Well, that was a pretty successful weekend.
B1G schools went 13-2 and placed six teams in the Sweet 16. Looking forward, the conference is guaranteed one Elite Eight bid, is favored to earn two more, has a true tossup for a fourth spot, and it only a mild underdog in a match that could send a fifth team through. Of course, this is the round where it started falling apart for the conference last year, so let’s not count any chickens yet.
#4 overall seed (i.e., last 1-seed) Wisconsin
First round: def. Colgate 25-12, 25-15, 25-14;
Second round: def. Florida Gulf Coast 25-17, 25-20, 25-15
Kind of...: These matches were basically the blowouts they were supposed to be. Colgate offered minimal resistance as the Badgers hit .391 as a team while holding the Red Raiders to .063. Sydney Hilley had 40 of UW’s 43 assists. Florida Gulf Coast boasted a well-regarded defense, and the first set was tight for a while. A Jade Demps attack error, the Badgers’ fourth of the set to that point, allowed FGCU to close to 11-14. From that point forward, UW had five more attack errors...for the match. Wisconsin finished with 49 kills against only 9 errors on 88 chances, i.e., a .455 hitting %! Dana Rettke was basically able to take the match off, with only six kills, as Grace Loberg (15 kills, .542 hitting), Julia Orzol (12, .611), and Anna Smrek (8, .462) all contributed efficient outings as UW had a lot of success outside.
#6 overall seed (i.e., 2-seed) Purdue
First round: def. Illinois State 25-21, 25-17, 25-11
Second round: def. Dayton 25-27, 19-25, 25-15, 25-6, 15-5
BoilerUp89: Things looked a little scary for the Boilers after they were down two sets to none, but the team rallied and won the final 3 sets by large margins. After putting up 16 errors in the first two sets, the Boilers had just 1 error in the final three. Grace Cleveland hit .471. Hayley Bush had 49 assists.
#9 overall seed (i.e., top 3-seed) Ohio State
First round: def. Howard 25-12, 25-7, 25-10
Second round: def. Tennessee 25-18, 14-25, 25-21, 25-21
Kind of...: As the scoreline indicates, Ohio State absolutely eviscerated Howard. The match with Tennessee was closer. But, despite dropping a set, the Buckeyes rallied in sets three and four. Both were close—set three was 21-20 OSU at one point, and set four was tied at 19—Ohio State only trailed early in the third and not at all in the fourth. You don’t really want to default to happy talk—“they played the big points better”—but, basically, Ohio State is just a really good team with a high floor. Rylee Rader may be the best “do-it-all” player in the conference. Mac Podraza is probably the best setter not named Sydney Hilley in the B1G. And Emily Londot and Gabby Gonzales combine to form a potent attacking punch. Ohio State is probably not going to beat themselves.
#10 overall seed (i.e., 3-seed) Nebraska
First round: def. Campbell 25-14, 25-14, 25-17
Second round: def. Florida State 25-20, 25-22, 25-17
BRT: I didn’t catch much of the match against Campbell, but it doesn’t appear I missed a lot. Given the stomping some of the other Big Ten teams laid down on their opponents in the first weekend, I suppose I could get upset that the Huskers didn’t roll over whatever Campbell is even harder, but I’m never going to get upset with a sweep and that scoreline! The Huskers played well defensively, and thoroughly outclassed Campbell.
Florida State didn’t fare much better the next night. The Huskers delivered up another sweep, once again leaning on their defense. However, Madi Kubik slayed with 12 kills, and freshman Ally Batenhorst, who has not been a regular feature of the Huskers this year, showed up big with 11 kills. Though this was a solid performance, it wasn’t the best the Huskers have played this season, and the coaching staff’s post-game press conference reflected that reality. However, it was enough to send FSU packing, and that’s what matters.
#12 overall seed (i.e., last 3-seed) Minnesota
First round: def. South Dakota 25-19, 25-22. 25-17
Second round: def. Stanford 25-20, 25-18, 25-17
Kind of...: The Gophers jumped out to an 8-1 lead on South Dakota, let them back into the first set, then, at 17-16, pulled away in the first set. Second set was 20-19 at one point. 3rd set not so close. So, fewer style points for Minnesota than other B1G squads in their first round match, but still, a pretty easy go of it all around, holding the Coyotes to .088 hitting on the night. The second round matchup was a rematch of a four set Gopher win in Eugene from the B1G/Pac 12 challenge, and the Gophers looked excellent. The only time they trailed was 0-1 in the first set, and in each set, once they got to 16 points, the strung together several in a row to get some breathing room. Stanford was a bit down this year, but this was still an excellent performance for Minnesota. Most encouragingly, while Stephanie Samedy led Minnesota with 16 kills, the Gophers spread the wealth well, with Jenna Wenaas add 14, and Airi Miyabe chipping in 11.
First round: def. West Virginia 23-25, 25-12, 25-22, 25-20
Second round: def. Kentucky 25-22, 20-25, 25-10, 25-21
HWAHSQB: Illinois started slowly against WVU, dropping the first set. They then took the next three fairly comfortably where they would take on the heavily favored, #7 ranked, defending champion Kentucky. I’ll just drop this here.
