Saturday, December 21, 2013

Deb Previews + Predicts the National Championship Match!

by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association.


After Thursday night's shocking upset and unexpected pummeling, our championship matchup is set. The Penn State Nittany Lions will face the Wisconsin Badgers in the final match of the 2013 NCAA Women’s DI Volleyball season.

Thursday night's semifinal matches drew a huge, energetic crowd, and Washington fans were out in full force to cheer on their home team. The opening match featured a Wisconsin upset over the No. 1-ranked Texas and had fans on their feet and rooting for the underdog.  The second match was expected to be a battle between Penn State and Washington, but the Huskies struggled to find their rhythm and didn’t put up much of a fight.

That leaves us with an all Big Ten title match.  Penn State bested Wisconsin in their previous two meetings this season, but the Badgers have (obviously)  figured out how to win big matches. I could get into hitting percentages, key players and  other random bits of analysis. But I won’t. Instead, I want to point out a few things that will make this match interesting.

Photo courtesy Wisconsin Athletics

1. Both teams play like winners. 
2. Both teams keep the pressure on and don’t let up.
3. It’s going to be hard for the Nittany Lions to beat the Badgers three times in the same season.
4. Especially considering a national title is on the table in this third meeting.
5. Penn State is the best of the best..
6. Wisconsin has figured out how to beat the best of the best.
7. The Nittany Lions are probably the more talented squad from a volleyball ability standpoint.
8. The Badgers are a grittier team and play with a chip on their  shoulders.

Despite Wisconsin’s awesome tournament run, Penn State has what it takes to win the title, but I will most definitely be rooting for the underdog. Because really, who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story?

My Pick: Penn State in four.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Deb's Final Four Previews and Predictions

by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association.



Four teams remain in the 2013 NCAA DI Volleyball Championships. Three of the teams (Texas, Penn State and Washington) aren’t too surprising. They’ve plowed through opponents all season and established themselves as top-5 mainstays. But that fourth team? I would venture that very few expected to see them in the national semifinals. In his first year at the helm, Head Coach Kelly Sheffield led the Wisconsin Badgers to not only their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007, but the Final Four. On Wisconsin!

Notable News: In my opinion, the most notable news of the weekend had nothing to do with DI volleyball (expect maybe the Badgers punching their Final Four ticket). Concordia-St. Paul won the NCAA DII Championship title. For the seventh consecutive season. They now hold the record for most consecutive titles at any level of NCAA volleyball. Unfortunately, the accomplishment was largely overshadowed by the DI tournament buzz.

Recap: I went six for eight in my regional semifinal selections, improving my season record to 76-52. Here’s a quick highlight reel from last weekend’s matches.

-Purdue upset No. 13 Illinois for a trip to the Elite Eight.
-Nebraska got past San Diego, but suffered a beat-down from No. 1 Texas.
-Wisconsin advanced to the national semifinals after beating Florida State and Purdue.
-No. 3 Washington dropped two sets to No. 6 USC before storming back to in an incredible five-set win.
- No. 2 Penn State blew through Utah, but it took the Nittany Lions all five sets to defeat No. 7 Stanford.

Final Four, here we come!

Texas vs. Wisconsin
Thursday, Dec. 19 (7:30 pm ET)

In this final-four matchup, we’ve got the defending national champions taking on the underdogs. Texas (27-2 overall, 16-0 in conference) maintained a top-five ranking throughout the season, while Wisconsin (27-9 overall, 12-8 in conference) started the season unranked but slowly climbed the polls.

In their first trip to the NCAA tournament, these Wisconsin players have demonstrated a level of composure and wherewithal I’d expect from tournament regulars. I think this facade of NCAA tournament experience stems from the fact that the Badgers have faced tournament caliber teams all season in their treacherous Big 10 schedule.

Led by the prodigious setting of Big Ten Freshman of the Year Lauren Carlini (below), the Badgers have crafted an offensive system that relies on significant contribution from every position, and it’s working. By strategically using middle hitters Dominique Thompson and Haleigh Nelson to draw blockers, the Badgers have morphed the 5’7” Deme Morales into a serious offensive threat. Morales has tabbed 377 kills on the season, good for second-best on the team behind fellow outside Ellen Chapman’s 490 kills. 

