The DII women's volleyball landscape has been dominated by familiar faces for a long time. Names like West Texas A&M, Concordia-St. Paul and Tampa — just to name a few — are easy picks as contenders for the final eight of the DII women's volleyball championship. Even a team like Gannon feels like a shoo-in for the finals every year.
Or are they?
While the DII women's volleyball championship finals aren't typically the place where Cinderellas like to dance, this year, there are few teams making some noise that you should have your eyes on as the calendar turns to October.
Welcome back to the top 25, Falcons. It's been a long time coming, as Seattle Pacific came in at No. 24 this week — the first time cracking the top 25 since 2011. The Falcons have done so by reeling off a 10-2 record to start the season. That's just three wins shy of last year's total.
It's not simply that the Falcons are winning that make them an under-the-radar threat out in the West Region — it's how they are winning. Entering this weekend's play, Seattle Pacific has played the 31st-toughest schedule in DII women's volleyball, with its opposition posting a .602 winning percentage. The Falcons have downed tournament teams like Lewis and Colorado School of Mines and picked up a huge win against nationally ranked GNAC favorite, Central Washington, last weekend. This team is quickly showing it matches up just fine with NCAA DII tournament regulars and looks poised to make some noise this year.
Whereas many regions have their tournament regulars make the DII women's volleyball championship finals, there is absolutely no rhyme nor reason in the East. The East Region is the only one to see a different team advance to the final eight in each of the past five tournaments, and looking at the standings right now, it seems like a sixth-straight year could very well be in the cards.
So, why Adelphi? Let's check off some boxes, shall we? The Panthers have played the toughest schedule in the East Region — in fact, it's a top-30 schedule in all DII women's volleyball with their opponents combining for a .613 winning percentage heading into the weekend. That said, Adelphi is 9-4 in what has clearly been a tough non-conference schedule to open the season. Secondly, the Panthers are leading the NE10 in multiple categories, with kills per set, assists per set, digs and points per set among the bunch. Again, it seems in the East you are always looking for the wildcard, and the Panthers are a good team to keep tabs on as tourney time approaches.
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Unlike the East Region, the South Region is a little more predictable. Tampa is one of the winningest DII women's volleyball programs in its history, tied for the second-most national championships ever, and a Sunshine State Conference team has represented the South, well, let's just say it's been a long time since a Gulf South or SIAC team has broken through.
There seems to be something special brewing in "Title Town." To start, the Blazers were a mere 14-19 last year and through their first 15 games are an impressive 11-4. That includes a perfect 3-0 start in the conference. It's more impressive when you consider that the Blazers have played the 30th-toughest schedule in DII women's volleyball heading into the weekend. Right now, Valdosta State is leading the Gulf South in points, kills, blocks and digs, so it is stuffing the stat sheets as well. There is a ton of volleyball left to play, and West Florida has laid its claim to the GSC — finishing atop the standings every year since 2016 — but there is certainly something brewing in Valdosta.
How are the Jennies — a mere 7-5 as October approaches — a sleeper? It's a fair question, especially considering the Central Region in which they play is arguably the toughest in DII with eight teams in the current top 25. However, that 7-5 record has been a battle, as eight of their first 12 games have come against an AVCA top 25 program.
Knowing that, it's probably not surprising that Central Missouri has played the toughest schedule in DII women's volleyball and still has a winning record to show for it. Here's another fun little tidbit: In all the top 25 action that the Jennies have seen, they haven't lost back-to-back matches to their elite foes. Every time the Jennies have lost a match, they have come back firing, defeating Gannon, Cal State LA, and most recently two tremendous MIAA matches against Northwest Missouri State and Washburn. There is no rest for the Jennies either as No. 20 Central Oklahoma is up next. A win against the Bronchos would make the Jennies 5-0 in the MIAA and have a winning record against top 25 teams... and it's not even October.
Last year, the Golden Eagles enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history. They made it all the way to the Atlantic Region finals where they fell to Gannon, the team that has made it to the DII women's volleyball finals three times in a row and four times in the past five years. All that plus a 13-2 start to the season still has Clarion on the outside of the AVCA top 25. Way outside the top 25, to be precise.
Clarion has played a tough enough schedule, with its opponents posting a .554 combined record heading into this weekend's play. That 13-2 start includes going on the road and taking down the very same Gannon team that ended the Golden Eagles' season last year. Clarion leads the PSAC in a bevy of categories, including points, assists and kills, and is looking like the PSAC power to beat and end Gannon's reign in the Atlantic. A huge matchup against 11-4 Indiana (PA) awaits this coming weekend and will show us a bit more about the Golden Eagles.