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Pt. 1: Where every NCAA volleyball conference stands heading into tourney play

Our version of March Madness has already begun. For almost everyone it’s one and done.

Furman beat UNC Greensboro on Monday to open the Southern Conference Championship that continues in earnest on Friday. 

Evansville plays host to Indiana State tonight in the Missouri Valley Championship.

Most tournaments are this week, but some start next week. What follows is a breakdown of every conference, 23 of them, that — barring major surprises — will get just one NCAA Tournament bid.

This is part one.

In part two, we will feature the leagues that will get multiple bids — regardless of upsets — on Wednesday: ACC, American Athletic, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, Pac-12, SEC and the West Coast Conference.

AMERICA EAST: Binghamton (17-7, 8-2), the school in upstate New York, took the conference tournament No. 1 seed for the first time. Binghamton is the host team and plays fourth-seeded New Hampshire on Saturday, followed by second-seeded UMBC vs. Bryant. The winners play for the NCAA bid on Sunday. Binghamton is led by Bulgarian junior outside Tsvetelina Ilieva, a Seton Hall transfer who has 331 kills (3.76/set) and 32 aces. The top two hittters are UMBC’s Mia Bilusic (376 kills) and Kamani Conteh (351).

ASUN: This league has been a fierce season-long battle between four teams that are separated by two games. There’s been a lot of beating up on each other. Accordingly, it should be a fun tournament that begins Thursday in Nashville when second-seeded FGCU (23-6, 13-3) plays North Florida (12-16, 9-7), followed by third-seeeded Jacksonville State (24-5, 12-4) vs. Kennesaw State (17-9, 10-6), No. 1 Liberty (21-7, 14-2) vs. Stetson (15-13, 6-10) and No. 4 Lipscomb (15-12, 12-4) vs. No. 5 Central Arkansas (19-10, 11-5). Liberty, which has won 10 in a row, leads the league in kills and boasts a balanced offense. FGCU has won seven in a row and is led by Erin Shomaker, who has 382 kills, eight behind league-leading Lena Kindermann of Jax State. 

ATLANTIC 10: Talk about a good move. Loyola Chicago left the Missouri Valley and ran away with the A10 in its first year in the conference. Loyola (23-8, 17-1) finished three games ahead of Davidson (20-9, 14-4). Even though the defending-champion Flyers finished third, Lexie Almodovar has had a tremenous season. She leads the league in kills with 360 and is sixth in aces with 36.

The tournament starts Friday in St. Louis with two quarterfinals. Saturday, Loyola gets the George Washington-Saint Louis winner, while Davidson gets the Dayton-VCU winner. The final is Sunday.

BIG SKY: The hottest team in the league is also in first after winning nine in a row. But Northern Colorado (17-8, 11-3) has the highest RPI in the conference, a low 101. Weber State is a game back at 16-9, 10-4 and Portland State (15-11, 8-4) and Sacramento State (14-13, 10-5) are tied for third. Paige Clark of Montana is having a tremendous sophomore season with a league-leading 363 kills and is fourth in aces with 35.

The tournament starts November 23 at Weber State.

BIG SOUTH: What a fight this season between Campbell (18-10, 14-2, 207 RPI) and High Point (21-9, 12-4, 66 RPI). They finished two games up on Winthrop (16-11, 12-4, 191 RPI). The tournament starts Saturday when top-seeded Campbell — the Fighting Camels — play Charleston Southern (15-15, 8-8). Then host High Point takes on Winthrop with the winners going for the NCAA bid on Sunday. 

Campbell, which leads the Big South in opponent hitting percentage (.163) beat High Point, which leads in hitting percentage (.238) twice this season, both times in five. 

Charleston Southern’s Peyton Thompson has 437 kills, 44 more than High Point’s Sydney Palazzolo, who led the league in aces with 41.

Hawai’i’s Amber Igiede/UH photo

BIG WEST: Hawai’i (18-6, 15-1) has an RPI of 35 so it’s not impossible if UC Santa Barbara (18-8, 14-2, 85 RPI) wins the league the Big West could get two bids. The Rainbow Wahine hold a one-game lead over UC Santa Barbara and they play in the last weekend. Hawai’i won the first meeting in four on October 22. Cal Poly is third at 15-11, 12-4, and Long Beach State follows at 16-8, 11-5.

