Women’s Volleyball: The Quest for Five
The bracket for the NCAA Women’s Volleyball tournament was released last night at 6 p.m. with Penn State (23-7, 16-4) earning the No. 8 seed out of the sixty-four team field. The Nittany Lions will begin first round play on Friday night at 7:30 in Rec Hall against Big South Champion Liberty (20-12); they hope to end up at the Alamadome in San Antonio on December 17th to play for a fifth consecutive national championship.
The length of the journey will depend on consistency and mental toughness from a youthful Penn State squad. With no Blair Brown, Arielle Wilson, or Alyssa D’Errico, Deja McClendon will be thrust into the spotlight and looked upon to continue her reputation of playing well in big games. Katie Slay and Ariel Scott will also have expanded roles after impressive tournament performances last year; however, outside of those three, not much else is guaranteed. Nia Grant and Micha Hancock are both having successful freshman seasons but are not tournament tested.
Aside from a match at Illinois that resulted in an Illini sweep, there have been one of two themes in the other six losses. In the games against Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions have fallen behind two sets to zero and then rallied to even the match at two sets apiece before dropping the decisive fifth set. In losses to Oregon, Standford, and home against Illinois, Penn State was able to win the first set before the match went downhill.
A quick look at the bracket shows that Penn State got a decent draw. Of the six teams they lost to, five are in the tournament, and four are on the opposite side of the bracket with the exception of number one overall seed Texas, who is in the Lexington region with Penn State.
With a 13-2 record at Rec Hall on the season, Penn State should be able to get by Liberty and the winner of American-Delaware the following night. The road will get tougher after that as the potential looms for a third-round matchup against a tough UCLA team in Lexington.
The regular season left a lot of questions unanswered. Penn State has the talent to make a deep run. Inexperience and uneven play, however, could make them a prime candidate for an early upset. If I have to make a prediction right now, I see Penn State getting by that third round game before falling to a tough Texas squad in the quarterfinals, but I would not be entirely shocked if they make a run to the finals.
The quest for a five-peat begins in a matter of days. Stay tuned later in the week for a breakdown of Liberty, Penn State’s first round opponent.