As the Dust Settles Down After Two Rounds of Playoffs, Here Are the Top 16 NCAA Volleyball Championship Candidates
The 2023 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament has advanced to its regional final stage after two aggressive rounds of playoffs. The postseason started off with 64 skilled teams, which have been reduced to 16 after intense cut-throat competition.
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While many of these teams earned their Sweet-16 spot via dominating wins, many of them simply stayed afloat. How well did your favorite team perform and what are its chances of winning the championship?
The top 16 regional finalists of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament
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Just after the final match of the second round of playoffs was finished, NCAA Women’s Volleyball tweeted a graphic pulling off the curtains from the teams who clinched their spot in the top-16 roster. The tweet carried the caption, “The Super Sixteen. #NCAAWVB.” The graphic featured the top players of the teams who have qualified for the regional finals and are ready to get their hands on the national title.
— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 3, 2023
Interestingly, the NCAA also released a video ranking these teams and predicting their chances of lifting the prestigious NCAA trophy. The video featured the expert analytical skills of renowned NCAA host and reporter, Michella Chester. Here are the rankings of these teams and how they have fared in the tournament.
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Penn State, Georgia Tech, and Washington State
The teams of Penn State, Georgia Tech, and Washington State make the ranks 16, 15, and 14 respectively. The Nittany Lions had to squeeze past the Kansas Jayhawks in a near-defeat five-set showdown. Georgia Tech faced a similar situation against the Florida Gators in their NCAA playoffs matchup.
While the Washington State Cougars cleared their playoffs with a 3-1 victory, Michella Chester has put the Cougars on the 14th rank. These teams are pitted against the strongest sides in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament for their next round.
Penn State will face Wisconsin, Georgia Tech will face Nebraska, while Washington State will be against Pittsburgh. Their next round might just be their last, or they may pull off big upsets, and stay afloat in the competition once again.
Purdue, Creighton, Arkansas
Purdue, Creighton, and Arkansas have been assigned the ranks 13, 12, and 11, respectively. All three of these teams played amazing volleyball in their NCAA playoffs rounds, but Purdue and Arkansas dropped a set in their matches. While Creighton passed with a clean sweep, it was against the dark horse team of Minnesota.
The upcoming matchups for these teams are also going to be very tough. Purdue will be up against Oregon, Creighton will lock horns against Louisville, and Arkansas will have to battle Kentucky. These matches can be anyone’s game, but Purdue, Creighton, and Arkansas will enter the match as underdogs. It would be interesting to see if the Purdue Boilermakers will usurp another Titan, or end their NCAA volleyball tournament journey.
Arizona State, Tennessee, and Texas
The teams of Arizona State, Tennessee, and Texas make the ranks 10, 9, and 8 on the list. These teams from the Southern States have fared amazingly well and will directly be in the ground zero territory of powerhouse-eliminating matches.
While Texas and Tennessee will go against each other, Arizona State will have to face a true behemoth called Stanford. Interestingly, the Texas Longhorns are the defending champions of the NCAA tournament and also won the Big 12 Championship this year.
Kentucky, Stanford, and Louisville
This level of the rankings almost spells the names of the champions in golden letters. The longtime powerhouse teams of Kentucky, Stanford, and Louisville rank 7, 6, and 5 on Michella Chester’s list. Kentucky and Louisville have been one of the most consistent teams this year and have passed several challenges thrown at them.
Stanford Cardinal won the NCAA Women’s Volleyball tournament in 2019 and is one of the biggest favorites this year. While Stanford was almost defeated in a reverse sweep by Houston in the second round, it claimed the fifth set with a towering score of 15-7. Moreover, Stanford is also the perennial nemesis of both the Texas Longhorns and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin
Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin have secured the fourth, third, and second places in the eyes of Michella Chester for 2023. Oregon has stunned everyone this year and has played like a champion instead of a championship candidate. The same can be said about the Atlantic Coast Champion Pittsburgh, which is going very hard in the NCAA postseason.
The Wisconsin Badgers on the other hand are playing as if they never dropped their title of Champions in 2022. The legendary clean-sweeping side is already showing all the signs of repeating their 2021 success, and their 2021 MVP Anna Smrek is also on fire lately.
The Badgers also possess the bragging rights of being the only team to have defeated the Nebraska Huskers this year. Moreover, their maiden championship win came out of beating the Huskers. Will they prove the second-rank position given to them as a mere tag and rise to power once again in 2023?
Rank One, the Nebraska Huskers
The Nebraska Huskers have had a dream run this season, and their volleyball program has developed a lot of fortitude in recent years. This has resulted in them dropping just one match in the entire season. The Huskers have bagged the Big Ten Championships this year and last won the NCAA title in 2017.
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The Nebraska Huskers entered the postseason as the numero uno seed and have also clean-sweeped most of their opponents. While competitors like Stanford and Texas exist in the tournament, the only opponent in the line of sight for Nebraska is Wisconsin.
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The Wisconsin Badgers and the Nebraska Huskers matches have generated the most hype and viewership numbers this season. The Huskers broke their ten-match losing streak against the Badgers this year, only to lose to them again in a road match. Their scar from the defeat in the 2021 finals is also as green as ever. Will the Nebraska Huskers end their six-year NCAA title drought in 2023?