This is exactly why the MAC built the new volleyball bracket to imitate basketball's. The conference is not a weak group of volleyball teams, but like mid-majors in many sports, there's a pretty quick drop from a top team that could get a win or two in the NCAA tournament and teams that won't.
Western Michigan pulled three consecutive upset wins, the last two in five sets, to win the MAC Championship a few weeks ago, bumping Ohio from a team looking to hit the Big Dance on a 20-match win streak to one of the first teams out of the 64-team field.
WMU's opponent Thursday night was Wisconsin, the top seed in their bracket: the Badgers own a #6 RPI and a 28-2 record on the year good for the #4 seed overall. If I haven't spoiled it yet, the Broncos fell in Madison without too much of a fight in three sets, 25-9, 26-24, 25-10. The first and third sets were the most lopsided of the year for Western.
It was kind of a perfect storm against the MAC for a strong showing in this year's tournament. Several conference teams, most notably Western Michigan themselves, have won matches this year. But this season's edition of the Broncos was just the conference 5-seed, and among bubble teams the PAC 12's USC snuck in past the Ohio Bobcats.
After the first set bloodbath, WMU bounced back strong: their 9th point in the second set actually gave them a 9-8 lead, and they maintained a two-point advantage until 19-17 late in the set. From there, however, Wisconsin bridged a Bronco timeout with a run to force set point at 24-23, thanks to two kills from Haleigh Nelson and a couple of errors from Western's Olivia Kofie. The Bronco's excellent freshman blocker Sydney LeMay was able to temporarily prolong the set, but Wisconsin took the next two points for the commanding lead.
Colleen Munson won MAC Coach of the Year honors for her work with the Broncos program this year, and that award was granted before her squad came from behind twice in the MAC tournament to erase two-set deficits and run their winning streak to six matches. Last night, however, it wasn't to be as a 6-1 Badgers lead in the third set became 12-4 and 19-7 before wrapping up at 25-10.
The MAC's representatives struggled in particular with the defensive prowess of Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini, who added 20 digs to her 33 assists, and may very well be a first-team All-American this year. All told the Badgers had just two players in double-digit kills, but five with more than five. In comparison WMU's Sydney Gossen was the only Bronco in double digits, and only LeMay joined her with more than five kills as the visitors hit below .100 for the match.
With the Bronco loss the only MAC football teams remain from the fall season, and Olympic sport fans will turn their attention to Swimming and Diving and Wrestling for now, before more sports get started after the holidays.