Amber Igiede, the Hawai’i senior middle from Baton Rouge, is fourth in the NCAA in hitting percentage (.430) and is seventh in the Big West in kills (320) and fourth in kills per set (3.68). 

COLONIAL ATHLETIC: This is another conference that could get a second team in if Towson (26-1, 15-1, 36 RPI) loses the tournament. The Tigers won the CAA regular-season title by a game over Hofstra (17-11, 14-2) by winning twice at Hofstra this past weekend. Towson, which has won eight in a row, is the host team for the tournament and plays Stony Brook (10-15, 5-11) on Thursday. Elon (13-13, 10-6) plays Northeastern (13-12, 10-6), Hofstra plays William & Mary (11-13, 6-10) and Charleston (14-15, 9-7) plays Delaware (15-10, 10-6). The semifinals are Friday and the final on Saturday. Towson’s lone loss this season was in five at Elon on October 15.

Delaware’s Lani Mason is seventh in the NCAA in kills with 490 and fifth in kills per set (5.10). Naiya Sawtelle of N.C. A&T is second in the league in kills with 429. Towson leads in hitting percentage (.280) and opponent hitting percentage (.137). 

HORIZON LEAGUE: Wright State (26-3, 18-0, 61 RPI) and first-year coach Trav Green ran away with the conference. The Huskies have won 21 in a row, tied with San Diego of the West Conference for the longest streak in the nation.

Lainey Stephenson of Wright State/Joseph Craven photo

The tournament begins Friday at Wright State when Green Bay plays Youngstown State and Cleveland State plays Milwaukee. Wright State and second-seeded Northern Kentucky (17-12, 15-3) get the winners, with Wright State getting the lowest seeded survivor. The championship is Sunday.

Youngstown State sophomore Paula Gursching, who missed the Penguins’ last match after getting hurt in warmups, had 576 kills, second only to South Dakota’s Elizabeth Juhnke atop the NCAA kills list. Gursching is also fourth in kills per set (5.24). Wright State has a balanced attack that is led by Sam Ott, who is No. 12 in the HL with 292 kills.

IVY LEAGUE: The Ivy could get two teams in if Yale (21-2, 13-1) , 32 RPI) loses in the inaugural conference tournament. The Bulldogs tied for the regular-season title with Princeton (21-3, 13-1, 73 RPI). 

The tournament starts Friday at Yale when Princeton plays Brown (14-9, 10-4) and Yale faces Dartmouth (16-8, 8-6), with the winners squaring off on Saturday. 

Brown’s Sophia Miller is the Ivy’s runaway kills leader with 314. Yale’s Cara Schultz is 11th in the NCAA with 54 aces.

Yale swept Princeton at home and lost to the Tigers in four at Princeton 10 days ago. Yale leads in opponent hitting percentage (.149) and Princeton leads in hitting percentage (.280).

MAAC: Fairfield (23-6, 17-1) is always the team to beat and this year is no exception. The Stags, who have won 10 matches in a row, captured the regular-season title by three games over Marist (18-10.14-4). But Fairfield’s lone league loss was in five at home against Marist on October 12 in their only meeting.

Unlike some leagues, it’s all in for the MAAC, which has a 10-team tournament that starts Wednesday at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. There are no teams in the MAAC located outside the Northeast. Click here for the MAAC tournament central.

Since 2012, Fairfield has won the conference tournament seven times. Siena won in 2014, Iona in 2018 and Rider in the spring 2021. 

KJ Johnson is second to Marist’s Sasha Van der Merwe (395 kills) with 338, is sixth in the league in hitting percentage (.278) and eighth in blocks (75, 10 solo).

Fairfield leads in hitting percentage (.248) and opponent hitting percentage (.150). 

MAC: The Mid-American Conference finishes its regular season on Wednesday and the tournament begins Sunday. Bowling Green (19-9, 14-3, 51 RPI) in the East and Ball State (22-7, 14-3, 62 RPI) in the West, lead their divisions by three games. But how close can things in the MAC be? While Bowling Green has a five-match winning streak. No other team has won more than two in a row. 

There are some big hitters in the MAC, led by Toledo’s Taylor Alt (477 kills), Bowling Green’s Petra Indrova (458) and Western Michigan’s Maggie King (420). 

