The headlines from the first weekend of this year's NCAA Division I women's volleyball tournament would have to be upsets, in general, and the poor showing of the Pac 12 conference, in particular. In the following chart, I summarize the performances of teams from the three major conferences (Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12), other seeded teams, and any other teams that advanced to next weekend's Sweet 16. You may click on the graphic to enlarge it.
The highest-seeded upset victim was No. 2 Nebraska, which fell at home in Lincoln to former conference rival Kansas State in five games, 25-22, 22-25, 31-29, 22-25, 15-11, in the second round. The Cornhuskers' downfall appeared to be on defense. Offensively, Nebraska hit exactly at its regular-season percentage (.262) against the Wildcats. However, whereas the Huskers held their regular-season opponents to a collective .143 hitting percentage, K-State hit nearly .100 better, registering a .241 evening (box score). The Huskers still slightly outhit the Wildcats (.262-.241), so one must look further for possible explanations of Nebraska's loss. Leading candidates are blocking (where K-State held the edge, 13-10) and serving (where the Wildcats had 4 aces and 7 errors to the Huskers' 2 and 11, respectively).
The second-highest seeded team to lose was No. 6 Northern Iowa, to Florida, also in the second round. Despite the 33-1 record UNI brought into the match, its loss to the Gators would probably not be considered such a stunner by most observers, as the Panthers' schedule is not the nation's most challenging in the Missouri Valley Conference. Florida mainstay Kelly Murphy led the way with a spectacular .452 hitting night, on 15 kills and 1 error on 31 spike attempts. Fellow senior Kristy Jaeckel did Murphy one better on error-avoidance, hitting .333 (13-0-39).
Florida will next take on Michigan, which ousted 11-seed Stanford on the Cardinal's home court (the Wolverines did the same in 2009). The resurgence of Michigan's senior OH Alex Hunt, which I coined "The Hunt for Blue December," continues onward, as she hit .341 (17-3-41) vs. Stanford. Claire McElheny also took a lot of swings for the Wolverines and came up big (.410, 18-2-39). In addition, UM kept the Cardinal's recently hot Carly Wopat in check (.250, 10-5-20).
In another previous posting, I wrote about Michigan's "unfortunate penchant for failing to capitalize on game and match points during conference play..." What may have been the turning point for the Wolverines in NCAA tournament play came in Game 3 of their opener against Baylor. Having split the first two sets, Michigan and Baylor went "overtime" in the next game, which the Wolverines pulled out 29-27. UM then closed things out easily in Game 4, 25-17.
There were two other matches in which Big 10 teams defeated Pac 12 teams head-to-head. No. 13-seed Minnesota came back from two games down to oust Washington in a second-round match. The Huskies neutralized the Gophers' big hitter Tori Dixon (.048), but couldn't do the same to Ariana Filho (.357) or Katherine Harms (.356). For U-Dub, Krista Vansant (.327) and Bianca Rowland (.323) hit well in defeat. Also, in a first-round match, Michigan State knocked off Arizona, before getting swept by top-seeded Texas.
Another surprise advancer from the Big 10 is Ohio State, which scored a five-game victory over No. 14-seed Tennessee in Knoxville. In the 1990's, then-ESPN studio host Dan Patrick used to say of various athletes, "You can't stop [name of player], you can only hope to contain him!" (audio clip). Well, the Buckeyes' didn't exactly stop the Volunteers' high-powered offense -- Shealyn Kolosky (.391, 11-2-23) and DeeDee Harrison (.308, 12-4-26) put up some nice numbers for UT -- but OSU contained the rest of the team, leaving the Vols with a .171 hitting percentage for the match. OSU bested this with a .207.
Click here to see the official NCAA bracket and match-ups for the round of 16.