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2023 NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview

We look at the teams in chalk as well as Oregon’s round 1 & 2 matches

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

Selection Sunday saw Oregon Ducks volleyball land in the Wisconsin Regional, and considering the layout of the tournament that looks to be a pretty good draw. Keep playing at an elite level and they stand a good chance of making it to the finals.

The Ducks were selected as a 2-seed on Sunday, which means that they will be hosting the first two rounds of the tournament in Eugene before heading to Madison.

The Pac-12 had three teams ranked in the top-10 at the end of the season: Stanford, Oregon, and Washington State. Pac-12 teams joining them to the dance are USC and Arizona State.

This preview is not intended to be all-inclusive. I have provided a look at the 1 and 2 seeds, as some of the teams here are likely to end up in the finals. We then look at the teams playing at MKA today and tomorrow.

The #1 Seeds

Nebraska

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are one of the blue bloods of women’s volleyball. The have been ranked for 617 consecutive weeks, which is the longest active D1 winning streak in any sport.

The Huskers finished their regular season with a 28-1 (19-1 Big-10) record. Their only loss came last weekend against Wisconsin in Madison, where they were swept by the Badgers.

Head coach John Cook is in his 24th season with Nebraska and has led them to championships in 2000, 2006, 2015, and 2017. The Huskers have seen postseason play every year with him at the helm.

Nebraska is a unique top-seed in that their roster has no seniors or 5th year seniors. They are entirely composed of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Their floor general is 6-1 freshman setter Bergen Reily, an outstanding talent that has started all year. Outside hitters Merritt Beason and Harper Murray contribute much of the Nebraska firepower, but middle blockers Bekka Allick and Andi Jackson are threats to be contended with.

Stanford

The Stanford Cardinal are another blue blood and are making their 42nd consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinal finished 26-3 (19-1 Pac-12). Their losses came against Florida, Nebraska, and Arizona State - all of whom are seeded teams in this year’s tournament.

Stanford’s head coach is Kevin Hambly, who is in his seventh year leading the Cardinal. His teams have been in the postseason every year except the Covid year of 2000. He brought home championships in 2018 and 2019.

The Cardinal roster makeup is more typical of top-ranked teams with their usage of seniors, R-seniors, and 5th year seniors.

Kami Miner is the 6-0 junior setter for the Cardinal. The players to watch when the Cardinal are on the court are Opposite Kendall Kipp and OH Elia Rubin. OH Caitie Baird and MB Sami Francis are also players to be watching.

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Badgers finished the regular season 25-3 (17-3 Big-10). Their only losses came against Nebraska, Purdue, and Penn St., all of whom are also seeded teams that are dancing in this tournament.

Head coach Kelly Sheffield is in his 11th season leading the Badgers. Wisconsin has been in the tournament in every one of his seasons, and was the runner-up in 2013 and 2019.

The Badgers are top-heavy with upperclassmen, having four graduate seniors and five seniors.

Izzy Ashburn is the 5-11 graduate setter for Wisconsin. The players to watch when the Badgers play are OH Sarah Franklin, MB/Opposite Anna Smrek (who at 6-9 is one of the tallest VB players you’ll ever see), MB/Opposite Devyn Robinson, and 6-7 MB Carter Booth.

Pitt

Rounding out the 1-seeds are the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Panthers finished with a 25-4 record (16-2 ACC), and like their other #1 counterparts, their losses came against opponents that are seeded in this tournament - BYU, Oregon, Florida State, and Louisville.

Pitt has been coached by Dan Fisher since 2013, and are making their 8th consecutive NCAA appearance.

The Panthers have six seniors on the team, including four graduate seniors, but it should be noted that their biggest point production comes from a pair of freshmen: Olivia Babcock and Torrey Stafford.

6-0 junior setter Rachel Fairbanks runs the floor. The player to really keep an eye on is their outstanding freshman Opposite, 6-5 Olivia Babcock. Other weapons on this Pitt team are OH Torrey Stafford and Valeria Vazquez Gomez, and MB Emma Monks.


