Bryant, located in Smithfield, R.I., won the Northeast Conference championship to claim an automatic bid to the tournament. The Bulldogs (22-12, 10-4 NEC) will be making their NCAA Division I tournament debut. They are 4-2 in their past six matches and locked up the league title with a sweep of Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut last weekend. Freshman outside hitter Caroline Kennedy and senior outside hitter Kristin Kingi provide the bulk of the scoring. Kennedy leads the Bulldogs with 2.99 kills per set — and with three more kills, she would break the program’s single-season record in its Division I era (since 2012) — while Kingi contributes 2.62. The Bulldogs lead Division I in kills (1,850) and assists (1,733).
Thanks in large part to “the Mikaylas,’’ the Gamecocks (19-9, 10-8 SEC) are headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. Sophomore Mikayla Robinson and junior Mikayla Shields were named to the all-SEC team Sunday after anchoring South Carolina to a fifth-place finish in the league standings. Robinson led the Gamecocks in blocks (96 total, 22 solo) and hitting percentage (.298), while Shields topped the roster with 3.22 kills per set. The Gamecocks have lost their past three matches and are 4-7 on the road this season.
The Buffaloes (18-13, 10-10 Pac-12) boast one of the top players in the rugged Pac-12 Conference: senior middle blocker Naghede Abu. Abu has a program-record 576 blocks, including 128 this season, and set a school single-match record with 17 in a victory over Oregon State earlier this month. She’s a force on offense, too; her hitting percentage of .387 is second in the Pac-12. Before losing its regular-season finale to Utah on Friday, Colorado scored victories over No. 25 UCLA and No. 16 Oregon during a three-game win streak.