Greg Anderson/UW Communications

And then there’s Texas. Where Wisconsin is undersized and scrappy, Texas is big and physical. Their squad features several key players from last season’s title run, including outsides Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster, who lead the team in kills. Coming off a fluffy Big 12 schedule, I expected the Longhorns to take a few matches to warm-up in postseason play.

Contrary to my expectation, they’ve taken care of business and played with the poise of a team that thinks they are winning it all. I expected a battle between Texas and Nebraska in their Elite Eight match last Saturday, but the Longhorns made quick work of their former Big 12 rivals. That screwed up my bracket as I had predicted the Husker upset. Oops.

I love this Wisconsin squad. I think Carlini will put on a show and find ways to score with her system hitters despite the physicality of Texas’ block, but at the end of the night, the Badgers won’t be able to slow down Texas’ slew of offensive weapons.

My Pick: Texas in four.

Washington vs. Penn State
Thursday, December 19 (9:30 pm ET)

This matchup is the epitome of what one would hope for in a national semifinal bout. Penn State (32-2 overall, 19-1 in conference) hails from the Big Ten. Washington (30-2 overall, 18-2 in conference) competes in the Pac-12. Penn State is a tournament regular. Washington will be playing in front of their home crowd. Both teams had to battle quality opponents to earn their Final Four berths. The Nittany Lions and Huskies should both be raring and ready to go.

Everything the Huskies do well was showcased in their victory over USC last Saturday. They definitely put on a show from a volleyball-skills standpoint, but it was their tactical prowess, grit and willpower that gave them the edge. After dropping the first two sets, Washington stormed back and forced a deciding fifth set, which they won in extra points at 17-15.

Red Box Pictures
Krista Vansant (left) has continued to lead the Huskies during postseason play with her dominant offensive performances and leadership capabilities. She’s taken the team on her back and willed them to win throughout the course of the season. The Huskies run a 6-2 offense with setters Katy Beals and Jenni Nogueras. Pin hitter Kaleigh Nelson and middle hitter Lianna Sybeldon give Washington additional scoring options. While she isn’t a top scorer on the season, the offensive contribution of undersized outside Cassie Strickland has been key to the Huskies’ success thus far in the tournament. 

Penn State also showed fortitude on their way to the Final Four. Stanford provided a formidable foe, but the Nittany Lions rose to the occasion. And that’s so typical of Penn State volleyball. They go hard all the time, they maintain a consistently elite level of play and they win matches. I think that confidence and poise paved the way to victory against Stanford. As they advance, I think Penn State has the experience, winning mentality and personnel needed to take down any team in the nation.

Like Washington, Penn State is also a strong serving team. Setter Micah Hancock is a deadly from the endline and throws a lot of teams into out-of-system chaos. The Nittany Lions have primary offensive options in pin hitters Ariel Scott and Deja McClendon, but the reality is that every Penn State attacker is capable of stealing the show. Middle Katie Slay is arguably the best in the nation at her position, while Nia Grant and Megan Courtney round out the scoring arsenal.

I think that Washington will cause Penn State serious headaches. The Huskies are known for their ability to fight back, and playing in front of their home crowd will assure they don’t go down without a battle. Ultimately, I think that Penn State’s experience in the tournament and win-no-matter-what mentality will boost them to victory.

My Pick: Penn State in five.

With these four elite teams duking it out for the title, we can expect an exciting conclusion to the 2013 NCAA Volleyball season. Tweet @debstadick and @AVCAVolleyball and let me know your thoughts on the matchups.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

#7thHeaven: How does Concordia-St. Paul do it?

by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association.



Volleyball enthusiasts across the nation spent Saturday glued to their TVs, iPads, and smartphones following the NCAA DI Volleyball Tournament action, and with good reason. Washington’s five-set victory over USC and Penn State’s narrow victory over Stanford were amazing spectacles. But in the midst of the DI tournament hoopla, many fans missed the biggest story of the weekend. 

