We could have a brand new NCAA volleyball champion in 2022. However who will it’s?
Defending champion Wisconsin misplaced within the regional ultimate to second-seeded Pitt in a five-set thriller Saturday, because the Panthers clinched a spot within the nationwide semifinals for the second straight 12 months.
The ACC has by no means had a group make the nationwide championship sport, however the convention is assured to be represented this 12 months, as Pitt will face No. 1 seed Louisville. They break up their two conferences this season — Pitt gained 3-2 on Oct. 23 and Louisville gained 3-0 on Nov. 18. The stakes have by no means been increased for a rematch.
In the meantime, San Diego outlasted No. 1 seed Stanford on the street in 5 units within the regional ultimate. The Toreros, who misplaced within the first spherical of the 2021 NCAA event, superior to their first ultimate 4 by defeating the nine-time champion Cardinal, who gained titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The one group remaining that has nationwide championship sport expertise is No. 1 seed Texas, which hasn’t gained a title since 2012 and misplaced three championship matches in 2020 (to Kentucky), 2016 (to Stanford) and 2015 (to Nebraska).
In Louisville’s Dani Busboom Kelly and San Diego’s Jennifer Petrie, the ultimate 4 could have two girls head coaches for simply the second time in NCAA event historical past. The primary was in 1993, when Florida’s Mary Smart and then-BYU coach Elaine Michaelis each misplaced within the semifinals. Smart has coached twice within the NCAA ultimate — in 2003 and 2017 — however no girl head coach has gained the championship. In order that historical past may very well be made this weekend.
The nationwide semis start Thursday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), and the championship is Saturday evening. We requested our volleyball specialists to interrupt down the sphere and preview the ultimate 4.
Between Wisconsin, Nebraska and Stanford, which group are you shocked did not make it again to the ultimate 4?
Holly McPeak: I assumed Wisconsin had a very good shot this 12 months. The Badgers had reloaded in key positions and have been so dominant on the internet defensively. Pitt was in a position to get them out of system and make scoring runs on them, and that was the distinction.
Courtney Lyle: I actually thought Wisconsin would proceed its run to repeat as nationwide champions. The Badgers misplaced loads from final 12 months’s group, however they reloaded with some useful weapons, together with switch Sarah Franklin. The truth that Wisconsin, Nebraska and Stanford did not make the nationwide semifinals speaks to how the extent of competitors is rising throughout all conferences.
Jennifer Hoffman: Because the volleyball panorama continues to alter, it’s no shock to see so many regional finals battle it out. The lackluster play all through the event by Stanford and Nebraska’s early exit was not all that stunning contemplating how gifted their opponents have been. The actual shock concerning Wisconsin’s loss was what number of errors the Badgers made within the event towards a group like Pitt. All of Wisconsin’s regular-season losses have been laced with errors, and the regional ultimate towards Pitt was no totally different.
Shelby Coppedge: Initially, I really thought there was no means that Wisconsin did not make it previous their regional. After I noticed how Pitt performed, although, the Panthers totally earned it. I am not shocked Stanford did not make it; San Diego has demanded consideration and respect each single week. The Toreros have been beating Energy 5 colleges since opening weekend (together with Pitt).
M.A. Voepel: An excellent case may very well be made that San Diego may have been the highest seed in its regional, so most have been anticipating that the Toreros had an opportunity of profitable, even on Stanford’s dwelling court docket. Nonetheless, San Diego truly pulling it out in 5 units was actually spectacular. As for the Badgers’ loss, Wisconsin has had various heartbreaks within the NCAA event — dropping within the elite eight after going up 2-0 to a freshmen-led Stanford group in 2016 was a giant one — and this one was painful, too. However Pitt’s ultimate 4 expertise final season in all probability helped the Panthers pull off that upset.
The 2 groups returning to the ultimate 4 are Louisville and Pitt. How a lot has the ACC developed over the previous couple of years?
McPeak: Each Louisville and Pitt have established themselves as prime nationwide applications, and their progress will assist their convention as an entire proceed to get stronger.
Lyle: Louisville and Pitt have actually set the tone within the ACC. I feel it is solely going to draw extra high-profile gamers to the convention as a result of the Panthers and Playing cards have proven sustained success.
Hoffman: The ACC has largely been dominated by Florida State, North Carolina and Duke, so the addition of Louisville and Pitt was a wanted increase to the convention’s dominance. With each Pitt and Louisville making back-to-back appearances within the nationwide semifinals, historical past shall be made with an ACC group going to the nationwide championship match. I feel that is the 12 months an ACC group takes dwelling a nationwide championship.
Coppedge: Pitt and Louisville have set the brand new commonplace for the ACC. The ACC is certainly coming for the Huge Ten and can solely get higher after recruits see how these two groups have performed within the postseason.
Voepel: It’s important to take a look at two actually good teaching hirings for Pitt (Dan Fisher in 2013) and Louisville (Dani Busboom Kelly in 2016). Fisher gained a nationwide championship on the NAIA degree as head coach earlier than taking up at Pitt. Busboom Kelly gained NCAA titles at Nebraska as a participant and an assistant coach. Each have constructed their applications into powerhouses and altered the panorama nationally.
Is it the ACC’s 12 months? Maybe. Attending to the nationwide semifinal is difficult sufficient; profitable the title is that subsequent step in issue. However even when neither of these applications win the 2022 championship, they’ve established themselves as perennial opponents now.
