Column | Outlining the chaotic home stretch of the 2022 NCAA volleyball regular season


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt volleyball players celebrate during their game against American University at the Fitzgerald Field House on Sept. 9.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

On Monday evening, after the AVCA came out with their weekly ranking and every Pitt volleyball fan on my Twitter feed was once again incensed by the Panthers No. 7 ranking, I had a conversation with my social media friend @cheesetrader1.

Cheesetrader and I first started talking about NCAA volleyball over the summer, and now it feels as though we have the same discussion every Sunday or Monday regarding Pitt and Wisconsin’s rankings in the poll. As we discussed possible fates for the top eight teams in the country, our discourse went deeper and deeper into the chaos that could potentially unfold down the home stretch of the regular season. 

For as hectic as our deductions became, we came to a consensus — no matter what happens, volleyball fans must embrace unpredictability. 

As of now, Texas is the only team that is seemingly a surefire top four seed when the final rankings are released. But are they surefire? Are there any teams that volleyball fans would definitively say are the top four teams in the nation? 

Despite the massive sample size each team has, the answer is indisputably no to both questions. There is so much parity between the top eight teams in the nation. While the season is ending soon on the calendar, it may as well have just started in the standings. 

So, for the sake of embracing chaos and expecting the unexpected, I’ve decided to outline potential circumstances that would make deciding the top four even more challenging for the rankings committee. 

Brace yourselves volleyball fans, things could get ugly — but also wildly fun. 

ACC: Pitt and Louisville as co-champions

As a conference, the ACC is undeniably the least confusing or exciting of the list. Pitt and Louisville ran away with the top two distinction seemingly in the preseason and haven’t looked back, creating an enormous gap to third place Georgia Tech. 

Yet, as a two-horse race, the conference is still wide open. 

Pitt has the advantage because of its win against the Cardinals earlier this season, but they still play each other one more time in Louisville. For their second contest, Louisville will get a massive boost from star junior outside hitter Ana DeBeer being in the lineup. 

Assuming that both teams win their other games, which is no guarantee because the Panthers still have their second matchup against Georgia Tech, that Nov. 18 matchup is for ACC supremacy, or co-supremacy. 

If the Panthers win, they definitely jump Louisville in the rankings and essentially seal their spot in the top four. If they lose, then suddenly they’re very much on the outside looking in and Louisville has the upper hand. But with so much still in the air with the other conferences, is there still a chance for the Panthers to earn a No. 1 seed with a loss to the Cardinals?

Big Ten: Three-way tie between Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State

Okay, here’s where things really get weird. 

So as of now, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all ranked in the volatile top eight, all 13-1 in conference, and they still play each other one more time each this season. 

As opposed to the ACC, the Big Ten is strong top to bottom and upsets aren’t exactly rare. Any one of the aforementioned teams could drop a match to Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State and any one of countless strong teams in the conference. 

But again, for the sake of maximum chaos, let’s say they win their other games and are just left with their matchups against each other. All three teams are ridiculously strong, and their matchups may as well be a coin flip, making the possibility for all three to go 1-1 against each other a shockingly real possibility. 

A two-way tie for a conference champion isn’t unheard of — Pitt and Louisville did it in the ACC in 2017. But a three-way champion is just about impossible. 

So what happens if they all tie? Wisconsin and Nebraska would likely still be in the top four discussion, but Ohio State almost certainly drops out of the conversation. Still, all three teams have very impressive resumés, but the rest of the top eight is so strong that all three might get bumped out entirely.

Wait — a Big Ten team not receiving a top four bid? Impossible! Scandal!

No, not impossible, no scandal. Just the 2022 NCAA volleyball season. 

Big 12: Texas and Baylor as co-champions

Remember when I hinted at Texas not being a surefire top four lock? Well, even the NCAA’s most powerful team isn’t immune from extenuating circumstances. Baylor is lurking in the shadows behind, just one game back of the Longhorns. 

And of course, they play each other one more time this season in Austin. 

This is probably the least likely upset, but teams do have bad games, and even the mighty Texas dropped a match to Iowa State earlier this season. Baylor is a very good team with a few marquee wins, but knocking off the Longhorns on the road is no small feat. 

In the unlikely event that Baylor does defeat Texas, the Longhorns most likely wouldn’t drop a whole lot, or drop at all. But suddenly they’re on the same level field as every other team atop the rankings. Instead of the clear No. 1, they’re just another very good team lumped into that indiscernible top eight of stellar volleyball teams. 

Mayhem out west

Out in the Pac-12 and WCC, the conference championships are just about wrapped up. Both Stanford and San Diego are a few games clear of the conference rivals and have their sights set on the NCAA tournament top four. 

While their paths to winning their respective conferences aren’t in jeopardy, their hosting pursuits are. 

San Diego has one more match against its WCC nemesis BYU in Provo. If they lose, they’ll almost certainly drop out of the top four — not because they don’t deserve it, but because the teams behind them have stronger schedules. If they win, they’re in by a landslide, pushing for the No. 1 overall ranking. 

On the other side of the spectrum, the Cardinal has everything to gain. They have the easiest remaining schedule of the top eight teams, and USC is the only team standing in their way of finishing out undefeated. Stanford has some fantastic wins so far this season and no unranked losses. 

Stanford deserves a ranking much higher than No. 8. If it wins out, the committee must at least consider it for the top four. 

So there you have it — every single team in the top eight has something to lose, or gain, with just a few games left on their schedules. For fans of these eight teams, take deep breaths. You’ll still host until the national semifinals at the very least. 

For volleyball fans in general — enjoy the ride. It may never happen again.