While we were yelling at our screens and marking “X’s” through our brackets, Concordia-St. Paul won the 2013 DII Women’s Volleyball Championship title.  Though claiming a national title is an impressive feat in-and-of itself, you are probably wondering why this is the biggest story of the weekend.
When No. 3 Concordia-St. Paul defeated No. 4 BYU-Hawai'i in straight sets, the Golden Bears didn’t just win the championship, they won it an NCAA volleyball record seventh consecutive time.  Yes, I just used the words “seventh consecutive” and “national title” in the same sentence.

 
For most teams, it’s an accomplishment to make the NCAA tournament in the first place. It’s a battle to win a single set once there. It’s harder to win an entire match. And it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to win the whole thing.
That obviously isn’t the case for Concordia-St. Paul. Over the past seven years, the Golden Bears have posted a 42-0 tournament record.  
Think about that for a second. It’s no easy feat to post a ten-match winning streak during regular-season play. Concordia-St. Paul has won 42 consecutive matches during the most intense, pressure-ridden part of the season. 

I would love to sit in on a practice and watch how the Golden Bears train. I would love to hang out with that team and see what their culture is all about. Because to win seven straight national titles, that team obviously has more than just volleyball figured out.

Credit: Conrad Schmidt/NCAA Photos

As a former player, I have a deep appreciation for the level of consistent performance, dedication, mental toughness, health and talent needed to succeed in postseason play.

I played for Iowa State University from 2008-11. We were a strong team and made it to the NCAA tournament each of my four seasons. In 2008, 2009 and 2011, we advanced to the regional finals, semifinals and finals (respectively).  I don’t like to talk about what happened in 2010. (After a successful regular season, we were upset in the first round.)
 
Why? Because even for the most talented teams, it is hard to be that consistently good. Especially in the postseason when countless factors other than pure talent come into play.

I swear I am not a person who spins every story to focus back on myself, but I have a unique perspective that not everyone is privy to. I’ve felt the pressure in postseason play and seen how easy it is to crash and burn. Believe me when I say that the Golden Bears' accomplishment is nothing short of miraculous, and way more note-worthy than Washington’s victory over USC. 

Random sidebar: I played high school volleyball with Concordia’s outside Erienne Lauersdorf. Go Goslings!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Deb Previews and Predicts the NCAA Sweet 16!



by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association.

The first and second rounds of the NCAA DI Volleyball Tournament went largely as expected, and the favored teams all advanced to the regional semifinals. Ha. Not.

Notable News: Both Kansas and American advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history. More notable: American’s win over Georgia in the first round marked their first-ever NCAA tournament victory.

Recap: My first-round selections boosted my overall pick record. I called 28 of 32 matches correctly, improving my record to 70-44. I have this weird, totally unfounded feeling that picking winners may get harder in the Sweet Sixteen. No idea why. Hm. Here’s a quick highlight reel from last week’s action.

-No. 21 BYU toppled No. 11 Hawaii.
-American knocked off Georgia and No. 16 Duke.
-No. 19 Purdue bested No. 4 Missouri.
-No. 16 Florida State took down No. 5 Florida.
-No. 20 Michigan State defeated No. 15 Kentucky.
-No SEC teams advanced to the Sweet 16.
-Seven Big Ten teams are in the Sweet 16.
-Three Pac-12 teams are in the Sweet 16.

Alright. Let’s check out this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen matchups:

ALL MATCHES WILL BE STREAMED LIVE ON ESPN3!

American Head Coach Barry Goldberg
/AU Athletics
No. 1 Texas def. American - Dec. 13th, 6PM ET
American is proof that anything can happen come tournament time. They notched the program’s first-ever tournament win AND advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Unfortunately, their next match pits them head-to-head with the defending national champions. I think the fairytale ends here.
My Pick: Texas in four. 

No. 9 Nebraska def. No. 8 San Diego - Dec. 13th, 8PM ET
San Diego is a team that made waves early in the season then went largely unnoticed despite seeing a lot of success. They’ve strung together a nice playoff run, but I don’t think their fast-paced offense and undersized pin hitters will be all that effective when pitted against Nebraska’s strong block and scrappy court defense. I see Nebraska taking this one, but I expect a battle.
My Pick: Nebraska in five.

