Regular season's final days feature a spike in the drama in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC
Soon, we'll find out exactly what the road to Columbus, Ohio, looks like. The NCAA volleyball selection show will air at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU, and some teams already have their automatic bids in hand. But there is still a lot to be decided in this last week of the regular season.
It seems a bit hard to believe, but UCLA -- the only Pac-12 volleyball team to win a national championship in the past 10 seasons -- has not won a conference title since 1999. That could change this week, but it won't be easy.
No. 7 Washington and No. 8 UCLA are atop the Pac-12 at 14-4, with No. 12 Stanford at 13-5. They are the only teams that still have a chance to claim the league title or a share of it.
The schedule has worked out quite well in regard to intrigue: UCLA faces Washington in Seattle on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network).
The winner of that match moves into the driver's seat, but then both have to face in-state rivals Saturday in their regular-season finales. Washington will be at No. 25 Washington State, while UCLA will host USC. Meanwhile, Stanford finishes at home against No. 19 Oregon and Cal.
The Pac-12 officially began conference play for women's volleyball in 1986. Stanford has won 14 league titles outright and shared two others. UCLA is next with six outright, but all of those came between 1986 and 1993. The Bruins shared the title in 1999 with Stanford. Washington has won three outright and shared last year with USC.
Huskers look to close out strong
Reigning NCAA champion Nebraska is in the No. 1 spot in the AVCA poll for the sixth straight week, and the Huskers are in position to claim their second Big Ten title.
Nebraska joined the conference in 2011 and won the Big Ten that year. Since then, the title has gone to Penn State (2012 and '13), Wisconsin (2014) and Minnesota (2015).
The Huskers are 26-1 overall and 17-1 in the Big Ten, their only defeat coming at home to Ohio State on Oct. 1. Since that loss, the Huskers have won 14 matches in a row, losing just five sets in that stretch.
The Huskers don't yet have the conference title wrapped up, though. No. 3 Wisconsin is 16-2 and No. 2 Minnesota 15-3. Nebraska plays at Minnesota on Wednesday and finishes at home Saturday against No. 18 Michigan. Wisconsin plays at Minnesota on Saturday.
Jayhawks making history
The Kansas volleyball program has been around 41 years. The Jayhawks had never won a conference title in either the old Big Eight or the current Big 12. But that changed Saturday, despite the fact that star Kelsie Payne was sidelined with an ankle injury.
No. 4 Kansas beat Iowa State 3-2 and the Jayhawks celebrated clinching at least a share of the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks can win it outright Saturday when they finish the regular season at Baylor. That's no gimme, though. The Bears are 9-5 and in third place in the Big 12.
The Cyclones, now 8-6 and in fourth place, were coming off an upset against Texas the week before. That outcome greatly helped Kansas since it was the Longhorns' second Big 12 loss. But Iowa State wasn't able to overcome Kansas; the Jayhawks prevailed 15-9 in the final set.
No. 5 Texas, which has won or shared nine Big 12 titles, took over domination of the conference when Nebraska moved to the Big Ten in 2011. Texas had won every Big 12 title since, five in a row, until now.
The Longhorns still can get a share of the championship this year, though, if they beat visiting West Virginia on Saturday and Kansas falls at Baylor. Kansas and Texas split their meetings this season, with each winning at home.
Missouri and Florida had a five-set duel Sunday, which was exactly what you might have expected from two teams battling for the SEC title. The Tigers won the final set 15-10, after which Florida coach Mary Wise -- disappointed as she was that her Gators lost -- sought out Missouri senior Carly Kan to give her a hug and congratulations.
Kan had season highs with 25 kills and 21 digs for the Tigers, who defeated the Gators in Columbia, Missouri, for the third year in a row.
So here's how the SEC race sets up in the final week: No. 23 Kentucky is 15-2 and has just one conference game left: Wednesday at Tennessee on ESPNU (9 p.m. ET). No. 9 Florida and No. 22 Missouri are both 14-2, while Texas A&M (which won the SEC title last year) is 13-3.
Missouri (at Georgia, vs. Tennessee), Florida (vs. Auburn, at Arkansas) and Texas A&M (vs. LSU, at Auburn) have two matches left. So it's still possible that the SEC could finish in a four-way tie for first.
While the Power Five conferences and a few others don't have their own volleyball tournaments, several leagues do. Here's some of the more notable conference tourney news. Winners receive an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
Conference USA: No. 20 Western Kentucky became the first volleyball team to win three consecutive Conference USA tournament titles, defeating Rice 3-2 Sunday behind Rachel Anderson's career-high 31 kills. Western Kentucky has won 21 matches in a row.
Atlantic 10: No. 24 Dayton extended its winning streak to 19 by beating Saint Louis 3-2 in the Atlantic 10 final Sunday. It's the seventh time in the past eight years that the Flyers have won the conference title.
Missouri Valley: Missouri State, on a 16-match winning streak, will be the top seed in this week's six-team Missouri Valley tournament, hosted by Northern Iowa Thursday through Saturday.
Big East: The four-team tournament runs Friday to Saturday in Indianapolis. No. 21 Creighton is the top seed; the Bluejays advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals last year. They are on an 18-match winning streak.