The NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament began Thursday night on campus sites around the country. It is a 64 team field. The top 16 teams are seeded and host first and second round matches. The remaining 48 teams are placed according to conference affiliation first and proximity to first-round sites second. (The Tournament tries to avoid conference matchups in the first or second round.) Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8) will take place at predetermined sites - Ames, IA, Louisville, KY, Seattle, WA, and Minneapolis, MN. Regional finals are December 13 on ESPNU. The National Semifinals and Final are Dec 18 and Dec 20 in Oklahoma City, OK, on ESPN2.
Kansas is hosting for the third year in a row. However, in a twist, the Jayhawks will actually be playing over in Topeka at the Kansas ExpoCenter due to the men's basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night. NCAA rules require a certain number of seats in order to host a regional, a requirement that the Jayhawks do not meet on their homecourt in the Horejsi Center.
KU's overall 22-8 (10-6 in conference) record was good enough to claim a tie for second place in the Big 12, the second straight year KU has finished second. KU finished the season unranked but receiving votes; in fact, the Jayhawks would be #26 if the rankings continued on. The only other Big 12 team in the Top 25 rankings is Texas (#6). Kansas State and Oklahoma are also receiving votes. However, due to aggressive non-conference scheduling, Kansas finished #11 in the RPI, and that was enough to earn them a #16 seed in the tournament and the opportunity to host first and second round matches. This year, Kansas has played 10 teams in the tournament field, going 7-7 in their 14 matches versus those teams. Only four other Big 12 teams made the tournament this year: Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.
Courtesy of being the last seeded team, Kansas got a pretty tough draw. KU's first game on Friday evening will be against Arkansas Little-Rock. UALR did not lose a single match in conference play, and in fact dropped only 10 sets during that time. UALR owns the nation's longest current winning streak at 24 matches. They earned an automatic bid to the tournament courtesy of their Sun Belt Championship. They are 29-4 overall, on a hot streak, and brimming with confidence. This is definitely a dangerous bunch.
The other game in Lawrence features Creighton vs Oregon State. Neither team is ranked, but both teams are receiving votes and if the rankings were expanded, would be ranked #27 and #28. Creighton's RPI is 26; Oregon State is 36. Kansas met Creighton earlier this season in non-conference play, knocking off the Bluejays in four sets.
If the Jayhawks manage to advance, they will travel to Ames, IA. The Sweet 16 match would likely be against the #1 overall seed Stanford. If the seeds hold, Kansas would then have to knock off the 8-seed Florida Gators to advance to OKC.
We probably shouldn't look too far ahead, as KU will have a tough time making it out of Topeka and I honestly don't expect the Jayhawks to get to OKC. But they don't play these games on paper. Kansas has the talent to make some noise in this tournament. With seven freshmen on the roster, Kansas has been improving slowly but surely throughout the course of the year and are probably playing some of their best volleyball right now. However, you never know when freshmen will be freshmen.
KU had a Big 12 best six players earn All-Big 12 recognition, including two first-teamers and two on the All-Freshman team. Chelsea Albers earned her second-straight All-Big 12 First Team selection, while sophomore Tayler Soucie was also chosen for a spot on the First Team. Senior Sara McClinton made her third-consecutive appearance on the All-Big 12 Team, this time as an honorable mention. Junior Tiana Dockery (one of the more exciting Jayhawks to watch, and someone to keep an eye on in this tournament) and freshman setter Ainise Havili also received honorable mention. Havili was also a unanimous selection to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Fellow freshman Kelsie Payne was also named to the All-Freshman Team.
The action starts on Friday (Dec 5) at 4 PM with Creighton and Oregon State, with Kansas and UALR starting approximately half an hour after the first match finishes. The winners will meet Saturday evening at 6:30. If you can't make it to the Kansas ExpoCenter in Topeka, games will webstream live on NCAA.com and KUAthletics.com free of charge.
Alternatively, the KU-UALR match will stream live on YouTube.com/KUAthletics. Fans can listen to radio play-by-play on KUAthletics.com, found under the Fan Central tab. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.
You can follow the entire tournament with an interactive bracket over at NCAA.com.