No. 5 Washington def. No. 23 Kansas - Dec. 13th, 8PM ET
Kansas is a strong team with a handful of nice players. They’ve hung with the big dogs and shown that system volleyball can carry a team to the next level. I think the Jayhawks will give the Huskies a hard time, but I don’t think Kansas has strong enough court or net defense to contend with the Washington’s heavy artillery.
My Pick: Washington in four.

No. 7 USC def. No. 21 BYU - Dec. 13th, 10PM ET
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again now. BYU is a scary team to play. The word “quiet” comes to mind. They just do their thing, work hard and play as a team...and it’s working. USC, on the other hand, is loud. They are physical, top-ranked and expected to make a run for the title. I think USC is the better team, but I also know that means absolutely nothing in the playoffs.
My Pick: USC in five.

USC's Natalie Hagglund/Pac-12.com

No. 16 Florida State def. No. 13 Wisconsin - Dec. 13th, 8PM ET
Wisconsin is back in the dance for the first time since 2007. Florida State, on the other hand, is treading on familiar ground. Both teams score a lot of points from the pins. Both teams have scrappy defenders. Wisconsin is very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get squad. They consistently bring the same level of play. Florida State is a roller coaster, but they have the ability to crank it up another level and go off on teams. If the Seminoles play to their potential, this one is there’s.
My Pick: Florida State in five.

No. 18 Illinois def. No. 19 Purdue - Dec. 13th, 7PM ET
Illinois' Jocelynn Birks/news-gazette.com
Familiar foes, Illinois and Purdue split during conference play. If their previous meetings are any indication of what we can expect from this match, big sister over here should be mentally preparing for a battle (Editor's note:  Deb's younger sister Katie Stadick is a freshman middle blocker for the Illini). Illinois won the latest meeting, but Purdue has gotten hot in post-season play (they took down No. 4-seeded Missouri in the second round). I think the Illini will rise to the occasion in front of their home crowd. At least I hope so.
My Pick: Illinois in four.

No. 2 Penn State def. No. 20 Michigan State - Dec. 13th, 5PM ET
These two conference opponents split during the regular season, but I think Penn State will run the show this weekend. Michigan State has gotten back on track and hit their stride in recent weeks. And they did figure out how to beat Penn State once before. But the Nittany Lions have annihilated opponents since falling to Michigan State early in conference play. I don’t see that trend ending in this match.
My Pick: Penn State in four.

Stanford's Carly Wopat/ESPNW
No. 3 Stanford def. No. 10 Minnesota - Dec. 13th, 7PM ET
I can’t wait to watch this one. Two of the nation’s premier middle hitters will be going head-to-head (Stanford's Carly Wopat and Minnesota's Tori Dixon). It doesn’t get much better. Both Minnesota and Stanford play low-error volleyball and wait for their opponents to make mistakes. This match will come down to the serve/pass game and ball control (wait—isn’t that every match…). In serve and pass, I think Stanford holds the edge.
My Pick: Stanford in five.

That’s all I have for you this week. Tweet where you think I am right or wrong to @debstadick or @AVCAVolleyball. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matches.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deb's NCAA First Round Predictions



by Deb Stadick, Program Director, Badger Region Volleyball Association

This is Deb's first season as the chief women's volleyball blogger for the AVCA, and all season long she will do more than just give us the top matches to watch this week...she will predict the outcome.  After playing at Iowa State University from 2008-2011, Stadick is now the Program Director for the Badger Region Volleyball Association


The regular season has come to an end and the 2013 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship is upon us. I won’t bore you with a detailed recap of how my picks from last week turned out. Just know that I went 4-1. My regular-season record is 42-40. That qualifies me for post-season predictions. So let’s get to it.

Before we dive in, I want to point out what I consider to be the most important factor in post-season play. It isn’t talent. The best team on paper doesn’t always win because the tournament isn’t an isolated event. We often neglect the five zillion factors impacting a team’s performance. Flu bugs, injuries, sleep deprivation, final exam pressures, travel woes, breakups and other random factors ALL come into play.

A team needs more than talent to win a national championship. A team needs composure to manage the intangibles, grit to fight through imperfect circumstances and, of course, a little bit of luck...but talent doesn’t hurt either.

