Rice and Western Kentucky staged another Conference USA battle for the ages.
Delaware State won the MEAC and Southeastern Louisiana won the Southland and both are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
James Madison, denied a shot last year in the CAA, won the Sun Belt.
In all, 11 NCAA automatic bids were claimed on Sunday. The only team that won that wasn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 seed was Delaware State, which was a No. 3 seed.
The recaps follow.
Things now slow down considerably for a few days.
There are just four matches Monday, semifinals in the MAC and Missouri Valley.
In the MAC, at Ball State, the top-seeded home team plays fourth-seeded Central Michigan and second-seeded Bowling Green faces sixth-seeded Buffalo. Bowling Green has an RPI of 51, so it’s not impossible that should the Falcons not win they could become the only mid-major loser other than Western Kentucky to get an at-large bid.
In the Valley, at Evansville, fourth-seeded Southern Illinois plays the fifth-seeded host team and No. 3 UIC plays sixth-seeded Valparaiso. Top-seeded UNI and second-seeded Drake await the winners. UNI has an NCAA RPI of 49, so it, too, could be in the at-large hunt if it does not win the tournament.
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CONFERENCE USA: Of course it went five.
Second-seeded Rice (26-3) won 22-25, 25-22, 22-25, 28-26, 15-11 at No. 1 Western Kentucky (28-3) to not only avenge its only C-USA loss this season — in five — but break a six-match losing streak to the Hilltoppers.
No. 22 Rice got 17 kills from Danyle Courtley, who hit .302 and had a block and eight digs. Anota Adekunle had 15 kills, hit .370 and had two digs and two blocks, one solo. Sahara Maruska had 13 kills, an assist, an ace, a block and 17 digs. Lola Foord, who had a total of nine kills in the last four matches, entered the match in the fourth set and finished with 11 kills with two errors in 19 attacks, a block and a dig. Satasha Kostelecky had nine kills, two digs and seven blocks, two solo. Carly Graham had four kills in 11 errorless tries, 64 assists, an ace, a block and 19 digs.
No. 20 WKU, which won the C-USA title the past three years, was led by Lauren Matthews, who had 27 kills and hit .407 to go with a dig and four blocks. Paige Briggs had 20 kills, an assist, two aces, two blocks and 17 digs.
“The Western Kentucky-Rice rivalry has been excellent,” Rice coach Genny Volpe said. “It’s been one of the best competitive rivalries that I’ve ever been a part of, as a player or a coach and I think we respect each other so much.
“We know that we’re going to get the best from them and I believe, they know they’re going to get the best from us. I think that we make each other better and I’m looking for both of us to make a really strong run in the tournament.”
AMERICA EAST: Second-seeded UMBC (17-8) won the title for the third year in a row by sweeping fourth-seeded New Hampshire (19-10) 25-22, 25-19, 25-18. Mia Bilusic led with 12 kills, two blocks and three digs.
ATLANTIC 10: Top-seeded Loyola Chicago (25-8), which dominated the conference in its first year since moving from the Missouri Valley, beat No. 3 Dayton (20-14) as Karlie McNabb had 21 kills and hit .313 in the 25-16, 23-25, 25-15, 25-23 victory. McNabb had an assist, an ace and nine digs. Addie Barnes had 17 kills, hit .316 and had an assist, two blocks and nine digs. Dayton’s Lexi Almodovar had 20 kills, three aces, a block and nine digs.
BIG SOUTH: Second-seeded High Point (23-9, 15-2), which lost to top-seeded Campbell (19-11) in five twice this season, won when it mattered. The Panthers swept — barely — 25-17, 26-24, 28-26 as Sydney Palazzolo had 16 kills, an assist, a block and nine digs.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Wright State (28-3), which went 18-0 in the regular conference season, swept second-seeded Northern Kentucky (18-13) as Sam Ott had 13 kills in the 25-18, 25-20, 25-23 victory. Ott hit .313 and had five aces, a block and three digs.
MEAC: Delaware State (24-6) was the No. 3 seed, but it beat top-seeded Coppin State (23-10) in four. Alondra Maldonado had 15 kills and hit .500 to go with four blocks and Valeria Otero had 14 kills, a block and 12 digs in the 25-11, 19-25, 25-15, 25-16 victory. DSU won the conference title for the first time since 1986.
PATRIOT LEAGUE: Top-seeded Colgate (24-5) bolted ahead and then held on for a 25-20, 25-10, 26-28, 22-25, 15-9 victory over third-seeded Navy (16-12). Julia Kurowski had 15 kills, hit .423 and had five blocks and eight digs. Abby Shadwick also had 15 kills and added six digs and four blocks, one solo. Harper Snyder had 10 kills and seven blocks, one solo. Navy’s Maggie Bodman had 17 kills, hit .500 and had an assist, a dig and four blocks.
SWAC: Second-seeded Florida A&M (21-12) swept top-seeded Alabama State (20-14) for its second SWAC title in as many years in the conference since moving from the MEAC. Brooke Lynn Watts led with 17 kills in the 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 victory and added six digs.
SOCON: Second-seeded Samford (19-12) put an end to the surprising run of No. 8 Furman by sweeping 25-14, 25-13, 27-25. Kenya McQuirter had 18 kills, four blocks and four digs.
SOUTHLAND: Southeastern Louisiana (25-7), the No. 2 seed beat third-seeded Houston Christian (23-10) for its first NCAA trip. The Lions lost the first set and then roared back to win 16-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-16 as Kailin Newsome had 18 kills, two assists, an ace, a solo block and 11 digs. Cicily Hidalgo had 16 kills, hit .394 and had two assists, 19 digs and three blocks, one solo.
SUN BELT: A year ago, because it was leaving the CAA, James Madison was told it could not compete for that conference’s title. Sunday, the Dukes (24-4), who won the Sun Belt East, beat Texas State (24-7), which won the West, 25-19, 22-25, 25-22, 25-21. JMU is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
Miëtte Veldman led with 18 kills, an assists, an ace, two solo blocks and 16 digs. Bre Reid had 16 kills and Sophie Davis 15 while hitting .419. She also had two aces and five blocks, two solo. Caroline Dozier, who left the semifinals with an ankle sprain, made it back and had 42 assists, two blocks and six digs. Her team hit .314. Janell Fitzgerald had 15 kills for Texas State to go with a block and eight digs.
MAC: Buffalo knocked off Ohio as Courtney Okwara had 16 kills with one error in 27 attacks in the sweep. In Central Michigan’s sweep of Toledo Anna Erickson had 13 kills with two errors in 28 attacks to hit .393 and added an assist, a block and eight digs.
MVC: Evansville beat Bradley in four and Valpo swept Murray State. Evansville’s Giuia Cardona had 25 kills, hit .352 and had an ace, a clobk and eight digs.