Kentucky snuck their way into the top-four of the NCAA Tournament by claiming the #4 seed in the tournament, kicking out co-Big Ten champions Nebraska. With this, the Wildcats have the opportunity to host all their matches in the tournament through the Elite Eight.
Team To Beat: Nebraska
Despite not receiving a top-four seed in the tournament, the Huskers are clearly the team to beat in the Kentucky region. Nebraska struggled earlier in the season but under the circumstances that their setter, Kelly Hunter, was injured. During Big Ten play, the Huskers started things off with a sweep over #1 seeded Penn State – making it the first time the Nittany Lions were swept at home in nearly 15 years. From there, they lost just one match in the Big Ten Conference – Wisconsin on the road – to claim a share of the Big Ten title.
The Huskers have a well-dispersed offense, with five players recording more than 200 kills on the year. Junior, Mikaela Foecke, leads them all with 361 kills on the year along with a team-best 33 assists and 230 digs on the year. This is the first time that Foecke has been called upon to have a more active role in the backcourt.
The Other Seeds: Kentucky, Baylor & BYU
Last year, the Wildcats did not claim a top-16 seed, meaning they traveled to Seattle to play their first-round matches. They escaped the first round with a four-set win over Colorado State but were quickly trounced by #8 seeded Washington in the second round. This year, Kentucky’s end of the year RPI ranking was enough to pull them ahead and gain the #4 seed in the tournament.
This season, Leah Edmond led the way with 465 kills for an average of 4.56 kills per set while also picking up 204 digs. Avery Skinner has also been a force for the Wildcats with 304 kills while freshman setter Madison Lilley dished out 1,236 assists for an average of 12.12 assists per set – ranking fourth in the NCAA.
Baylor comes in as the #12 seed in the tournament, stemming from an impressive Big 12 showing this season. Katie Staiger and Yossiana Pressley have held the team together this season with 355 and 360 kills, respectively. Despite a good end to the season, they have been without Staiger for a while, easing her back into practices following a minor foot injury. They rested her in hopes that she would be salvaged for the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been a dominant year for the Cougar’s Veronica Jones-Perry as she has slammed down 505 kills for an average of 4.72 kills per set. BYU has knocked off a number of big teams this season – then-#21 Ohio State, then-RV Missouri, then-#16 Utah, then-#17 San Diego. This stellar resume along with a 28-2 overall and 17-1 conference mark helped them to reach the #13 seed in the tournament.
Possible Bracket Busters: Oregon & Colorado
Oregon earns their seventh straight NCAA Tournament berth this season and will take on Kennesaw State who is in their first-ever NCAA Tournament. On the year, the Ducks took down the Huskers early in the year in four sets and took down Utah in both meetings in the Pac-12. Being in one of the hardest conferences in the country, they ended with a 10-10 Pac-12 record that helped them into the NCAA Tournament. Taylor Agost led the way with 319 kills on the year while Alex Hojnar has led the back row with 339 digs.
Colorado had a 22-9 season and went 12-8 in Pac-12 play. This season the Buffs were able to take down a then-#12 ranked Oregon team in four sets and again in five sets. Most recently, Colorado trounced by then-#11 ranked Washington in a three-set sweep. The Buffs will rely heavily on Alexa Smith and Frankie Shebby to get them through their first rounds of NCAA’s.
Top First Round Matches
- Florida State vs. Washington State
- WKU vs. Notre Dame
- East Tennessee State vs. #4 Kentucky
- Stony Brook vs. #5 Nebraska
- Miami (OH) vs. #12 Baylor