predicted in the second round comes from another team who is ranked from a mid-major conference but didn’t get the privilege of hosting. San Diego doesn’t have to travel too far and has plenty of offensive balance to cause USC fits and try and upset a top 10 team in the Trojans
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