DII volleyball: What to watch for in the 2017 championship
The field is set for the 2017 Division II Women's Volleyball Championship. Sixty-four teams are ready to battle in hopes of a national championship.
Eight teams from eight regions make up the current list of contenders. Those eight regional winners will head to Pensacola, Florida where one will walk away with the hardware.
This season, each region seemingly brings a unique flair to the tournament. Some are Top 25 heavy, while others see some newcomers. Some have heated rivalries ready for the next chapter, while others are looking to ignite brand new ones.
All eyes will be on the Central Region. This portion of the bracket is so stacked the eighth-seeded team, Arkansas Tech, is 35-0 and the No. 8-ranked team in DII volleyball. Along with Arkansas Tech, six other teams -- Southwest Minnesota State, Concordia-St. Paul, Nebraska-Kearney, Northern State, Minnesota Duluth, and Central Oklahoma --finished the season in the Top 25, five of which were in the Top 10. Missouri Western, who is the only team outside the Top 25, received the most votes in the recent AVCA poll. Whoever survives this bracket, as always, will come out a serious contender.
Obviously Brady Starkey always has a strong team at Concordia-St Paul. The Golden Bears enter the tournament as the reigning champs and winners of eight of the past ten national titles. They are the No. 2 seed in this region, taking a back seat to Southwest Minnesota State. The two have bounced in and out of the No. 1 spot several times this season. The Mustangs defeated Concordia-St. Paul in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship, their first title since 2012.
The South Region is also loaded with talented teams. Florida Southern claimed the top seed, but this bracket is full of tournament heavyweights including sixth-seeded Tampa. The Spartans have been to four finals under Chris Catanach's tenure as head coach, winning two. They don't have their best record this season, but they are entering the tournament on fire, winners of seven in a row, including a win over tournament-bound Eckerd. Speaking of win streaks, the top-seeded Mocs are on their longest win streak in 27 years, reeling off their most Sunshine State Conference wins in program's history.
Wingate has become a tournament staple, having appeared in the South Atlantic Conference tournament finals every year since 2004. Every year until this year that is. The Bulldogs were swept by Queens (NC) in the semifinals, but a 25-3 record still has them at the No. 2 seed and could make them the team to beat. Queens has been a thorn in Wingate's side, making a nice little rivalry brewing in this Southeast Region. The Royals picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament win against Wingate last season, and kept it rolling into this year, taking two of three, including their first-ever SAC title. Earning the No. 1 seed was Flagler. The Saints come into the tournament on the heels of their third Peach Belt Conference title in a row.
The Cards are the top seed in the NCAA DII Atlantic Region! WJU has won the regional tournament every year since 2011. pic.twitter.com/f2iDHGSbE9— Mountain East Conf. (@TheMountainEast) November 21, 2017
The Atlantic Region's No. 1 seed is one of the elite programs in DII volleyball. Head coach Christy Benner has made Wheeling Jesuit the premier team of the Mountain East Conference era, having never lost a conference match. The Cardinals claimed the 2015 national championship behind a remarkable 41-win season. This part of the bracket is Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference heavy, with six teams representing it. That may make Pitt-Johnstown the team to watch after rallying from two sets down against Gannon to claim the PSAC title.
Lewis, who has been a postseason regular for over a decade, made program history this season with its first No. 1 ranking ever. The Flyers took home the Great Lakes Valley Conference title defeating Rockhurst, who made history of its own this season. Head coach Tracy Rietzke became the fourth head coach in women's volleyball history to notch 1,200 wins. While a rematch between the two may looming in the Midwest Region, round one features a rematch of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference finals. Seventh-seeded Findlay will get a chance to avenge its loss from a week prior right off the bat against No. 2 seed Hillsdale. Keep an eye on Bellarmine, which is making its first appearance in program history.
The East Region's No. 1 seed is a familiar face. New Haven is making its 32nd appearance in the postseason on the heels of its second straight Northeast-10 title. The rest of this bracket has some interesting "firsts" to watch however. Welcome the Southern Connecticut State Owls to the tournament. They got here by advancing to the NE-10 finals for the first time in program history, and have a victory already this season against first round opponent NYIT. Also making its first appearance from the NE-10 is Saint Anselm. The Hawks already logged their first NE-10 tournament win in program history and are looking to continue the historic season. They face Molloy, who made history of its own this season. The Bears come to the tournament on the heels of their first East Coast Conference title in program history.
The South Central should be plenty action packed with tournament regulars Regis and Metro State Denver as the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds. The Roadrunners upset Regis earlier this season, but Regis got its revenge in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship en route to the RMAC title. Should they meet in a rematch it will be a game to watch. Keep an eye on the Tarleton State vs. West Texas A&M battle. The TexAnns roll into the tournament on a seven game winning streak, not losing a set in their last six matches. Their last loss? That was back on October 28 against West Texas A&M.
California Baptist is the talk of the West. The Lancers continue to make program history on a weekly basis, finishing the season a perfect 28-0 and their first No. 1 ranking ever. They face a tournament mainstay in Sonoma State who is making its ninth appearance in ten years. This part of the bracket also features the 2016 national runner-ups in Alaska-Anchorage. Azusa Pacific is making its tournament debut and the Cougars are faced with a tough task. They face Cal State San Benardino. The Coyotes are making their 18th consecutive tournament appearance after winning their 13th California Collegiate Athletic Association title.