The regular season is over and it’s time for the Mid-American Conference Volleyball Tournament to begin at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
Last year, the MAC was well-represented in the NCAA tournament by earning four bids (Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Ball State). This season, Ohio, Bowling Green and the Broncos would be on the bubble without the automatic bid from winning the tournament.
“If any of the top seeds lose, they’re absolutely out of contention,” head coach Erik Olson said. “It’s too bad, because I think this is one of our better years.”
The No. 6 Chippewas have a chance to knock out No. 3 WMU in the first round, much like last season, in a matchup between two teams that are on winning streaks.
CMU ended the season with a three-match winning streak after dropping six-straight matches, while the Broncos come in on a six-match winning streak.
“I think they are playing the best ball in the conference,” Olson said. “So we certainly have to focus on just them.”
The Chippewas ended the regular season in a hard-fought five-set win against the Cardinals, who ended up the No. 8 seed.
They get the honor to take on the top-seeded Bobcats to start the tournament. BSU was swept in the only meeting between the two teams.
“We went point-for-point with (Ball State), and they are getting after the ball,” junior setter Kelly Maxwell said. “Ohio is more disciplined, but Ball State is really going to get after it.”
The No. 2 seed belongs to the Falcons, and they will be taking on Eastern Michigan. BGSU won the only meeting between the two teams in a five-set comeback after the Eagles took the first two sets.
EMU won four of its final seven matches, while the Falcons lost the top seeding on the final night of the regular season after a four-set loss to the Huskies.
“I think Bowling Green is a pretty good team and could easily end up in the final,” Olson said. “But Eastern (Michigan) has (Rachel) Iaquaniello, who is a heck of a hitter, and with her leading the league with five kills (per set) … I think that’s a really good team.”
The final quarterfinal matchup is between No. 4 NIU and No. 5 Akron, who also went to five sets in the team’s only meeting this season.
The Huskies won that match and four of its final five matches, while the Zips responded with five-straight wins after that loss, but ended up losing two of the final three matches of the season.
“Akron is playing the best ball it has all season,” Olson said. “But NIU’s outsides are pretty darn sturdy … Akron is playing pretty good as a team, and I can’t discount that, but NIU is the favorite there.”
The only sure-fire way into the NCAA tournament is winning the MAC tournament.
And with a conference that has beaten itself up all season – the tournament should be no different.
“It’s comforting (being the No. 6 seed again); we’ve talked about how the SPIRE Institute is like our home,” Maxwell said. “Last year was our first year down there, and we owned it.”