NCAA volleyball tourney round-of-8 preview, LSU’s Flory retires, NIVC final set


Georgia Tech’s Mariana Brambilla attacks against Ohio State/Joe Julkowski photo

The four NCAA Tournament regional finals are Saturday and the winners advance to Thursday’s national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio.

The NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship is guaranteed to have at least one woman head coach, at least one ACC team for the first time, and at least one Big Ten team and possibly two.

There will be a new champion for the third year in a row.

All four of Saturday’s matches will be show on ESPNU, however when when goes long and the next one starts, you can watch on ESPN.com. We have those links on our VolleyballMag.com TV & Streaming Listings.

4 p.m. Eastern at Pittsburgh
No. 3 Pittsburgh (29-3) vs. No. 6 Purdue (26-6)

Neither of these teams has ever been to the national semifinals. Purdue is in its fifth regional final, while Pitt is in its second in a row. Purdue is 11-0 all-time against Pitt.

Pitt swept Kansas on Thursday, while Purdue took a tougher path. While the Boilermakers have won 12 of their last 13, they escaped with back-to-back reverse sweeps over Dayton and BYU in their last two matches.

6 p.m. at Lousiville
No. 1 Louisville (31-0) vs. Georgia Tech (26-5)

Neither of these teams have been to the national semifinals, although Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly has won NCAA titles as a player and then assistant coach at Nebraska. Either she or Georgia Tech’s Michelle Collier will take the first ACC team to the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship and become a member of the short list of women to coach that far. No woman coach has won the national title. 

Louisville is trying to become the first team to go unbeaten since 2009 when Penn State finished 38-0 for the second straight year as part of string when the program won four titles in a row. Louisville went to a regional final one time before, in 2019.

Louisville swept both ACC matches between them this season.

Georgia Tech advanced with a sweep of Ohio State.

8 p.m. at Wisconsin
No. 4 Wisconsin (28-3) vs. No. 12 Minnesota (23-8)

Big Ten-champion Wisconsin, which has won eight matches in a row, has been so close. In 2019, the Badgers lost in the national-championship match and last spring made it to the national semifinals. 

Wisconsin, which has swept all three of its NCAA matches, swept visiting Minnesota on October 1 and then won in five at Minnesota on November 21. The scores alone will tell you what a battle this match should be: 24-26, 25-19, 25-27, 26-28, 15-12.

While Wisconsin swept UCLA, Minnesota, which went to the 2019 national semifinals, battled to a five-set win Thursday over Baylor.

Wisconsin has won the last five matches between them but Minnesota holds a 52-35 edge all time. Minnesota has been the national semis six times.

10 p.m. at Texas
No. 2 Texas (27-1) vs. No. 10 Nebraska (24-7)

Big 12-champion Texas is in a regional final for the 15th time in 16 season. The Longhorns last won it all in 2012. Thursday, they had to rally for a reverse sweep against Washington, before Nebraska swept Illinois.

Texas is explosive and leads the nation with its .347 hitting percentage. Nebraska led the Big Ten this season in opponent hitting percentage, .141.

Nebraska last won the title in 2017 and lost in the 2018 national-title match. The Huskers, in a regional final for the 10th year in a row, are 15-15 in regional finals.

Nebraska leads the all-time series 32-24, but Texas has won the last two, a sweep in the 2016 semifinals and a four-set victory in last spring’s regional final.

Analysis and commentary

We did a video pop-up episode Friday with Salima Rockwell, Jenny Hazelwood, and Emily Ehman. Click here to watch. 

Special NCAA tourney round-of-8 pop-up video with Salima, Jenny, Emily, Lee

Coaching carousel: Flory retires

LSU coach Fran Flory created the second opening in the SEC when she retired after 24 years. She leaves as the winningest coach in school history (515-413,) and was the second-longest tenured coach in the SEC behind Florida’s Mary Wise.

LSU finished 13-14 this season, 9-9 in the SEC after winning five of its last seven. LSU last went to the NCAA Tournament in 2017.

Flory, who won a national championship as a player when Texas won the last AIAW national title in 1981 and was the head coach at Kentucky before taking the LSU job in 1998, has a handful of former players coaching in Division I. Among them are Northern Colorado head coach Lyndsey Oates and UIW head coach Samantha Dabbs Thomas. Ohio State assocate head coach Jill Wilson played for Flory at LSU and was later her longtime assistant. Texas associate head coach Tonya Johnson was a player when Flory first was at LSU as an assistant coach in the early 1990s. Wilson was also the head coach at Virginia Tech, while Johnson left Texas to be the head coach at Georgia Tech and then returned.

Alabama of the SEC also has a coaching opening. There are also Power 5 coaching openings at Iowa of the Big Ten, Notre Dame of the ACC, and TCU of the Big 12.

There are currently at least 25 Division I openings. 

NIVC

The championship match is Sunday when Valparaiso plays host to UNLV at 7 p.m. Eastern. The match can be seen on ESPN+.

Valpo (26-9) of the Missouri Valley advanced with a 28-26, 27-25, 26-24 sweep of the Big East’s UConn (24-11). 

Maddy Boyer and Peyton McCarthy had 12 kills each, and Elise Swistek had 19 digs and five assists. Rylee Cookerly had 14 more digs and is now 11 away from tying the NCAA career record for digs. 

UConn’s Caylee Parker had 19 kills, hitting .400, to go with an assist, 10 digs, and four blocks, one solo.

UNLV (27-9) of the Mountain West advanced on Thursday with a 15-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-17 victory over UTEP (24-8) of Conference USA.

Mariena Hayden led UNLV with 14 kills while hitting .310 and had an ace, three blocks, and four digs. UTEP’s Serena Patterson had 18 kills while hitting .333 and had an assist and three aces.

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