Every season, I break down the top storylines to follow for the postseason. After all, we are all waiting to have all of these questions answered after an incredible season of volleyball. This season, I found myself having to limit how many I listed because there are just so many things I want to see play out.
NCAA VB TOURNAMENT: 7 unseeded teams to watch out for
We have had an extraordinary season with the return of so many super-seniors given their extra year of eligibility. These teams are stacked with talent through and through, and the tournament is wide open. Here are (some) of the top storylines, seven to be exact, for the 2021 volleyball tournament:
Can Wisconsin make it back to the national semifinals for the third consecutive year?
Could the third year be the charm for Dana Rettke and the Badgers? I have been covering volleyball for NCAA.com since 2019, and Wisconsin has been in the tournament both times, falling short of a title. This team returned almost all of their roster, with the exception of Molly Haggerty, and then added some more weapons with Julia Orzol and Anna Smrek.
If the Badgers want to make it back to the national semifinals for the third consecutive year, it is possible they will have to get through either Baylor or Minnesota to do it.
Can Texas get to avenge their national title loss?
The Longhorns made it to the national title game last season with a phenomenal team before falling just short of the title with a loss to Kentucky. This season, they returned their entire starting lineup that includes FIVE All-Americans from last season. They were ranked No. 1 almost the entire season before notching their first loss of the season against Baylor. Needless to say, there are high hopes for this Texas team. Before last year's title game, I talked to head coach Jerritt Elliot, and one thing he said stuck with me. He said so many wonderful things about his team, but that they need to be able to win the big game, go the distance. Let's see if they can do it this season.
Three of last season's national semifinal teams are in the same region, who makes it out?
Texas, Wisconsin, Washington and Kentucky were the four semifinalists last season. This year, three of those teams, Texas, Washington and Kentucky, are in the same region. So, say goodbye to the possibility of a similar top four this year, cause only ONE of those teams will make it out. In my predicted bracket, Kentucky and Nebraska will face each other and the winner will move on to face Texas in the regional final. Who will make it out?
Can Pitt make program history and make it to the national semifinals?
Last season, Pitt made program history when they advanced to the regional finals. It even looked like they were about to make more history when they went up two sets on Washington as an unseeded team in the tournament. But, Washington ended up pulling off the reverse sweep to advance to the national semifinals, cutting the Panthers run short. Regardless, the Panthers made it that far as an unseeded team, completely unexpected by the masses. Now, they have the No. 3 seed in the tournament, but still a tough road to the semifinals with Penn State in their regional. Can they make history?
Can Louisville remain unbeaten?
Perhaps the biggest question of them all — can the Cardinals remain unbeaten? Louisville is in the midst of a record-breaking season, as they finished the regular season and made it out of the ACC completely perfect. This program has been on the rise since 2019 and they have reached an all-time high as the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Could it possibly be a perfect season? One where they never lose a game and win the national title? That would be an incredible feat.
Which group of super seniors will get their fairytale ending?
As you know, a lot of seniors utilized their extra year of eligibility to give it one last go-around this season. That left us with stacked teams this year and a lot of super seniors looking to end their collegiate careers in the best way. Will there be one group of super seniors that get their fairytale ending?
Will we have a rematch of the 2019 Louisville vs. Texas match in the national championship game?
In case you need a quick refresher... Texas entered the 2019 championship as the No. 2 seed, similar to this year's tournament. There were high hopes for this team to go the distance. But, Louisville had different plans, and Aiko Jones had the game of her life as the Cards upset the Longhorns on their own home court for the biggest upset of the tournament. Two years later, Louisville is now the No. 1 seed and Texas is No. 2. And guess what ... they are on opposite sides of the bracket. A rematch in the title game is a possibility. In fact, that is the exact national championship game I picked to happen in my predicted bracket. I mean, what a storyline.