Antigua and Chin will help this Kentucky volleyball team get through a second-round loss as a top seed— The BoardRoom (@ILLBoardRoom) December 5, 2021
Kentucky and Illinois split the first two sets. At this point, Illinois shifted up to a gear we hadn’t seen yet this year. They went on a 43-20 tear over the next set and a half, cruising through the third set 25-10 and building an 18-10 lead in the fourth set and held on to win the decisive fourth set 25-21.
I also want to give a shoutout to Megan Cooney. She hasn’t had the accolades of Samedy or Rettke, but she has quietly, consistently played very good volleyball and reached her 1500th career kill in this match. She’s one of only two seniors that are in the regular rotation and she will be missed. Sophomore Raina Terry had 27!! kills and this was Chris Tamas 100th victory at Illinois.
(8-seed) Penn State
First round: def. Towson 25-11, 25-27, 25-20, 25-21
Second round: lost to Pittsburgh 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 23-25
Kind of...: Dropping a set to Towson wasn’t part of the plan, but PSU was able to keep the Tigers at arms length in the last two sets, always having an answer (usually involving Jonni Parker) when Towson would close to two points or so. The match with Pittsburgh was taut, compelling, and a bit odd. How do you only lose the fourth set 25-23 when you’re outhit .273 to .100? Errors. Pittsburgh had more service and attack errors than PSU. However the Panthers righted the ship in crunch time, over coming PSU leads of 17-13 and 22-20 in the third and 18-14 and 23-21 in the fourth.
First round: lost to Ball State 17-25, 25-22, 18-25, 25-27, 8-15
Kind of...: Michigan had a fine season, but as soon as the draw was announced, with #1 overall seed Louisville as a potential second round matchup, it was clear Michigan wasn’t going to have a long stay. Ball State is an established mid-major program (and Muncie, IN is a pretty important city to the history of women’s volleyball), and there is no shame in Michigan falling to Ball State. In fact, the match was Ball State’s 20th consecutive victory, and Ball State put up better overall numbers than the Wolverines pretty much across the board.
PREVIEW (all matches Thursday; all times CST)
Wisconsin vs. #13 UCLA (4:00, ESPNU), in Madison
Kind of...: The 25-5 Bruins are nobody’s idea of a pushover. They went 16-4 in the PAC 12, good enough for second to fellow Sweet 16 participant Washington, and UCLA boasts victories over Washington and Georgia Tech, both still alive. The Bruins are led by two-time conference player of the year Mac May and two-time libero of the year Zoe Fleck. That said, the Bruins were pushed to five sets by Central Florida in the second round, lack UW’s offensive depth, and a loss by the Badgers would be a bitterly disappointing result, especially having home court advantage.
Purdue vs. #11 BYU (10:00 a.m.!!!, ESPNU), in Pittsburgh
BoilerUp89: BYU is 30-1 on the year, their only loss being to Pittsburgh. BYU did beat Michigan State (which Purdue lost to!), so this is going to be a difficult test. The good news is the match is so early that BYU may still be asleep and they don’t drink coffee to wake up.
Ohio State vs. #8 Georgia Tech (2:00, ESPN+), in Louisville
Kind of...: Above I noted that Ohio State is probably not going to beat themselves. But Georgia Tech is certainly good enough to beat the Buckeyes. They went 14-4 in ACC play, but two of those losses were to Louisville, and another was to Pitt. The Yellowjackets were good enough to defeat Pittsburgh on the road this year. That said, I just think Ohio State is a bit better, and I expect them to advance. Should they win that match, they would likely face undefeated #1 overall seed Louisville in the regional final. That will be a tall order.
Nebraska vs. Illinois (8:30, ESPNU), in Austin
HWAHSQB: Illinois was only swept four times this season. Two of those were against one team. Oh, look. Here’s Nebraska. Illinois played their best match of the year against Kentucky, but in six sets against Nebraska, we’ve never surpassed 21. I don’t think this will end well for Illinois.
BRT: This makes me a little nervous. As HWAHSQB mentions, Nebraska has matched up well against Illinois this season. On the other hand... playing any team three times and winning is a tall order, unless it’s like Iowa or something. This year’s edition of the Huskers has been marred by less consistency than teams of yore, and hasn’t had the usual arc of solidifying into a juggernaut by December. In contrast, it seems that Illinois is certainly peaking at the right time. But. Nebraska certainly can best Illinois, as they’ve shown this season. This “writer” is hoping they’ve got one more Illini-buster left in them.
Minnesota vs. #5 Baylor (2:00, ESPNU), in Madison
Minnesota and Baylor opened the season against each other in Madison as part of the B1G/Big 12 Challenge. Baylor won in four sets, but that included two sets that went to extra points, and, frankly, I suspect the Gophers think they should’ve won. Well they’ll get a chance to square things Thursday. The Bears lost their next three matches after the win over Minnesota, but, since then, are 24-2, including handing Texas their only loss of the year. Yossiana Pressley and Avery Skinner are a fantastic 1-2 punch, and Baylor certainly is capable of winning it all. That said, the Gophers are on an 11-2 stretch, and the only losses were to Purdue when they were the hottest team in the league, and a five set classic to Wisconsin. As good as Baylor is, I really think Minnesota can, and will, pull out a victory.