Western Michigan’s Logan Case is third in the NCAA with 11.76 assists per set.

Ball State swept at Bowling Green on October 29 in their only meeting.

MEAC: Coppin State (21-9) and Howard (19-9) tied for the regular-season title after both finished 12-2 in conference play and split the head-to-head series. But Coppin State lost fewer sets head-to-head than Howard, giving it the tiebreaker and the championship’s No. 1 seed.

Howard beat Coppin State at home in four on October 9, but the Eagles swept the rematch at Coppin State three weeks later.

The tournament starts Friday. Click here for the bracket and more information.

Sydney Lewis of Delaware State is second in NCAA in hitting percentage (.450) after getting 181 kills. Coppin State’s Miajavon Coleman leads the MEAC in kills with 307 and teammate Ammaarah Williams is second with 296. And Coppin’s Andrea Tsvetanova leads the NCAA with 90 aces.

MOUNTAIN WEST: The MWC is one conference that would get two teams in if UNLV gets knocked off before winning next week’s tournament. UNLV is 24-3, 15-1 in the league and is No. 22 in the RPI. The Rebels were swept at Colorado State (RPI 55) to open conference and haven’t looked back. They have won all three of their MWC five-set matches. UNLV has a strong offense led by Isabel Martin (382 kills) and Gabrielle Arretche-Ramos (363 kills) and got a big boost from setter Jhenna Gabriel, the Texas transfer who was going to retire but instead is averaging an MWC-leading 10.56 assists.

There are two more playing dates and the tournament starts November 23. 

Southern Illinois setter Anna Jaworski/Sam Bishel photo

MISSOURI VALLEY: Northern Iowa dominated the league and, at 45 in the RPI, could still get an at-large if the Panthers lose in the tournament. UNI is 24-6, 17-0 in the Valley. It holds a two-game lead over Drake (24-6, 15-2, 78 RPI), which it plays on Wednesday. Earlier this season, UNI beat Drake in four.

The tournament — semifinals and final — are next Tuesday and Wednesday at Evansville. UIC (12-5, 20-9) will get the third seed, but Southern Illinois (17-12) and Evansville (13-8, 10-7) are battling for the fourth. Evansville plays host to Indiana State tonight (Tuesday). SIU, which has had a remarkable turnaround this season after finishing 5-26, 0-18 in 2021, goes to Missouri State.

Evansville’s Giulia Cardona leads the MVC with 484 kills — and is also eighth in the NCAA with 57 aces — well ahead of second-place teammate Alondra Vazquez (418). Anna Jaworski of SIU is fourth in the NCAA at 11.57 assists per set.

NEC: Sacred Heart (20-9, 12-2, 158 RPI) and Saint Francis (12-15, 10-4) have set the bar this season. 

SFU won their matchup this past Saturday in four sets. In Friday’s semifinals, Sacred Heart, the host team, plays LIU (14-12, 9-5) and Saint Francis plays Fairleigh Dickinson (15-15, 9-5). The final is Saturday.

Sacred Heart and LIU are the only teams in the league with winning overall records.

OHIO VALLEY: UT Martin (21-10, 15-3, 179 RPI) and Tennessee Tech (17-13, 14-4) were way ahead of the field. And those teams split this past weekend with UTM winning four and then Tennesse Tech won in five. 

Four teams tied for third, four games back of second.

The tournament starts Thursday (click here for the tournament page) with semifinals Friday and the final Saturday. 

Tennessee State’s Johanna Alcantara was by the league leader in kills with 445, 60 ahead of Giovana Larregui Lopez of Eastern Illinois.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: The tournament starts tonight (Tuesday) when American (15-14, 7-9) plays at Navy (14-11, 11-15) and Bucknell (15-10, 8-8) goes to Loyola Maryland (10-13, 8-8). The lowest advancing seed plays at top-seeded Colgate (22-5, 14-2, 72 RPI) on Saturday and the other teams plays second-seeded Army West Point (18-8, 14-2).

Colgate swept Army on September but lost at Army in four on November 6.

American’s Zeynep Uzen leads the PL with 379 kills, four ahead of Loyola’s Lauren Link. Lafayette’s Abby Nieporte is tied for fifth in the NCAA with 61 aces.