NEBRASKA REGIONAL

Texas def. Texas State
Texas is bigger, stronger, better and more experienced in post-season play. Several of the Longhorns' key players were on last season’s championship squad. This one’s a no-brainer.
My Pick: Texas in three.

Texas A&M def. UTSA:
Texas A&M has some talent in the gym this season, and I think they should be able to handle San Antonio. It’ll probably take extra sets. but A&M will get it done. 
My Pick: Texas A&M in four.

Georgia def. American
Georgia should win, but American is a sleeper team that’s gotten hot the last few matches of conference play. This one could get interesting.
My Pick: Georgia in five.

Duke def. College of Charleston
Duke is good. They’ve had a tough conference schedule and have shown a lot of potential. I expect them to make a run in the tournament, starting with this match.
My Pick: Duke in four.

Chloe Ferrari (USD Athletics)
San Diego def. UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Barbara is pretty good, but San Diego has posted a break-out season and I think they will be ready to prove they weren’t just a flash-in-the-pan.
My Pick: San Diego in four.

Arizona def. New Mexico State
Despite the fact they’ve flown under-the-radar all season, Arizona is a team that has consistently won big matches. I see them handing it to New Mexico State.
My Pick: Arizona in three.

Miami (FL) def. Oregon
Fresh off a championship appearance, it might make sense to pick Oregon in this bout. They haven’t shown me much this year, and I have a weird feeling Miami will pull out the win.
My Pick: Miami (FL) in five.

Nebraska def. Fairfield
Nebraska might be young in some key positions, but their composure so far this season leads me to believe they can handle the tournament heat and make a run for the title. See ya later, Fairfield.
My Pick: Nebraska in three.

CHAMPAIGN REGIONAL

Florida def. Jacksonville
Florida is a scary team to play this season. I don’t think Jacksonville will be able to hang with the efficiency and physicality of this Gator squad.
My Pick: Florida in three.

Florida State def. Georgia Southern
The only way Florida State loses this one is if they beat themselves. Don’t get me wrong, that could definitely happen to the up-and-down Seminoles, but ultimately I think they’ll tab the win.
My Pick: Florida State in four.

North Carolina def. Cal
I really, really want North Carolina to win this one. They posted a 15-match winning streak earlier this season and have stayed pretty consistent throughout. Cal has a little bit more firepower, but if North Carolina finds their groove, they could pull this off.
My Pick: North Carolina in five.

Wisconsin def. Milwaukee
The Badgers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. They’ve got a point to prove. I anticipate they hand it to Milwaukee, especially since they are playing at the Fieldhouse.
My Pick: Wisconsin in three.

Wisconsin's Lauren Carlini quarterbacks the Badgers' offense.
Illinois def. Morehead State
Illinois advanced to the NCAA Finals in 2011, failed to make the tournament in 2012 and are hosting the first four rounds of post-season play. This better be a straight-set victory.
My Pick: Illinois in four.

Marquette def. Louisville
Marquette is fresh off a Big East Title and playing great volleyball right now. They are also less-than-thrilled they weren’t selected to host the first rounds. That’ll have them fired up and ready to go.
My Pick: Marquette in five.

Purdue def. Central Arkansas
Purdue is a great team with a ton of fire power and a standout setter. They’ve been playing Big Ten volleyball all season and should be ready to roll.
My Pick: Purdue in four.

Missouri def. IUPUI
Missouri came out of nowhere this season and tabbed an undefeated record over a slew of ranked teams. They are the No. 4-seeded team in the tournament, but facing them is just as scary as facing Penn State in my opinion.
My Pick: Missouri in three.

LOS ANGELES REGIONAL

Washington def. Alabama State
Washington has been my team all season, and for good reason. They have a ton of weapons, including PAC-12 Player of the Year Krista Vansant. Alabama State doesn’t stand a chance.
My Pick: Washington in three.

Michigan def. LSU
This is a tough one to call. LSU has potential. Their SEC schedule has pitted them against strong opponents all season, so tournament play won’t be a change of pace. But their conference record isn’t great (8-10). On the flip-side, Michigan has Big Ten experience and success.
My Pick: Michigan in four.

