The 2022 DII women’s volleyball championship, previewed

It’s time. Half the bracket will serve it up and get the 2022 DII women’s volleyball tournament rolling on Thursday, Nov. 17. Before they do, let’s take a region-by-region look at the 64 teams playing for the 2022 national championship.

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As much as current stats and hot streaks played a role in the discussion below, so did history. In order to try and uncover recent patterns, I took a look back to 2016 and the past five brackets (remember, there was no official tournament in 2020) to see if we could dig up some extra details for the teams on hand.

Atlantic Region

Team to beat: Gannon. Isn’t it always Gannon this time of year? The Knights have been to three of the last four finals and enter this year’s tournament as the No. 1 seed, earning hosting honors for the tournament. Gannon finished strong once again, going 26-5 and closing the season on a 14-game winning streak and defeating Clarion in the PSAC championship game.

Team to watch: Fairmont State. There are a few actually worth watching here. Elizabeth City State is fresh off its first CIAA championship and first time back to the dance since 2008. Indiana (PA) is heading back to the tournament for the first time since 2017 led by a brand-new head coach. The 21-12 West Liberty Hilltoppers are making program history with its first appearance ever. But the Fighting Falcons of Fairmont State were one of the surprise teams a few weeks back, and have yet to relent, earning the fifth seed with a first bid since 2016 and playing against conference rival Charleston (WV). The Golden Eagles have defeated Fairmont State both times this season, most recently in the MEC tournament. Now, we can see how the Falcons handle the rubber match.

Central Region

Team to beat: Concordia-St. Paul. It doesn’t really matter what year it is; the Golden Bears are always the team to beat, aren’t they? The nine-time national champions enter the tournament 26-5 and the No. 2 seeds. They have a very interesting matchup against a tough Nebraska-Kearney squad in the first round, but the stage is also set for a potential rematch of last year’s regional final against Washburn.

Team to watch: Wayne State (Neb). Here, too, there are teams aplenty with intrigue. Northwest Missouri State came out of nowhere last year to make its first appearance since 2010 and made sure it didn’t have to wait that long again for a return. But the Wildcats are a great story. If you know the history of the NSIC and women’s volleyball, it’s pretty epic as one of the benchmark conferences in the sport. Wayne State went 19-1 in the NSIC to claim its first regular season title. The Wildcats followed that up with a somewhat stunning opening loss in the NSIC tournament, but still earned the No. 1 overall seed in the Central. Let’s see how they respond against No. 8 Harding.

East Region

Team to beat: American International. Just look at the Yellow Jackets resume over the past five tournaments. They advanced to the final eight in 2016 and 2018 and were in the regional finals in 2017 and 2021. Does that mean other teams can’t win? Absolutely not, but it’s pretty clear that the road to the quarterfinals in the East goes through American International.

Team to watch: Southern New Hampshire. Daemen is always a good team to watch. The Wildcats were final-eight bound last season and have the firepower to do it again. Should they find a way to meet American International in the regional finals it would mark the third time since 2016, and that constitutes an official rivalry. But let’s watch the Penmen. It has the makings of a storybook season. They already won their first NE10 tournament game ever, and now stare down a Bentley team making its third straight appearance.

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Midwest Region

Team to beat: Lewis? Yes, that’s a question mark mainly because the Big Four here (that’s what we’ll call them at least) are the teams to beat. Historically speaking, Rockhurst has been in three of the past five regional finals, while Lewis has done the same. Throw No. 7 Hillsdale in this mix and you have a team that has been to back-to-back regional finals. The team the Chargers beat last year, Ferris State, made its second trip to the regional finals over the last five years as well. It seems to be a revolving door of these Midwest Region superpowers that advance, so you have to beat one of them, right?

Team to watch: Quincy. The Quincy Hawks are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and heading to their first-ever NCAA tourney. Let that sink in… it may not have even sunk in for the Hawks yet. The Hawks are in uncharted territory, shattering program records to a 27-2 season. They got there with win streaks of 14 and then 13 games. However, this team was bounced early from the GLVC tournament (by Lewis, of course) and now we have to see how they respond on their home court as hosts of one of the biggest matches in program history.

South Region

Team to beat: Tampa. It is a fall DII Festival year and that means Tampa wins. While the Spartans are the defending national champs, they also won in 2018 (at the DII Festival), 2014 (at the DII Festival), and 2006 (at the DII Festival). You see a pattern here? Tampa isn’t simply the team to beat in the South but clearly has the biggest targets on its back in any region.

Team to watch: Florida Southern. Eckerd is also a fun story here, back in the tournament for the first time since 2017. The Tritons will have their hands full with a very good West Florida team… but beat the Argos earlier this season. They also have wins against No. 1 Tampa and No. 2 Lynn on their resume. But check out this stat from the Mocs: They are 22-10 all time in opening round matches through their first 32 DII women’s volleyball championships. Now. 2 Lynn is very good, but if you like history, that has the sound of an upset written all over it.

Southeast Region

Team to beat: Country. OK, check this out. In the above regions, we’ve discussed some consistency among the dominant teams. Welcome to the Southeast where there is absolutely none. Dating back to 2016, we’ve seen five different Southeast Region champs in five tournaments. Since seeds Nos. 1-4 are four of those teams and no one seems to be able to repeat, let’s pick No. 5 Lander as the team to beat. Sometimes you throw logic and stats out the window and go with history, so why not the Bearcats?

Team to watch: Augusta, Carson-Newman, Wingate, Flagler, and USC Aiken. Those are the aforementioned last five Southeast Regional champs in descending order from 2021 to 2016. Does anyone want to go back for a second dose of final-eight action? That seems to be worth watching right there.

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South Central Region

Team to beat: MSU Denver. The Roadrunners enter the tournament No. 1 in DII women’s volleyball and No. 1 in the South Central. Here’s why that’s important: In 2016, No. 1 Angelo State advanced to the quarterfinals, in 2017 it was No. 1 Regis, in 2018 it was No. 1 Tarleton State, in 2019 it was No. 1 Regis again, and last year it was… Well. 7 West Texas A&M, who beat No. 1 MSU Denver. Clearly, the Roadrunners remembered that and are on a mission with a one-loss season. MSU Denver is always dancing in recent years, it just feels like it’s time to move to the next level.

Team to watch: DBU. Talk about consistency. The South Central has seven teams back from last year and even features a first-round rematch between No. 1 MSU Denver and No. 8 CSU Pueblo. The only team that wasn’t in the mix last year was the Patriots, and that makes them the wild card. DBU is back in the tournament for the first time since 2013. If we are looking at history, DBU has never beaten Colorado Mesa, its first-round opponent. Doesn’t the postseason feel like the time a somewhat unknown breaks that streak?

West Region

Team to beat: Western Washington. The last two times the Vikings made it beyond the West Region and on to the quarterfinals, they had to travel to Pittsburgh (2018) and Tampa (last year). Don’t you think the Vikings want to stay closer to home and play in front of Washington faithful at the DII Festival this year? Nine players are on the roster from last year’s squad that made it to the semifinals, so there is plenty of experience — and drive — to get there.

Team to watch: Alaska Anchorage. A pair of Seawolves should actually make for some intriguing volleyball out West. Sonoma State is a good one to watch here. Like the South Central, seven teams return in the West, and these Seawolves are the one newbie, making their first appearance since 2017. But I like the Alaska Anchorage story, going from No. 8 seed a year ago to No. 1 in the region. It’s the second time since 2016 that Alaska Anchorage has been a No. 1 seed. That time? It won the West.

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