With the 2021 NCAA women’s volleyball tournament kicking off Thursday, there are a few teams that stand out in the bracket. From top-seeded teams to potential Cinderella’s, here are six teams to look out for throughout the tournament.
No. 1 seed and undefeated, Louisville has been unstoppable this season and is only expected to continue its dominance through the tournament. With sweeps against No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 Georgia Tech and No. 10 Nebraska, along with wins against No. 3 Pittsburgh and No. 7 Kentucky, the Cardinals have proven to be a team capable of making a championship run in December. A well-rounded squad, Louisville is currently fourth in blocks and hitting percentage, and eighth in opponent hitting percentage. With former second- and third-team All-Americans middle blocker Anna Stevenson and setter Tori Dilfer, this is a group that every team in the tournament should be afraid to face. Only five teams have had undefeated seasons since 1980. Can Louisville pull off the perfect season?
Fifth in blocks per set, eight in digs per set, and first in opponent hitting percentage, Creighton’s defense carries over much more than offense when facing tougher competition. It had proved this in its sweep of No. 1 Kentucky, which is now seeded seventh for the tournament, early in the season. Sitting at 30–3 with a very respectable schedule, Creighton has a tough road ahead with potential games against Ole Miss, Oregon, Kansas, Townson, Penn State and Pittsburgh.
At a winning percentage of 85%, Wisconsin may not be the most impressive team on paper. But a closer look will tell a completely different story. The Badgers have arguably had the hardest schedule this year, especially being in the Big Ten, where yteamsou can’t coast through conference play. With a plethora of wins against top teams in No. 14 Penn State, No. 10 Baylor, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 6 Nebraska, Wisconsin has more than proven it can compete and win against top competition, earning a No. 4 seed. With players on all three spring All-American teams in first-teamers Sydney Hilley and Dana Rettke, second teamer Lauren Barnes, third teamer Devyn Robinson, there is talent everywhere on the court for the Badgers. This talent has helped the team achieve a top offense, which is currently third in kills per set and assists per set. Wisconsin will not shy away from the moment and knows what it’s like to compete against top talent.
RPI No. 18 Western Kentucky went unseeded during the selection show this past weekend. Currently sitting at 27–1, its only loss came against Ole Miss early in the season. Although Western Kentucky plays in a smaller conference than other teams on this list, it has still proven it can compete with the best, with big wins against Notre Dame, Kansas and Rice as well as an exhibition tie with Kentucky. With a sweep of its conference, Western Kentucky only lost three sets from Sept. 11 to Nov. 20. With a great offense, Western Kentucky is currently in the top 15 in assists per set and kills per set, as well as first in the nation in hitting percentage. The defense is anchored by former second team All-American Lauren Matthews, who has helped her team achieve a defense that is in the top 10 of opponent hitting percentage. Western Kentucky poses a big upset threat and teams should not take it lightly.
If there’s any way to describe this year’s Pitt team, it’s that it’s tough to beat. With only three losses, the Panthers have had several quality wins, including victories against No. 23 Rice, No. 18 Washington State, No. 9 Baylor, No. 18 Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Duke, along with handing No. 12 BYU its only loss of the season. With the front row dynamic duo of second team All-Americans in OH Kayla Lund and RS Chinaza Ndee, Pittsburgh has a well-rounded team that should give any opponent trouble and poses a serious threat as the No. 3 seed.
Perhaps the most underrated team, No. 11 BYU has only lost one game this season, which was to a solid Pittsburgh team. The Cougars are a fantastic attacking team with a sneaky good defense, which are both anchored by third team All-American Kennedy Eschenberg. BYU is top-five in both hitting percentage and kills per set, as well as second in opponent hitting percentage. It’s hard to believe a one-loss team is slated in such a low seed. Thankfully, BYU is in a section of the bracket where it will be facing a team it has already beaten in the second round, since Utah and Utah Valley play each other. The only major threat on the Cougars’ side of the bracket comes from No. 6 Purdue.
Spencer Chism is a contributor for GoodSport, a media company dedicated to raising the visibility of women and girls in sports.