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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | November 30, 2021

Here are 7 unseeded teams in the 2021 DI women's volleyball tournament to watch out for

We predicted every match in the NCAA volleyball tournament, including the national champion

The 2021 DI women's volleyball tournament is here. All the action begins this Thursday, Dec. 2 after an incredible regular season. So many super seniors returned for one last go around this season, so I'd say this year's tournament is going to be one for the books. 

The tournament field was unveiled on Sunday, Nov. 28 and the top 16 seeds were announced. Louisville received the No. 1 seed followed by Texas, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Here is the full list of seeded teams: 

SEED TEAM
1.  Louisville
2.  Texas
3.  Pittsburgh
4. Wisconsin
5.  Baylor
6.  Purdue
7. Kentucky
8.  Georgia Tech
9. Ohio State
10.  Nebraska
11.  BYU
12. Minnesota
13.  UCLA
14.  Creighton
15.  Washington 
16.  Florida

But, I believe the title of this article is UNSEEDED teams to watch out for. So let's talk about the teams that didn't make that list. There are so many talented teams this season, and I feel like this tournament is wide open. There are multiple squads outside of the top 16 that could make some noise in the tournament. Here are a few: 

Penn State

Penn State Volleyball

I can't even believe that PSU is on the list of unseeded teams to watch out for. This is a powerhouse Big Ten volleyball program coached by Russ Rose, one of the winningest volleyball coaches in history. This is a program that is usually seeded in the top 16 and usually in contention for the national title. They ended up finishing the season this year with 10 losses, with three consecutive losses to Nebraska, Ohio State and Minnesota at the very end of the season, which likely knocked them out of the top 16. But, they were probably only a few spots behind. 

The Nittany Lions took down Minnesota in a sweep this season, Ohio State in a sweep and pushed Wisconsin to five. So although they lost quite a few games, they took down some big-time opponents in a big way, and they are clearly capable of winning games when they are on. It is a really tough break for Pittsburgh to potentially have to face the Nittany Lions in the second round of the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the tournament. 

The Nittany Lions are led by Jonni Parker offensively who averages 3.77 kills per set. Kaitlyn Hord leads the team in blocking and is a huge weapon out of the middle. They need Hord to be involved to succeed, usually. Penn State ranks sixth in the nation in blocking as a team, so they are going to be a really tough out in the tournament. 

Miami (Fla.)

Miami

News flash — the ACC is really good. The conference has three teams seeded in the top 16 this season, and Miami was likely the first team out. Look out for the Hurricanes to make some noise in the tournament and potentially pull off some upsets. Miami only has four losses on the season, and they were all so-called "good" losses. They lost to UCF, a tournament team, in five sets, the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. They successfully took a set from the Yellowjackets and Panthers. 

NCAA volleyball tournament: Bracket, live coverage

Angela Grieve leads. their offense with 3.77 kills per set, and she is joined by four other players that average above two kills per set to balance out their offensive efforts. They are battle-tested in the ACC this season and could make a run in the tournament. They will likely face Florida in the second round of the tournament, the team that just barely got the nod over them for the No. 16 seed. This matchup is a total toss-up and could be Miami's chance to pull off the upset and then possibly face the top-seeded Cards. This would be an advantage for them since they have already faced undefeated Louisville in the regular season. 

Utah

Utah volleyball

In my opinion, Utah should always be a team on your radar, especially when Dani Drews is on their team. Drews is a scoring machine, and has led this team to many big wins in her time at Utah. She currently ranks third in the nation in kills per set with 5.24... think about that number. This team has had hot and cold spells all season long. One second they are pulling off a big-time win, and the next, they lose completely unexpectedly to an unranked team. A prime example from this season was their big win over Nebraska, followed by a loss to Boise State. 

But either way, they are capable of the big wins. They have wins over Washington, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington State this season. They did lose in three sets to BYU in the regular season, and if both teams make it out of the first round, they will face again in the second round. So, the Utes have a big challenge if they want to advance in the tournament, facing a seeded BYU team led by former Ute Kenzie Koerber. I predicted the Utes to win in my filled out bracket, but it could obviously go either way. Watch out for Utah though as an unseeded team in the tournament. 

Oregon

Oregon Volleyball

Oregon is another team that was seeded last season but didn't make the cut this season. Again, there were SO many good teams this year. The Ducks started off the season really strong this year following a great 2020-21 season. They swept Penn State early in the regular season, pushed Minnesota to five, and beat Stanford. After that, they started notching a lot of losses. MOST of their losses though, were to really strong teams out of the Pac-12, so you can't count this team out. 

Brooke Nuneviller leads this team and she is so impressive. She previously was their libero before switching to outside hitter, so she is quite literally all over the court. The Ducks are in the top right portion of the bracket, and to me, this side is pretty loaded, but Oregon has a decent path forward. I predicted they would make it past Kansas and then take down seeded Creighton before facing the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers. It would be tough, but the Ducks are capable of upsets. 

Stanford

Stanford Volleyball

The Stanford Cardinal are back in the NCAA tournament after a year off. It was a very unusual year for a team that had just previously won back-to-back titles. This season, they were ready to show what they were made of. They appeared in my Power 10 rankings for a few weeks in the beginning of the season after securing some big-time wins while playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules. They beat Florida, the No. 16 seed, Penn State, and Nebraska, and then pushed Kentucky to five sets. They started notching more losses in the middle range to end of the season, but again, they showed what they are capable of. 

Caitie Baird has been really impressive offensively. She leads the charge with 4.2 kills per set, followed by Kendall Kipp with 3.77. Sami Francis missed the beginning of the season before making her Cardinal debut, and the standout freshman now averages 2.83 kills per set. This is still a decently young team after they lost a legendary senior class, but they are really talented. This Stanford team could pull up some big-time upsets. They have the potential to face Minnesota early in the tournament and they have the added advantage of having already faced the Gophers this season.

UCF

UCF

You definitely need to watch out for UCF in the tournament this season. The Knights played a really tough non-conference schedule to get them ready for this tournament. They notched some losses, yes, but had some hard-fought battles and sets against some good teams. They played Georgia Tech in their season opener and went toe to toe with them. 

On top of their experience this season, they have the nation's kill leader. McKenna Melville leads the NCAA with 578 kills and averages 4.98 kills per set. An offensive weapon like that is dangerous against any team. UCF will need to get past Pepperdine in the first round and then could potentially face UCLA. UCLA is a great team, but they are not unbeatable, watch out for UCF.

Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky Volleyball

The Hilltoppers are undoubtedly on this list. Western Kentucky made some noise in the 2020-21 tournament and I wouldn't be surprised if they did it again. This team is potentially just as talented and capable as a lot of the top 16 seeds this season — the only difference is that they played a much weaker schedule, so they don't get the same kind of recognition. But I wouldn't by any means count them out because of it. 

Lauren Matthews leads the entire nation in hitting percentage at a .480 clip. She also leads the team in hitting, followed by Paige Briggs who averages 3.01 kills per set. These two players are incredibly talented and make this team super dangerous in the tournament. 

Here are a few other unseeded teams to watch out for:

  • Washington State
  • Illinois
  • Florida State
  • Marquette

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