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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | November 21, 2018

The road to the DII volleyball quarterfinals is complete. Here’s how we reached the DII festival

The final eight teams are ready for action in the DII volleyball quarterfinals. The first serve is set for the DII festival on Nov. 29 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This was one of the wildest DII volleyball seasons in recent memory. The No. 1 seeds had a huge target on their back and went down on a weekly basis, while there was a changing of the guard in the Central Region, at least temporarily. When the tournament rolled around, some normalcy seemed to restore itself, as four No. 1 seeds found their way to Pittsburgh. 

That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few surprises along the way. Let’s take a look at how the last eight teams found their way to the DII festival.

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Four No. 1 seeds advance to Pittsburgh

Wheeling Jesuit (Atlantic), Wingate (Southeast), Tarleton State (South Central) and Western Washington (West) all entered their respective regions as the top overall seed and that’s how they left. Wingate certainly made it look easy, losing just one set in its three tournament games. The Bulldogs have been on fire this entire postseason, sweeping through the SAC tournament losing just one set there as well. They have won nine in a row and are heading to their fifth quarterfinals since 2010.

Tarleton State also had a relatively smooth road to Pittsburgh, winning 3-0 and 3-1 before defeating their Lone Star Conference rivals Texas A&M-Commerce 3-1 in the South Central Regional finals. That win avenged the TexAnns loss to the Lions in the LSC tournament and gave them their first South Central Region crown in program history. Tarleton State will be riding its 32-win season into a showdown with Western Washington in the quarterfinals only clash of No. 1 seeds.

The Vikings' run to Pittsburgh has been simply remarkable. Western Washington opened the season in the West Florida Invitational with high aspirations and left losers of three of their four matches. Well, that is certainly in the rearview mirror, as the Vikings are cruising on a 28-game winning streak. It hasn’t been easy either, taking down nationally-ranked Cal Poly Pomona in straight sets before a thrilling 3-2 win over perennial West Region threat Cal State San Bernardino in the finals. Should they advance to the semifinals, it is a well-deserved accomplishment.

Wheeling Jesuit is the last No. 1 seed to advance. The Cardinals are no strangers to high seeds and playoff competition, winners of the 2015 national title. Wheeling Jesuit cruised through the first two rounds unscathed, before a tough battle with Seton Hill in the Atlantic Region finals. Amid a 29-game winning streak, Wheeling Jesuit is red-hot and looking like the title contenders they were just a couple years ago.

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Down goes the defending champion Concordia-St. Paul

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Washburn. For the first time since 2007, the Ichabods are heading to the national quarterfinals. They’ve built quite the resume in doing so. They were impressive from day one, starting the season 22-0 before suffering their first loss. Washburn took down three ranked teams during that span, including then-No. 1 Nebraska-Kearney for its first upset as an unranked team over a top 10 team in 16 years. Head coach Chris Herron notched his 500th win in the MIAA tournament, taking down nationally-ranked Central Oklahoma, but were ousted by UNK in the finals despite a thrilling late-set comeback. 

Washburn picked up wins 501, 502 and 503 for Herron in the Central Region tournament. The Ichabods defeated three top-10 teams in the process, downing No. 6 Northern State, No. 4 Minnesota Duluth and finally ending the No. 9 Golden Bears championship defense in the Central finals. That is one challenging road traveled but only gets tougher as the Ichabods face No. 24 Wingate next.

Tampa looks for its third national title

The Tampa Spartans find themselves back in the championship mix. The Spartans aren’t far removed from winning a national title, last cutting the nets in 2014. But Tampa is known for its championship game presence and shouldn’t surprise anyone being here, having appeared in four national championship finals since 2006 and winning twice. 

The Spartans' schedule, which is already difficult in the battle-tested Sunshine State Conference, was no walk in the park. They opened their season with out-of-conference matchups against NCAA tournament powers like Ferris State, Drury and 2017 quarterfinalist New Haven. Their schedule closed against three regionally-ranked teams in the final week of the season. But the Spartans persevered, only to have to face two more top 20 teams in the South Regional, defeating both Barry and No. 1-seeded Palm Beach Atlantic 3-1 to advance to Pittsburgh. Their daunting schedule didn’t go unnoticed. The Spartans come to the DII festival as the new No. 1 seed.  

Lewis and American International defied the odds to reach the quarterfinals

Head coach Lorelee Smith has made Lewis a perennial contender. The Flyers reached the semifinals in 2016 and hosted the Midwest Regional last year. This year, they entered the Midwest Regional as the four seed and took down No. 1 Drury and then 2017 quarterfinalist Rockhurst in the finals to keep their season alive. They draw No. 2 Wheeling Jesuit in the quarterfinals, but Lewis has never backed down from a challenge.

It’s been quite the three-year run for the Yellow Jackets. Entering the 2016 season, this was a program that had never won an NCAA tournament game. American International won the East Region in 2016, made it to the regional finals last season, and now return to the quarterfinals with their second East Region championship in three years. That region was one of the wilder ones as the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds were knocked out before the finals. The Yellow Jackets rose from the six seed and now draw Tampa in quarterfinals action. They have their work cut out for them, but they have been giant killers thus far, disposing of No. 3 Daemen and No. 2 Adelphi. It seems the next step would be taking down No. 1.

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