Four matchups within the NCAA quarterfinal matches to watch

Photo courtesy of Fort Valley State athletics

There are the matchups, and then there are the matchups within the matchups that will play a large role in determining what teams advance to the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

Check out the four individual matchups to watch during the four NCAA Tournament quarterfinal matches on Tuesday.

Fedd vs. the UCLA block
Coach John Speraw was quick to point out the biggest difference between playing Fort Valley State now compared to the start of the season is Isaiah Fedd being on the court this time. Fedd missed the team’s season-opening West Coast road trip but still led the nation with a 0.66 aces per game and led the SIAC with a 3.45 kills per game average. This matchup, though, will be the toughest blockers Fedd has faced all season. UCLA leads the MPSF and is fourth in the nation with a 2.52 blocks per game average. The Bruins also limited the Wildcats to a .136 attack percentage in the non-conference meeting this season.


Experience vs. youth at setter
The matchup between Long Beach State and Belmont Abbey will feature the tournament’s biggest age gap at setter with senior Aidan Knipe and freshman Joseph Morris. Knipe in four seasons with Long Beach State is in the school’s top 10 for career assists with 3,085 and has helped lead the Beach to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The setter has guided the team to more than a .300 attack percentage in three of his four NCAA Tournament matches. Knipe also has years of experience playing at the Pyramid, which can cause perception and visual challenges for setters because of the arena’s high triangular ceiling. Morris and the rest of Belmont Abbey will be making their debut at the Pyramid. Morris, the ConfCarolinas Freshman of the Year, guided the offense to more than a .300 attack percentage four times during the team’s current nine match winning streak. There is recent history for a freshman setter having success in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA with freshman setter Andrew Rowan won the NCAA championship last season.

Pasteur vs. Gianni
Two of the top offensive players in the nation will go up against each other as Jacob Pastuer and Ohio State face Camden Gianni and Grand Canyon. Both players are in the nation’s top 25 for kills, but it’s the matchup in serve-receive that could have a significant effect on the match. Gianni leads the MPSF and is fourth in the nation with a 0.57 aces per game average. In addition, the opposite had a combined seven aces in the MPSF Tournament semifinals and finals. Pasteur is second on the team with 477 service receptions and has a 95.6 percent successful passing rating. The outside attacker also has not committed a reception error in six of the last seven matches. Along with his passing, Pasteur leads the MIVA and is fifth in the nation with a 0.57 aces per game average.

Henno vs. Merk
UC Irvine outside attacker Hilir Henno ended last season setting a single-season school record for aces and was named the National Server of the Year. Penn State libero Ryan Merk as a freshman won the 2023 Steve Shondell Award as the nation’s top passer. The two players will now square off as Penn State plays UC Irvine in the quarterfinals. Henno, while unable this season to match his record-pace of 87 aces from last year, still enters the NCAA Tournament leading the Big West with a 0.43 aces per game average. Merk leads the Nittany Lions with 626 service receptions and has a 95.0 percent successful passing rating. The libero also has not committed a reception error in the last four matches.