SOCON: ETSU (21-7, 15-1, 77 RPI) ran away with the regular season, finishing four games up  on Samford (16-12, 11-5).

The tournament began Monday with Furman — which is the tournament host — beating UNC Greensboro in four to move into a Friday quarterfinal match against ETSU. Click here for the tournament page and match listings.

ETSU has won nine in a row since losing to Chattanooga in five on October 12. 

SOUTHLAND: Top-seeded HCU (22-9, 14-4, 182 RPI)and second-seeded Southeastern Louisiana (23-7, 13-5) get to sit back until Saturday’s semifinals to see who emerges from Thursday’s first round and Friday’s quarterfinals. Click here for the tournament site that includes the bracket.

South Dakota libero Lolo Weideman/Hailey Price photo

SUMMIT LEAGUE: South Dakota (26-2, 15-1), leads the regular season by three games and has an RPI of 50. It also boasts the NCAA kills leader in Elizabeth Juhnke, who has 600 and also leads in kills per set (5.45). There are two playing dates left before the tournament November 24-26 at Omaha. And the Summit tournament always provides great battles and finishes.

Omaha (18-9, 13-4) is second, a game up in the win column on surprising North Dakota State (19-9, 12-4). Denver is third at 18-10, 12-5. Among the matchups this week, on Thursday NDSU plays a big one at South Dakota and on Saturday Omaha plays host to Denver.

South Dakota, which has won 13 in a row, took its only league loss in five at North Dakota State in September.

Lost behind Juhnke is South Dakota State’s Crystal Burk, who has 497 kills (4.44/set). Juhnke’s teammate, libero Lolo Weideman, tops the Summit with both 50 aces and 4.7 digs/set.

SUN BELT: The respective leaders won their divisions with room to spare. Newcomer James Madison (21-4, 12-0, 29 RPI) finished the regular season three games ahead of Coastal Carolina (17-12, 9-3) in the East. In the West, Texas State (22-6, 11-1, 59 RPI) ended up three games ahead of South Alabama (16-12, 8-4) and Troy (17-11, 8-4). Should JMU lose in the tournament, you would expect that the Dukes would get an at-large bid. 

And that tournament starts Wednesday in Foley, Alabama. There are four matches Thursday and then Friday the leaders JMU, Texas State, Troy and Coastal — finally play. The semifinals are Saturday the final Sunday. Click here for the tournament website. 

Mia Wesley of Southern Miss tops the Sun Belt with 494 kills (4.62/set). Troy’s Tori Hester is next with 466. Wesley also leads with 73 aces, second in the NCAA only to Coppin State’s Andrea Tsvetanova. JMU’s Sophie Davis has 126 blocks and ranks 18th in the NCAA at 1.37 blocks per set.

SWAC: The conference tournament begins Friday at Texas Southern in Houston. Alabama State (224 RPI) took the first seed and Florida A&M the second. The semifinals are Saturday and the title match is Sunday. Click here for more info.

Alabama State (18-12, 15-1), which has won 12 in a row, and FAMU (18-12, 15-1) tied for the regular-season title. Grambling State finished third at 15-11, 12-4. 

WAC: The best season in The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) history continues Thursday when four quarterfinals are competed at the Vaqueros’ home court. 

Third-seeded Grand Canyon 16-9, 10-4) plays NM State (15-11, 7-7) to get things going, followed by No. 2 Stephen F. Austin (23-4, 11-13) vs. California Baptist (12-13, 7-7), No. 4 Utah Valley (16-10, 10-4) against UT Arlington (17-9, 9-5), and UTRGV (24-5, 13-1, 53 RPI) finishing with Southern Utah (7-16, 6-8). The semifinals are Friday and the title match Saturday. 

Good note from UTRGV: UTRGV is now one of only nine 24-win teams in the NCAA, along with Western Kentucky (26-2), South Dakota (26-2), Wright State (26-3), Towson (25-1), Pittsburgh (25-2), San Diego (24-1), Houston (24-2), and UNLV (24-3).

Sarah Cruz of UTRGV leads the WAC with 492 kills, a whopping 150 more than UTA’s Brianna Ford. SFA’s Haley Hoang is 14th in in the NCAA at 5.26 digs per set.

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