The Wisconsin women’s volleyball team (15-0, 15-0 Big Ten) just wrapped up an extremely successful regular season, finishing with an undefeated record.
While the season went very well for the team, it was anything but smooth. The Badgers had nine games canceled throughout the season due to Big Ten COVID-19 protocols. From Feb. 22 through March 20, the Badgers didn’t play a single game because of issues with the virus within the program and other school’s programs experiencing similar problems.
Even with all that time away from competition, the Badgers returned to play March 21 against No. 5 Minnesota in Minneapolis, winning the match 3-1 and continuing their domination right where they left off.
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Following their one game back against Minnesota, their series against Penn State was canceled. The Badgers concluded their season with a series sweep of Michigan on April 1 and 2, winning both matches 3-0.
Moving on to the NCAA Tournament, which begins April 14, the Badgers received a first-round bye as the top seed in the entire tournament.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s NCAA Tournament will feature only 48 teams, compared to the usual 64. This is because some teams were able to play during the usual fall season. With the total number of teams being decreased this year, the top 16 seeds in the tournament all have first-round byes.
The seeding is as follows: No.1 Wisconsin, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 6 Washington, No. 7 Purdue, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Ohio State, No.10 Oregon, No. 11 Louisville, No. 12 Baylor, No. 13 Penn State, No. 14 Utah, No. 15 Washington State and No. 16 Brigham Young University.
In their first game of the tournament, the Badgers will play either Bowling Green (22-1, 20-1 MAC) or Weber State (18-1, 15-1 Big Sky). Bowling Green just won the MAC Championship with a 3-1 win over Western Michigan. Similarly, Weber State claimed the Big Sky Championship with a 3-1 win over Northern Colorado.
Both of these teams are coming into the NCAA Tournament riding solid win streaks, but the Badgers are the top seed for a reason.
The third round of the tournament brings a more significant challenge for the Badgers. They will face either Rider, University of California, Los Angeles or BYU. Based on tournament seeding and overall performance this season, the Badgers will likely face BYU barring an upset by UCLA or Rider in the second round of the tournament.
In the quarterfinals, the Badgers will likely face off against Ohio State University or the University of Florida. Like the Badgers, the Buckeyes played an entirely Big Ten schedule this season, finishing 15-3 with a loss against Nebraska and back-to-back losses against Purdue. On the contrary, Florida finished their season 19-3 with back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Georgia and a late-season loss to Kentucky, the third-ranked team in the country at the time. Since then, Kentucky has moved to number two in the country.
A win in the quarterfinals would move the Badgers out of their region of the bracket and onto another region’s winner in the semifinals. Based on tournament seeding and how the season has played out, the Badgers would likely find themselves up against either Texas or Nebraska.
Nebraska is the most dominant team in the Big Ten besides the Badgers. They finished their season 14-2 with losses to Minnesota and Ohio State. The Cornhuskers were scheduled to face off against the Badgers earlier this season, but that series was canceled due to issues with COVID-19 in the Wisconsin program. Nebraska also has not played since March 26, when they beat Michigan 3-0. Their final series of Big Ten play was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Penn State program.
Texas finished the season 23-1 and 16-0 in the Big 12. Their only loss came against Rice in a five-set battle.
If the Badgers are to make it to the National Championship game April 24, they could face talented teams like Minnesota, Washington, Purdue or Kentucky. Those are all the favorites on the other side of the bracket, and Minnesota and Kentucky have looked fierce this season.
It’s important to note that the Badgers have never won an NCAA Women’s volleyball tournament, but based on their play throughout the season, this could certainly be the year that changes.