Monday, August 22, 2016

College | Great opening weekend … in Oregon

As the college season’s nonconference matches begin, the action is in Eugene and Palo Alto

Biggest west coast draws of Week One:
  • Fri | Aug 26 | 4:00PM | Eugene | #1 Nebraska vs. #10 Florida
  • Sat | Aug 26 | 3:30PM | Eugene | #1 Nebraska vs. #2 Texas
  • Sun | Aug 27 | 1:00PM | Palo Alto | #3 Minnesota @ #11 Stanford

This weekend, fans in Oregon's Matt Court will see the most-anticipated inter-conference matchups this side of the NCAA Tournament.
-photo by Leslie Hamann
If you’re a fan of women’s college volleyball, you’ve got to get yourself to Eugene this weekend.

In most years, the Pacific Northwest—if not the entire West Coast—is a nonconference wasteland. The Pac-12’s elite—Washington, Stanford, UCLA and USC—rarely wrangle top teams from the power conferences into their home gyms during August and September. Two seasons ago, Wisconsin came to Seattle and got waxed, prompting Badgers’ coach Kelly Sheffield to back out of a four-year deal with the Huskies and USC.

Nebraska, Texas, Florida ...
and Oregon's irrepressible Jim Moore
-photo by Leslie Hamann
But this weekend is different. #1 Nebraska and #2 Texas—the two teams that squared off in last December’s title match (the Huskers won) face off Saturday afternoon in Eugene, followed by #10 Florida vs. Oregon. The night before, Nebraska faces Florida and Texas takes on the Ducks. That’s some good volleyball, folks.

Down in Palo Alto, #11 Stanford, #3 Minnesota and San Diego play a round-robin. Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas were all in last season’s Final Four (Kansas was the other), and all three are among the favorites to return, along with Stanford, Washington, #4 Wisconsin, Florida and #12 UCLA.

The Huskies head to the Beltway this weekend for a Saturday match at James Madison and a Sunday game against American University. As usual, Washington’s nonconference schedule is light on teams with imposing RPIs … their own real marquee date is September 11 at Hawai’i.

Sadly, volleyball gets buried in the saturation of college football coverage, and it’s tough to draw crowds before classes begin in late September. Some schools in the Midwest pay opponents to come to their gyms for nonconference volleyball matches. Many power schools are loathe to schedule tough competition for fear of upsetting the RPI ratings used to seed the NCAA Tournament. And more than a few schools are likely scared away by Washington’s nonconference record: since the first weekend in 2001, the Huskies have only lost four nonconference matches: twice to Texas and twice to Hawai’i. They are 141-4 since, likely to be riding a 78-match nonconference win streak when they arrive in Honolulu.

If you can’t get to those Midwestern sites each December for the Final Four (Columbus in 2016, Kansas City in 2017), you could do worse than making a trip to Eugene this weekend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Olympic Games | Which USA Olympians had the most collegiate success?

Two-time Olympians Akinradewo and Thompson telegraphed their later success
Court & Spark now available on Amazon and iTunes

Courtney Thompson (3) sets Foluke Akinradewo during a 2014 World Championships victory over Russia
-photo courtesy FIVB

Is there a correlation between success in college volleyball and future Olympic glory?

We took a look at collegiate national honors for all 12 members of USA’s Rio Olympics women’s volleyball roster. We tallied four categories: The Honda Sports Player of the Year (awarded to the nation’s best volleyball player across all collegiate divisions and organizations), the AVCA Player of the Year (for NCAA Division 1, where all the Olympians played), AVCA First-Team All-Americans and NCAA D1 National Championships. What did we find?

  • Two players—Stanford’s Foluke Akinradewo and Washington’s Courtney Thompson—took home more collegiate awards than any other current Olympians. Both were Honda Players of the Year, both were 3-time AVCA First Team All-Americans. Akinradewo was the AVCA Player of the Year, but never won an NCAA championship. Thompson’s Huskies won the 2005 title.
  • On the other extreme, Kayla Banwarth never won any of these four honors while at Nebraska. Liberos are crucial to the modern game, but still don’t get much respect.
  • Megan (Hodge) Easy of Penn State was easily the most honored player of her generation: 2009 Honda Player of the Year, 2009 AVCA Player of the Year, four time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-09) and three time NCAA Champion (2007-2009). Hodge was a member of the 2012 London Olympic roster, but battled injuries late in the Rio quad and was not selected for 2016.
  • Nicole Fawcett, also of Penn State, was just a hair behind Easy in national collegiate awards. She was the 2008 Honda and AVCA Player of the Year, a three time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-08) and two time NCAA Champion (2007-2008). Fawcett, an opposite, has been a key member of the National Team for the past two quads. She just missed making either the London or Rio rosters.
  • When it’s time to look forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the players with the most national collegiate honors of the next generation of National Team members are Washington’s Krista Vansant, Penn State’s Micha Hancock, Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini and USC’s Natalie Hagglund.
  • So who were the other recent Players of the Year not on the Olympic roster?
    2005: Christiana Houghtelling, Nebraska (AVCA)
    2006: Sarah Pavan, Nebraska (AVCA & Honda) [Pavan is Canadian]
    2010: Blair Brown, Penn State (Honda)
    2011: Alex Jupiter, USC (AVCA & Honda) [Jupiter is French]
    2012: Alaina Bergsma, Oregon (AVCA & Honda)
    2013: Krista Vansant, Washington (AVCA & Honda)
    2014: Krista Vansant, Washington (Honda) & Micha Hancock, Penn St (AVCA)
  • Who is the most honored collegian of all time? Stanford’s Logan Tom, a four-time Olympian (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) was Honda POY and AVCA POY in both 2001 and 2002, and a four-time First Team All-American (1999-2002). Stanford won the NCAA title in 2001, and was runner-up in 1999 and 2002.


We’re happy to report that Court & Spark, the one-hour documentary Courtney Thompson, and featuring many of her teammates and coaches, is now available for rent or purchase on both iTunes and Amazon. All proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball, a nonprofit umbrella for female and male youth, adult, indoor, sand and sitting volleyball. A great gift idea for players who have just completed summer volleyball camp!

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