The NCAA volleyball tournament is about to tip off, and here are some things to be excited about. First round matches begin April 14th at 3:30 pm EST on ESPN3. The whole tournament is only 10 days long so clear your calendar, print off a bracket, fluff your couch pillows and stock the fridge. Here we go!
My bracket is researched and filled out. I’ll move through each corner of the 2021 NCAA Volleyball bracket, and I’ll tell you who I see winning matches all the way up to the final four teams. Drop a comment with your bracket highlights, wins and loses.
If every match goes to the seeded team, the path to the championship for Nebraska includes matches against Texas State, Baylor, Texas, Wisconsin and Kentucky in the championship match. As the #5 seed the Huskers will need to upset #4 Texas and #1 Wisconsin.
Every match will not go to the seeded team.
Pepperdine has a real shot to beat Baylor in the second round. If that happens Nebraska meets Pepperdine and Nicklin Hames’ little sister, Kayleigh Hames, in the second round.
In the same corner of the bracket as Nebraska, Rice plays #13 Penn State in the second round. I predict Rice to win in a pretty big upset. PSU is talented with plenty of mental and physical toughness, sure, but Rice is hungry and wants to shake up the volleyball powerhouse structure.
The Owls beat Texas a few weeks ago (the win that got them an at-large bid in the tournament) and will surprise PSU with their high quality play. Either way, the winner will meet #4 Texas in the third round. Texas is a super talented but very fragile team, mentally. They tend to break in tough matches. Rice or PSU will beat them, I predict.
Nebraska will play the winner of the chaos described above. Any of the potential opponents, Rice, PSU or Texas is a tough match up for Nebraska. But, ironically, Texas is the toughest of the match ups for the Huskers. I know, I just said that the Horns wouldn’t make it that far, but they are, with PSU a close second, the tallest and most dynamic of the possible match ups for Nebraska for this round.
Couple Texas’ size with being a new opponent for this season, and I think Nebraska has to make significant adjustments during the match in order to escape with a win. This is something they haven’t been able to do consistently this season. All that said, I don’t think Texas is going to get past their third round opponent (Rice or PSU) so it shouldn’t really matter how NU matches up to them!
We’ll revisit this corner of the bracket as the tournament goes on as there will be great matches and surprises coming from here. No matter what happens before the regional semifinals, Nebraska will play Wisconsin once they get there.
Wisconsin will move through the top left of the bracket with ease. The winner of the Florida vs Ohio State match (I think it will be OSU) will give them a good match, but Wisconsin will shift up a gear and win the regional finals in four sets...or less.
Notable in this section of the bracket is Creighton, who should win their first round match against Morehead State with is at 3:30 pm EST on ESPN3. However, #8 Florida will likely beat the Bluejays in the next round, but this is not a walk over second round match for the Gators. Creighton will play them tough, but the Gator’s talent is just too much.
Also in the second round, make a point to watch UCLA vs #16 BYU. This match could go either way. I expect it to be super great volleyball to watch. I’ll take UCLA in this one...by a hair.
Winners of the first round in this corner will include Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Dayton. In the big picture of the tournament, these are four stronger teams that will come through the first round but none of them will beat their second round opponent. Minnesota, Utah, Louisville and Washington win in the second round and give us great matches in the third round.
#3 Minnesota vs #14 Utah - high flying volleyball with the PAC 12 player of the year, Dani Drews and B1G player of the year Stephanie Samedy matching up. This huge hitting match up is really exciting. Balls will ricochet off hands, the floor and maybe a face, but the score goes in favor of the Gophers in the end. Minnesota will play the winner of #11 Louisville and #6 Washington.
You remember what Louisville did last tournament right...? Coach Dani Busboom Kelly and her squad beat #15 Western Kentucky in the second round and #2 Texas in the regional semifinals. Louisville was one of the final eight teams the last time we played this tournament. Husker fans will remember Amber Stivrins had great performances in her freshman NCAA tournament with Louisville, although she has since transferred to Georgia. This year’s Louisville team will push Washington, but the Huskies will win and advance.
That leaves #3 Minnesota vs #6 Washington. Some similar styles of play on these two teams with great defense and also tall, talented attackers. But there’s a major difference in the setting position. A junior, Washington’s PAC-12 setter of the year Ella May Powell and an all-B1G freshmen team setter for Minnesota Melani Shaffmaster face off and will be the key match up. Shaffmaster is 6’3’’ and plays with confidence but she is a freshmen and this leads to mistakes, especially in big games. Despite these mistakes, I think the dominance of Samedy, Adanna Rollins and Regan Pittman will carry the Gophers into the final four teams.
The first round matches are not as straight forward in this corner. Full disclosure, I played, graduated and coached at Army West Point so my opinion is swayed. Army plays Notre Dame in the first round. I think Notre Dame was overrated for much of the spring playing season and Army can win this one. On Brave Old Army Team!
Also in this first round corner is a Western Kentucky team you should watch. They will beat Jackson State AND #15 Washington State in the next round. They will lose to #2 Kentucky in the third round, but will make a great run.
#7 Purdue and #10 Oregon will meet and Purdue will move forward to the final four. This Boilermaker team is excellent. Oregon, or course, has good talent and a balanced attack with wins over Washington and UCLA already this season. And so it will be a match, but Purdue wins and will face Kentucky for the right to get to the championship game.
I expect Purdue to win this match too. Kentucky has a super setter, Madison Lilley; the national team is in her future. They have multiple threats on the attack; Allie Stumler, Avery Skinner and younger sister Madi Skinner. But Purdue will serve them tougher than they have seen this season, they will pass nails (really good passing) and they will block this Kentucky team. Purdue upsets to go to the semifinals.
Those are the best teams Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota and Purdue in the final four.
Your first chance to watch Nebraska play is Thursday, April 15. They play in the CHI Health Center Omaha Convention Center and on ESPN3. The Huskers will play at 2:30 pm CST against the winner of the Texas State-Utah Valley first-round match-up.