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NCAA volleyball tournament notes: Nebraska's next match set; four teams earn first tourney wins

NCAA volleyball tournament notes: Nebraska's next match set; four teams earn first tourney wins

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Keonilei Akana

Nebraska's Keonilei Akana hits the ball in the second set against Texas State during the NCAA volleyball tournament.

Nebraska will now face Baylor in the regional semifinals.

Nebraska will get another crack at afternoon volleyball in the NCAA tournament regional semifinal, and possibly regional final.

After the fifth-seeded Huskers won their second-round match against Texas State on Thursday afternoon, next up is No. 12 Baylor at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

The NCAA announced the schedule Friday for the regional round, with seven of the eight regional semifinals played in the CHI Health Center convention center Sunday starting at noon with No. 3 Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Western Kentucky and No. 2 Kentucky will wrap up the round with their match at 9 p.m.

The other regional semifinal between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 16 BYU will at 7 p.m. Saturday. BYU doesn’t compete on Sunday to comply with its religious beliefs. All of the matches will be broadcast on ESPN networks.

The regional finals Monday mark the move to the CHI Health Center arena, where general public fans can attend for the first time.

The morning session will start at 11 a.m. with the Minnesota-Pitt winner and Louisville-Washington winner. Should Nebraska defeat Baylor, the Huskers would play either Texas or Penn State 45 minutes after the first match.

The winners of Wisconsin-BYU and Florida-Ohio State will start the evening session while the nightcap will be Kentucky-Western Kentucky vs. Oregon-Purdue.

The first two matches will be on ESPN2 while the evening sessions will be on ESPNU.

Sweet breakthrough

Most of the second-round matches went according to form as the seeded teams won 14 of 16 matches Thursday. The two exceptions were Pittsburgh and Western Kentucky.

The Panthers swept No. 14 Utah, and the Utes didn’t crack 20 points in any of the three sets. The win broke a streak of four straight losses in the second round for the Panthers. They haven’t reached the regional semifinal since 1990, when 32 teams qualified for the tournament.

Pitt was seeded sixth in 2019 and 12th in 2018 but was upset on its home court. In 2016 and 2017, the Panthers ran into seeded Penn State teams in the second round.

Western Kentucky, meanwhile, made its first Round of 16 in program history. Under 26th-year coach Travis Hudson, the Hilltoppers outlasted No. 15 Washington State 15-10 in the fifth set after dropping the third and fourth sets.

WKU has qualified for the NCAA tournament 13 times under Hudson, including as a No. 15 seed in 2019 before falling to Louisville. This year, the Hilltoppers are 23-0 and finished the regular season 18th in the coaches poll, one spot behind Washington State.

First timers club

Four teams earned their first NCAA tournament win Wednesday.

Though the first-round matchups were between unseeded teams, the higher-ranked team was the home team and wore white uniforms. Of the four history-making wins, only Wright State’s sweep over Samford held to form. After making the 2019 field as an at-large team, the Horizon League champions advanced to the second round in their second appearance.

In its fifth appearance, High Point notched its first victory with a five-set win over Central Florida. The Panthers’ season ended against No. 7 Purdue — their first loss of the season. Meanwhile, Morehead State upset Creighton in the Eagles’ third NCAA appearance.

Weber State — making its second tourney appearance and first since 1988 — knocked off Bowling Green in four sets.

“This is a huge day for Weber State volleyball,” coach Jeremiah Larsen said. “Six years ago we were barely getting by. ... I’m just really proud of how our kids handled the pressure and just kept on grinding.”

In addition, High Point and Wright State earned the first tournament victory for their respective conferences (Big South and Horizon League). The Southland and SWAC are the only leagues that have yet to win an NCAA tournament match.

No contest

Rice had the most unfortunate outcome in the first round when it was removed from the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. The NCAA made the announcement Wednesday night, minutes after the Owls’ match with North Carolina A&T was scheduled to start.

“We are devastated that we won’t be able to compete in the NCAA tournament this year,” Rice coach Genny Volpe said. “This team deserved it, earning an at-large bid in a 48-team field and has so much to be proud of. It certainly is painful to see how much the team wanted to compete and to have to break the news to them that they couldn’t play.

“To compete in this tournament meant so much to all of us. Although this is a very sad moment, we know safety is the No. 1 priority.”

North Carolina A&T advanced via a no contest then was swept by No. 13 Penn State in the second round 25-11, 25-19, 25-15.

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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