Given San Diego misplaced within the first spherical final 12 months, how impressed are you at this 12 months’s ultimate 4 run?
McPeak: I’m so impressed with what coach Jennifer Petrie has accomplished with this program. San Diego is persistently within the event, and she or he has a veteran squad with a gifted puzzle piece in Gabby Blossom from the portal. Collectively, they’re a particular group that has been dominant all 12 months and have proved they deserve a shot on the title. I can not wait to observe what they do in an enormous take a look at towards Texas.
Lyle: San Diego is a superb instance of how a lot parity there may be in faculty volleyball and the way the switch portal will help a program take an enormous leap ahead in a brief period of time. It is a bodily, good and difficult Torero group. They’ve totally purchased into the “why not us?” motto, and that makes them harmful. The match towards Stanford ought to produce other groups anxious — San Diego was down huge in a couple of of these units and by no means bought rattled. They’ve confirmed they’ll climate the storm. Now can they do it on the most important stage in faculty volleyball?
Hoffman: San Diego ought to have been a No. 1 seed. Petrie and her squad cleared a giant hurdle in making it out of the primary two rounds, which resulted in them taking part in their finest ball. In any case, they have been ranked No. 3 in the latest nationwide ballot. With the massive story this 12 months being Texas and their standout senior Logan Eggleston, San Diego now has to play the highest group within the nation on the most important stage, so we’ll see if the lights are blinding or if the Toreros can preserve proving doubters improper.
Coppedge: I’m extraordinarily impressed. I used to be blessed to name San Diego opening weekend in its match towards Texas A&M. The Toreros swept the Aggies and Hawai’i and beat Pitt in 5 units that weekend. After that, I continued to observe SD, and each week, they’d play lights out. It could actually completely be argued they deserved the highest seed due to how persistently dominant they’ve been all season.
Voepel: It is good to see many years of laborious work repay for Petrie and San Diego. In her twenty fourth season with the Toreros, she is making her first ultimate 4 journey, a hard-earned one at that. She and her group deserve plenty of credit score for beating the game’s most profitable program on the street.
Petrie’s group has been an everyday within the NCAA event, however all of the items got here collectively this season. Including a fifth-year senior similar to Blossom was capper. In her, the Toreros bought a veteran setter who had been by loads of strain conditions at Penn State, together with two Elite Eights. She has been essential to San Diego’s success this season.
Does Logan Eggleston have the supporting forged this 12 months at Texas to win a title?
McPeak: With the addition of the gifted mixture of UCLA switch Zoe Fleck, freshman Emma Halter and Nebraska switch Keonilei Akana, the Longhorns have their finest shot on the title this 12 months.
Lyle: Logan Eggleston is only one of many items for Texas this 12 months. It isn’t all on her, and that performs to the favor of the Longhorns. I’ve actually been impressed with the again row play from Texas’ littles: Zoe Fleck, Emma Halter and Keonilei Akana. That trio has a sure toughness to them with Fleck setting the tone. That form of improve will assist Texas towards the heavy arms they will face in Omaha.
Hoffman: I feel the nationwide championship will come right down to who’s the higher group, not who has the higher gamers. Texas has an all-star lineup that’s all-in on profitable a title, however this group has but to face a defensive-minded group on the internet. Louisville (331 complete blocks), San Diego (311) and Pitt (296) all rank above Texas, which has simply 229 on the season. All 4 of those groups are particular and have fought their approach to Omaha. Texas is the particular favourite with Madi Skinner and Asija O’Neal’s capability to attain, however protection wins championships, and I feel that is a difference-maker as these 4 groups battle it out in grand trend.
Coppedge: Sure, Logan Eggleston has the items to win the title. Zoe Fleck, the all-star libero has been an enormous asset. Madisen Skinner has the title-winning expertise. Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres has introduced a constructive tradition. Asjia O’Neal is the spark. Molly Phillips is the wall. The largest factor in my head that I see stopping Texas is its model of play. Texas likes to play excessive ball; the Longhorns go and set so excessive (as a result of they’ll), it is virtually like watching in sluggish movement at instances. They’re right down to tip time and again till they’re compelled to hit. Their model has labored for thus lengthy, however they don’t seem to be as examined of their convention as different colleges. It will be attention-grabbing to see if their model works shifting ahead.
Voepel: Must say that Texas has had all of the items to win a number of instances since their 2012 championship, and it simply hasn’t occurred. I truly suppose Texas overachieved in 2015 to make the ultimate. In 2016, the Longhorns performed nice within the semifinals and never as nicely within the championship match. And 2020, it appeared once more like it could be their championship, however Kentucky rallied to win. The Longhorns preserve placing themselves in place to win, and that consistency is essential. However they actually need this title.
What’s your championship prediction?
Hoffman: San Diego edges out Texas after a lights-out, monster blocking evening and can face Louisville within the ultimate — and Louisville hoists the championship trophy.
Coppedge: Texas vs. Pitt. I really do not know who I feel would win. I simply do not see Texas making it to the ultimate once more and dropping.
Voepel: Louisville vs. Texas, and the Longhorns get their third championship. I’ve picked Texas to win all of it a couple of instances up to now decade, so possibly this one shall be right.