Creighton def. Arkansas
Creighton has some athletic players and handles pressure well. They also have tournament experience and success. I am thinking about a particular first-round win over Iowa State in 2010 (still bitter).
My Pick: Creighton in four.

KU's Caroline Jarmoc (KU Sports/Richard Gwin)
Kansas def. Wichita State
I cannot WAIT for this match. We’ve got two in-state squads with strong programs going at it. I think Kansas will win, but Wichita State will give them headaches and make them work for it.
My Pick: Kansas in five

Hawai'i def. Idaho State
Hawai'i has a standout player in Emily Hartong, and I expect them to make a deep post-season run. Idaho State should be a good warm-up. Then again, Hawaii likes to drop random matches. So this may not be as much of a no-brainer as I’d like to think.
My Pick: Hawaii in four.

BYU def. Arizona State
Arizona State made some noise earlier this season, but have been pretty quiet in recent weeks. I think BYU takes this match. Their plod-on mentality has earned them a handful of nice wins throughout the season.
My Pick: BYU in four.

Cal State Northridge def. Colorado State
Colorado State looks great on paper. They almost went undefeated in regular-season play. But they didn’t. And their conference schedule wasn’t that tough. Cal State Northridge is a good team. They broke into the top-25 and have a handful of huge wins (including over Hawai'i).
My Pick: Cal State Northridge in five.

USC def. New Hampshire
I don’t think many teams can compete with the physicality of this USC squad. They are huge at the net and scrappy on defense. I think they may end up in contention for the title. New Hampshire would need a miracle to win this match.
My Pick: USC in three.

LEXINGTON REGIONAL

Stanford def. Hampton
Stanford has efficient hitters, great defense and physical athletes. They are a top-5 team for a reason, and I think it’ll show in this contest. Hampton won’t have an answer for their play in the middle.
My Pick: Stanford in three.

Oklahoma def. Alabama
Oklahoma is probably the better team. I wonder how they will do on the road as they don’t travel well in conference, but the tournament is a whole different story. I think their defense (both at the net and in the backcourt) and strong middle attack will pave the way to victory.
My Pick: Oklahoma in five.

Colorado def. Iowa State
Good golly, I want to pick the Cyclones. But I think Colorado is fired up to be in the tournament and playing great volleyball right now. The Cyclones have struggled to find consistent offensive production, and I think their youth at the pins will hurt them.
My Pick: Colorado in five.

Minnesota def. Radford
Minnesota has tried a lot of players in a lot of positions, but seem to have hit their stride lately. Radford won’t be able to keep up with their dominant middle attack and heavy-armed pin hitters. Playing at home will help the Gophers’ cause as well.
My Pick: Minnesota in three.

UK's Whitney Billings (UK Athletics)
Kentucky def. Duquesne
Kentucky has been a fun team to watch this year. I think they have the firepower and ball control to post a run in the playoffs. A lot of their success will come down to playing with composure. Starting out postseason play on their home court should help.
My Pick: Kentucky in three.

Ohio def. Michigan State
Ohio is a nice team that has danced below-the-radar this season. Michigan State has done nothing but clog up the radar. A 6-0 start to Big 10 play (including a win in Penn State’s home gym) tends to do that. Unfortunately,  the Spartans haven’t handled pressure well lately. It might just tip the scale in Ohio’s favor.
My Pick: Ohio in five.

Utah def. Yale
As part of the PAC-12, Utah has gone head-to-head with elite teams all season. I think that experience will make them a scary team to face in the first few rounds. The first step is (obviously) beating Yale. I think they are up to the challenge. Watch out, Penn State.
My Pick: Utah in four.

Penn State def. LIU Brooklyn
Penn State has spent the past few weeks annihilating the nation’s top-seeded teams in Big Ten play. I expect them to dole out a similar fate to LIU Brooklyn.
My Pick: Penn State in three.

Whew. If you read all that, you are a true volleyball fan. Check back for another round of match mini-previews and predictions. Feel free to tweet @debstadick or @AVCAVolleyball to talk about all the NCAA tournament craziness.