NCAA volleyball: EMU opens with No. 3 Illinois; UM starts with Navy
What a treat for Eastern Michigan volleyball.
Its reward for earning the program's first bid into the NCAA Tournament: A date with the No. 3 seed in the land.
During Sunday night's selection show, the Eagles were revealed as the first-round opponent for Big Ten runner-up Illinois (28-3), with the match set for Friday in Champaign. Eastern Michigan (21-13) received its NCAA Tournament bid by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament championship.
"We had (an idea it would be) Illinois," Eastern fourth-year coach Kimi Olson said after the team gathered on campus in Ypsilanti to watch the selection show.
First-time NCAA entrants typically get the big-time opponents, after all, plus the NCAA likes to keep teams within a bus trip, if possible, in the early rounds, to save money.
"Once it finally rolled around to that team, we were pretty sure," Olson said. "But there still was an awesome roar coming from the room.
"We were just super-excited, just the feeling for these girls of doing something so special."
The winner of Friday's Illinois-Eastern match will play either Louisville (21-8) or Dayton (23-7) in the second round, also at Huff Hall in Champaign.
Eastern will be joined in the NCAA Tournament field by Michigan (22-9), which will open against Navy (23-8), also Friday, that match taking place in Pittsburgh. The host school, No. 12 seed Pittsburgh (29-1), and Iona (20-7) will meet in the other match, with the winners then squaring off in the second round.
Michigan, an at-large team, is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, and the 16th time in coach Mark Rosen's 19 seasons.
During the season, Michigan swept Eastern Michigan, and lost to Illinois in five sets. The Wolverines closed the season with three straight wins, including two over rival Michigan State, which missed the NCAA field of 64 for the first time since 2015.
There are seven Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament, including No. 2 Minnesota, the Big Ten champion.