Ohio State Buckeyes
Coming off of a loss to Indiana on Nov. 5, their third in four games, Ohio State’s chances of making a third-consecutive Sweet 16 appeared slim. Since that game, the Buckeyes have won six of their last seven, including a 5-set battle against Kansas State to advance to the tournament’s second weekend.
The Buckeyes are powered by a pair of Taylors, Sandbothe and Hughes, both All-Big Ten honorees this season. Sandbothe, a senior middle hitter, leads the team in kills and blocks, and is second in aces. Hughes is a sophomore setter who leads the team in assists and ranks second in hitting percentage.
Wisconsin swept both meetings between the teams this season, but the second matchup, in Columbus Nov. 2, was significantly closer than the final scoreline suggested. The Badgers won by only 11 total points in a match that included 26 ties and 11 lead changes.
With plenty of experience against top teams, including a win over then No. 1 Nebraska in Lincoln, the Buckeyes could be just a few tweaks away from pulling an upset or two. With the Final Four in Columbus this year, they’ll have all the motivation they need to do it.
- Cameron Lane-Flehinger
The No. 6 Stanford Cardinal has swept all its competition in the tournament to advance to the Sweet 16 in Madison, beating Denver and Boise State in straight sets at their home court. Much like the Badgers’ Molly Haggerty, the Cardinal’s star player this year has been freshman outside hitter Kathryn Plummer. She has the most kills for Stanford with 371, and was chosen as PAC-12 Freshman of the Year. Plummer had 17 kills against Boise State to ensure Stanford moved onto Madison.
Her incredible freshman season has been part of the reason Stanford has reached their thirteenth NCAA Regional appearance under coach John Dunning. The team finished the regular season 21-7, 15-5 in the PAC-12, including a dominant win against hated rival Cal in straight sets on Senior Night in the “Big Spike.” Senior Inky Ajanaku is second on the team in kills, and senior Kelsey Humphreys starred on the defensive side with 198 digs. The Cardinal will play the Florida State Seminoles, who just upset the No. 11 Florida Gators 3-2 last weekend.
- Bremen Keasey
Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles finished second in the ACC, ending the season 17-3 in the conference and 25-4 overall. They beat Cincinnati in the opening round after dropping the first set, then upset Florida in the second round to punch their ticket to Madison. They were nearly wiped off the floor against the Gators, dropping the first two sets by 21 points combined.
Senior Katie Horton, who is second on the team in kills, led the comeback charge with 18 kills. Junior Milica Kubura leads the team with 365 kills.
Florida State has played some of the nation’s top teams this year, including Minnesota and North Carolina, but have just the one top win over Florida last weekend.
- Bobby Ehrlich