The #2 Seeds

Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats finished their season 19-7 (16-1 SEC). They started the season ranked #10, but dropped to #23 after losses to Colorado State, Louisville, Pitt, Purdue, Nebraska, and Tennessee. All of these teams except CO St. are in this year’s tournament. After that drop in the ranks, however, Kentucky began to rise again with wins over Arkansas, LSU, Florida, and Auburn. They ended the season ranked #10 again, and so it’s a bit surprising but not terribly shocking that they enter the tournament as a 2-seed.

Head coach Craig Skinner as been at the helm since 2005. Kentucky has been in the postseason in every year with Skinner as coach, and they most recently took it all in 2020.

Ten of the 17-person roster on this team are freshmen or juniors. 5-9 S Emma Grome leads the floor. The high scorer for the Wildcats is another great freshman that we’ll see in this tournament, OH Brooklyn DeLeye. Other players to keep an eye on are MB Elise Goetzinger, OH Reagan Rutherford, and MB Azhani Tealer.

Louisville

The Louisville Cardinals performed well this season with a record of 24-4 (15-3 ACC). Their losses were at the hands of Stanford, NC State, and Georgia Tech x2.

Dani Busboom Kelly has been coaching the Cardinals since 2017, and they’ve reached the postseason each season. Last year they were the runner-up in the Finals.

Louisville’s primary setter is Elle Glock. She’s be setting up to OH Anna DeBeer and Charitie Luper, and MB Cara Cresse and Phekran Kong.

Texas

The Texas Longhorns come into the postseason with a 22-4 (17-1 Big-12) record. Their losses were to Long Beach State, Stanford, Washington State, and Kansas State.

Jerritt Elliot has been coaching Texas since 2001. Texas is always a powerhouse, and Elliot has taken his team to the finals in 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2020, and 2022, winning championships in 2012 (against Oregon) and again last year.

The Horns have a fair number of youngsters on this year’s squad, with 8-18 players being freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

Their setter is primarily 6-3 freshman Ella Swindle. Players to watch are OH Madisen Skinner, Jenna Wenaas, and MB Asjia O-Neil.


#2 Oregon - Rounds 1 & 2 at MKA in Eugene

By virtue of being a 2-seed, The Oregon Ducks host the first and second rounds at home in Eugene. The Ducks ended with a 26-5 (16-4 Pac-12) record.

Oregon will be hosting 7-seed Iowa State, Hawai’i, and Southeastern Louisiana.

11/30 at 4:00 pm PT - Iowa State vs. Hawai’i

The early game today will be Iowa State (20-9, 11-7 Big-12) vs Hawai’i (23-8, 14-4 MWC).

Christy Johnson-Lynch has been coaching the Cyclones since 2005, only missing postseason play in her first year and in 2020. Their setter is sophomore Morgan Brandt, and she’ll be pitching to OHs Nayeli Gonzalez, Maya Duckworth, and Lilly Wachholz, and MB Jordan Hopp,

Hawai’i has been coached by Robyn Ah Mow since 2017. The Rainbow Wahine is a solid team and Ah Mow has taken them to the postseason every year. Their setter is Kate Long, and the players to watch are MB Amber Igiede, and OHs Caylen Alexander and Riley Wagoner.

ATQ-EXCLUSIVE Volleyball Morgan L. Blackwell

11/30 at 7:00 pm PT - Oregon Ducks vs. Southeastern Louisiana Lions

Oregon’s first round match will be the evening game against the Lions (28-4, 17-1 SLC). SE Louisiana was the top team in the Southland conference, and won the SLC tournament for the second year in a row.

The Lions are have been coached by Jeremy White since 2019. Their primary setter is Gracie Duplechein. Players to watch are OH Kailin Newsome, Opposite Rachel Hartmann, and OH Cicily Hidalgo,

The Ducks should win their match against the Lions, and will play the winner of Iowa St./Hawai’i on Friday, 12/1, at 7:00 pm PT.

Both of Oregon’s matches can be seen on ESPN+.