I got the Weekly Wrap-Up out on time this week! Yay me! This is where I go around the West Region and see how things are shaping up based on the results from the past week. But first, I’m sure you are curious what you missed out on so here was the week that was. Once my late Wrap-Up came out, I followed it up quickly with my D3VbWest Top 25, which included my stab at a true regional ranking of the West Region. The AVCA Top 25 came out on Tuesday and the consolidated Players of the Week article came out on Wednesday. Speaking of POW, we had our second AVCA Player of the Week come from the West Region! Congratulations to Trinity’s Emily Ellis! The NCAA updated their SOS numbers so that caused me to write an article on how the West Region was fairing. The rest of the week was devoted to matches but I did get out a National Wrap-Up earlier in the week. You can check that out from my Podcasts Page. Prior to posting this article, I updated the Watch List page where we saw three teams get eliminated from at-large contention (at least in my mind).
With conference play in full-swing in the West Region, I’m going to focus on the conferences from this point forward starting, as always, with the ASC. We did have some ASC/SCAC action during the week with Southwestern beating ETBU and LeTourneau taking down Centenary. As far as conference play, we’ve got UT-Dallas leading the East Division followed by ETBU. ETBU already has wins over LeTourneau and Louisiana College (with a loss to UT-Dallas) so that ordering may stay the rest of the year. Belhaven was able to beat Louisiana College so they may still have a say in a top 3 spot in the division, which qualifies a team for the ASC Tournament. Still, there are a lot more matches to play but it does seem like UT-Dallas is well on their way to claiming another regular season division title. Over in the West Division, there were some important matches held in Abilene where we saw both UMHB and Concordia come in and sweep the home teams in Hardin-Simmons and McMurry. The losses were enough for me to remove McMurry from the Watch List. HSU was interesting because they played pretty well at the UT-Dallas Tournament but couldn’t fight off what looks to be the two best teams in the West Division. Sul Ross State was able to sweep Howard Payne (Annika Canaba had 11 kills in this one) and will try to insert themselves in that race for the 3rd spot with HSU and McMurry. Right now both Concordia and UMHB lead the West Division with 4-0 records.
Over in the NWC, and I don’t want to overstate this, I think we saw the MOST INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT MATCHES HELD OF ALL TIME. Okay, maybe not but could we have just seen Whitworth win the NWC title? After only one weekend? The Pirates played on the road and left Pacific Lutheran with a 5-set win and Puget Sound with a sweep. Whitworth’s Emiko Kahler had 31 kills, 24 digs and 34.5 points over the two matches. Now, they still have Pacific to deal with (and they get them Friday) but that’s a heck of a start. We still have the return trips to go, as well, but Whitworth has staked their claim for the title and I think it’s going to be hard for someone else to take it away. With that said, Pacific is the current co-leader and we really don’t know fully what we have with them. This Friday will be intriguing. Could it be the MOST INCREDIBLE FRIDAY EVER! Uh, no…but a good one. Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound did win their other match to go 1-1 on the weekend and are tied with George Fox , Lewis & Clark and Willamette. Linfield and Whitman bring up the rear and it would be easy to say that Whitman is going to have a tough season but they’ve played a strong schedule. Hoping for the best there.
It’s not the SCAC without Colorado College, Trinity and Southwestern sitting in the top 3 spots. The only major match this weekend was the Colorado College/Southwestern game. Southwestern took the first set 25-21 and then let the second set slip away from them. The third set was also really close before the Tigers blew out Southwestern in the fourth set. The Tigers are still playing without Margo Spaethling so they should only get stronger as the season goes along. Haley Harris had 15 kills in this one while Lizzy Counts was annoying terrific with 7 kills and 35 assists. I should mention the problems St. Thomas had getting out of Houston as they tried to play in Denver. They tried to get out on Thursday but their charter was rear-ended and while they waited on a replacement they learned they couldn’t even get to the airport due to the flooding. Their matches on Friday had to be postponed while they tried again the next day to get out. After more flight delays and one of their players being suspected of domestic terrorism on a volleyball and pulled aside by TSA they all made it to Denver in time for a quick nap before their matches started on Saturday. The Celts would go on and lose a tough 5-setter to Austin College before sweeping host JWU (Denver). Side note, so when I called up TSA on Friday about Mariah and mentioned domestic terrorism on a volleyball, I do think my cell phone cut out on that last part. I do apologize for any trouble this may have caused you but just chalk it up to new SCAC team hazing and welcome to DIII. After the top 3 teams, the SCAC has Austin College and Centenary tied for the next two spots with Dallas sitting in that all important 6th spot (only 6 teams qualify for the SCAC Tournament). TLU sits in the 7th spot but they did take Trinity to 5-sets forcing them to win the last two for the win. The race for the 6 SCAC tournament spots will be interesting this year.
Just one or two matches this week for the SCIAC but let’s start with Caltech over Whittier in 4-sets, which was a pretty big shocker. Krystyna Maruszko led the Caltech attack dishing out 32 assists and contributing 6 kills. Caltech had only ever won once in conference play but they were definitely coming in with their best team ever. The funny thing was that the Beavers hadn’t played a DIII opponent this season before Whittier. So, after one day, they were essentially undefeated in both the SCIAC and in DIII. The big match on that Friday was Cal Lutheran and Pomona-Pitzer, which went to 5-sets. Cal Lutheran was forced to win the fourth set but looked done at 14-10 in the 5th. Pomona-Pitzer freshman Naomi Chen-Mallouk was a force in this match but she took on the chin at the end with 4 attack errors although one was a clear touch that should have won the match for the Sagehens. Cal Lutheran would go on and win 16-14 and take the match. Naomi would still lead both teams with 19 kills and 20 points. On Saturday it was once again Pomona-Pitzer in a 5-set match this time against Whittier. Katelyn Popoff would finish with 22 kills to lead Whittier in this win as Pomona-Pitzer was unable to come back from a 2-0 deficient in sets. I thought in the preseason that the SCIAC was going to be messy this year and it has sort of started that way. We do have CMS, Chapman, La Verne and Cal Lutheran all with unblemished records. Caltech and Whittier follow at 1-1 and then Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands and Occidental all at 0-2. The SCIAC only takes 4 teams to their tournament and there are at least 6 in play if you don’t count Caltech. I think if you ask Whittier, they’ll tell you that you’d better count them.
Overall, outside of the Caltech win, I think the surprise of the week is La Verne. The Leopards are playing for an interim head coach (Jeff Hendershot) and having to deal with a number of new faces. They also had an injury to deal with to one of their best attackers in Haley Celaya who is now back. That injury forced us to get to know junior transfer Pi’ikea Clemens who has come in and averaged 3.4 points/set and has double-digit kills in her last four matches. Of course, they still have my All-Region pick in setter Madison Maynes who is averaging 10.24 assists/set. I also want to highlight Emma Estigoy who has transitioned into the libero spot and is averaging 5.48 digs/set. I really thought this team would struggle this season and I certainly can’t forgive them fully for losing to a New England team, but it’s obvious how much they’ve improved over the last few weeks. They look like they will be a player for a top 4 spot in conference so lots of credit to Coach Hendershot, his staff and, of course, the players.
UPDATE – The ASC reached out to me and told me that they changed their playoff format this year. In previous years it was the top 3 teams from each division. Starting this year, it is the top 2 from each division plus 2 “at large” teams. The “at large” teams are determined from the teams from either division that have the best conference winning percentage. I have asked the ASC about some further details so expect some more information on this in the future.