The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Previewing the four teams in Cougs NCAA Tournament field

WSU, Grand Canyon, Dayton, Pepperdine
The 2023 WSU volleyball team during the national anthem before an NCAA volleyball match against the Oregon Ducks, Oct. 27, in Pullman, Wash.

WSU will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018 after finishing the season with 24 wins and a No. 10 ranking in the final regular season AVCA Top 25 poll. 

It is the highest single-season win total the program has achieved in head coach Jen Greeny’s tenure and their performances throughout the course of the season earned them a No. 4 seed in the bracket, meaning that three other programs will visit their home Bohler Gym to fight for a spot in the sweet 16.

For WSU, they will be fighting for their first Sweet 16 performance under their current core, last making that round of the Tournament in 2018, the same year they last hosted. 

No. 4 WSU (24-7, 14-6 Pac-12)

What is there to be said about this WSU volleyball team that has not already been stated? The talent at the top is as good as any team has and the depth has improved immensely over the years. 

Magda Jehlárová is having one of the best seasons of her historic tenure as a Coug, leading the Pac-12 in blocks per set at 1.37 and hitting above .400%. Argentina Ung has improved her setting and has gained a newfound aggression at the net, having talented players around her in Iman Isanovic, Pia Timmer and Katy Ryan to pass the ball to. Karly Basham and Julia Norville have continued to be a back-row tandem that can dig anything and it is the Cougs year to prove this core can make a deep run.

Offensively, the team’s .286% hitting was the third-best in the Conference, led by Jehlárová at .416%. At one point, the Cougs had 14 straight wins, including wins over tournament-bound teams like BYU, Texas, Baylor and Oregon. 

They have proven to have the ability to beat good teams on short rest and they will look to prove it against the rest of the field starting Friday.  

Grand Canyon (23-7, 13-3 WAC) 

WSU’s opening matchup comes against the Antelopes of GCU, who won 23 matches in 30 tries during the 2023 season. Against common opponents to the Cougs, they lost to Arizona in five sets (whom the Cougs beat in five) and swept UC Irvine (whom the Cougs also swept).

Playing their best volleyball of the season at the end, GCU beat California Baptist, UT Rio Grand Valley and Stephen F. Austin in the WAC Tournament to win the Conference Championship, only dropping one set during their run.

GCU finished the regular season 8-3 on the road, an equal record to their home matches, meaning they do not have fear when going into hostile environments. 

Their strength comes from their defense, they have held opposing teams to a hitting percentage of .178, with the upcoming bout between the Lopes and Cougs showcasing the battle of stout offense and defense. 

While the Cougs have Jehlárová, the Lopes have Tatum Parrott, an offensive wizard averaging 4.69 kills per set while hitting .317% in 2023. If the Cougs can slow her down, it will be smooth sailing. 

Pepperdine (19-8, 15-1 WCC) 

The winner of WSU-GCU will face the winner of the next two teams, Pepperdine and Dayton. 

During their preseason, Pepperdine went 4-6, losing matches to Kansas, Texas A&M, UC Santa Barbara, Oregon, UCLA and Hawai’i. Their final out-of-conference loss came at the end of the season when they got swept by SMU. 

To get some context, Pepperdine had three common opponents to the Cougs, Oregon, Washington and UCLA. Against those opponents, the Waves beat UW in a sweep while losing to the Bruins in five sets and the Ducks in a sweep. But the thing Pepperdine did do is defeat San Diego, the team that took the Cougs out of the NCAA Tournament one season ago before making a deep run. 

WSU swept their season series against the Huskies, sweeping both matches. They split the season series against both Oregon and UCLA, beating the teams on the road while losing in Bohler. 

Pepperdine, as a team, averages 14.51 digs per set, 13.30 kills per set and 1.52 service aces per set, all good marks. Offensively, they are led by Grace Chillingworth, who averaged 3.78 kills per set while hitting .272%. She also leads the team at the service line, averaging 0.33 aces per set. 

No. 5 Dayton (31-2, 18-0 A-10) 

While Pepperdine is a good serving team, Dayton, the other seeded team, is elite. The two-loss Flyers average 2.34 service aces a set, led by six players averaging at least 0.25 aces per set and three above 0.40 per set.

They also have Ameilia Moore, who challenges Jehlárová as a dominant middle. She is averaging 1.28 blocks per set and is hitting .380% while averaging 2.18 kills per set. 

An all-around unit, they also have a focal point on offense that is far from easy to stop. Lexie Almodovar is averaging 4.45 kills per set on an efficient .272%. While WSU may have an advantage in depth if the teams match up and go deep into sets, the talent is equal.

Dayton’s two season losses came early in the season, a five-set loss to Marquette back on Aug. 26 and another five setter against Louisville Sept. 6. WSU also faced Louisville, losing in four in just their second match of the season, before getting full practices with Jehlárová and Isanovic.

As for common opponents, there are three. Louisville, Wright State and Drake. While the results were all the same, wins against Drake and Wright State and defeat at hands of Lousivville, there were slight differences. 

WSU beat Wright State in a sweep, the Flyers did too. But the Cougs took down Drake in four sets while it took their counterparts the full five sets. On the contrary, Dayton managed to take two sets off Louisville, albeit playing at home, while on the road WSU only won a single set. 

Dayton won the A-10 Conference, and they will look to play spoiler to the Cougs hosting if both teams take care of business in their first-round matchups. 

Dayton-Pepperdine will open things up as they serve it up at 4 p.m. Friday with WSU-GCU following at 7 p.m. Friday. The losers of the matches season will be over and the winners will battle 7 p.m. Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

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About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.