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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | April 8, 2021

5 unseeded college volleyball teams to watch out for in the 2021 NCAA tournament

5 unseeded volleyball teams to watch in the NCAA tournament

We are now under a week away from April 14 — the start of the DI women's volleyball tournament. A lot of you might be getting ready to fill out those NCAA women’s volleyball tournament brackets soon. But before you do, let me put a few teams on your radar. Here are 5 unseeded teams we will see in the first round that you should know about. 

1. UCLA 

UCLA volleyball

UCLA should hardly be considered a dark horse considering they very well could have received a top 16 seed this year. The Bruins finished the season 14-6, and out of all of the unseeded teams in this year’s bracket, they have the most experience and the most wins over tournament teams. 

They have a win over 6-seed Washington this year, 10-seed Oregon, 14-seed Utah and 15-seed Washington State. All of those wins also came with a loss in the series, though. They have been super hot and cold all season long. But still, it shows they are capable. Don't take for granted a group led by experienced players that have been in the tournament before. In this case, they have a very talented Mac May leading the group.

2. Rice

Rice VB

This group is led by Nicole Lennon, an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention in 2019. She put up an impressive 4.28 kills per set for the Owls this season. At the very end of the regular season, the Owls lost in a five-set heartbreaker to Baylor — one that saw 28 ties, 10 lead changes and could have gone either way. But in the next match, Rice knocked off then No. 2 Texas for the second consecutive year. Lennon had 18 kills in that win. Not lot of teams got to face many tournament teams due to in-conference schedules this season. Rice did. Put some value in that. 

3. Western Kentucky

WKU

Next up, another C-USA team — Western Kentucky. I think this is a really good team. Put them on your radar for some possible upsets in the tourney. Let me list a few reasons.

1. They are 21-0. In its conference? Mostly yes, but that is a lot of wins and a lot of playing for a year where not all teams in the tournament were on the court that often.

2. They beat Rice for the C-USA title. The team I just talked about beating Texas. In fact, WKU has won the C-USA title in each of the six years it has been in the conference.

3. Setter Nadia Dideonne is second in the nation in assists per set. It helps that she has two skilled hitters in Lauren Matthews and Paige Briggs. These two have experience and proven success. They played in the tournament last year and were just narrowly eliminated in five sets to Louisville. Those same Cardinals went on and upset Texas. 

4. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh VB

The Panthers had a slightly different path this season than in 2019, when they were ranked very high all year and seeded in the tournament. However, they still have the ACC Player of the Year for the second year in a row in Kayla Lund. That's the star power that can make a difference in the tournament. The Panthers had a 12-0 spring season and split the series with Louisville, a seeded team, and Notre Dame in the ACC. 

5. Pepperdine

Pepperdine

Lastly, keep your eye on Pepperdine. They are on the bottom left side of the bracket, and if they make it out of the first round, they will face 12-seed Baylor. This is an interesting matchup since they have already played one another this season and the Waves pushed the Bears to five sets. They also beat 16-seed BYU in the regular season. 

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