Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Washington volleyball schedules powerful Penn State in preseason

Huskies will also face Purdue and Long Beach State

Two volleyball giants—Washington and Penn State—will square off this September in State College, Pennsylvania. [update: see: Who are volleyball's giants?]

The marquee match promises both a peek back at history and a preview of college volleyball’s future.

The two teams last met on December 9, 2006 in Washington’s Hec Ed Pavilion. The Huskies were defending national champions; the Nittany Lions would later prove to be heir apparents. Favored Penn State came in with a record of 32-2; the winner would head to the Final Four.

December 9, 2006--Huskies Janine Sandell, left, and Jessica Swarbrick
combine to block a shot by Penn State's Megan Hodge
photo by Mark Harrison, Seattle Times
Washington, led by All-American setter Courtney Thompson, defeated PSU in four sets. The Seattle crowd of 6,549 went wild—particularly when Thompson led a line of her teammates through the arena, high-fiving fans from courtside all the way to the cheap seats.

Penn State wouldn’t lose another postseason match for more than four years, earning a quartet of national titles from 2007-10.

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin and Penn State coach Russ Rose have remained friends, and often speak by phone. During the past several months, the Huskies have had a tough time finding teams willing to fly to Seattle for preseason matches. The invitation to head to Happy Valley came at the last moment.

“This gives us a chance to get ready for the Pac-12 season by matching up with a great team like Penn State,” McLaughlin told Volleyblog Seattle. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The match will be the weekend of September 14-15, and will be part of a round-robin tournament involving two other teams. Names of those teams were not yet available. (update: see Filling in the blanks for Washington's 2012 volleyball schedule)

The Huskies open the 2012 Pac-12 season just three nights later, with a Tuesday night home match against Washington State on September 18. They then fly to Tucson for a Saturday night contest with Arizona.

Every Pac-12 team will play just 20 conference matches this season; Washington and Washington State will each skip a match with Arizona and Arizona State. The Huskies will host ASU the final week of the regular season.

The 20-match conference schedule was created, in part, to give Pac-12 teams an extra week to schedule top teams in the preseason. It became a huge issue last season when the NCAA selection committee decided that the league had not played enough top-tier matches outside of the conference. The committee penalized the Pac-12 by seeding conference teams surprisingly low in the 64-team tournament. USC—the consensus number one team at the end of the regular season—was seeded seventh. The Trojans reached the Final Four, and UCLA—seeded ninth—won the title.

The NCAA’s Pac-12 putdown led many to speculate that its teams would work hard to schedule tougher teams, in hopes of improving the conference’s Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI (see: Selection Sunday: RPI(round two) | A Primer).

“We are absolutely not trying to schedule for the RPI,” McLaughlin said, emphatically. “We are doing what we are every season: trying to get our players ready for the Pac-12 season.”

“All of our preseason scheduling is based on what’s best for our training, and what’s best for getting us ready once the conference starts.”

Even so, there is talk of creating an annual made-for-TV Pac-12 vs. Big-10 preseason challenge. The past 13 consecutive NCAA titles have all been won by teams who are currently in one of the two conferences (Washington, Penn State, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Nebraska.)

The Huskies open the 2012 preseason August 24-25 by hosting the annual Northwest Challenge, featuring Gonzaga, Portland State and Boise State.

On August 31, they’ll fly to Baton Rouge to face host LSU, plus Rice and Big-10 powerhouse Purdue.

September 6 & 7, the Huskies return home for matches against Seattle University and Long Beach State. The Penn State Tournament is September 14 & 15.

“Heading back East, we lose a day of training,” McLaughlin says. “We had to see whether we could get decent flights there and back. It was the only way we could make this happen.”

Washington's 2012 Pac-12 Schedule
(subject to changes for televised matches):
(update: see Filling in the blanks for Washington's 2012 volleyball schedule)
9/18       Washington State
9/22       @ Arizona
9/26       UCLA
9/28       USC
10/5       @ Utah
10/7       @ Colorado
10/12     @ Oregon State
10/13     @ Oregon
10/19     Stanford
10/21     California
10/26     @ USC
10/28     @ UCLA
11/2       Colorado
11/4       Utah
11/6       @ California
11/7       @ Stanford
11/16     Oregon
11/17     Oregon State
11/21     Arizona State
11/23     @ Washington State


  1. Might take some lumps early,but I've waited years for this kind of non conference schedule!

  2. I think it is interesting that with the change in scheduling we are also seeing a move to the split schedule with a day in between matches. Do you think this will result in any changes in the training and practice schedule for UW?

    1. My sources tell me that even more splits are coming ... more Wednesday and Sunday matches to accommodate television.

      This will affect training, and likely force teams to focus more on their own strengths and weaknesses and less on what their opponent might do..

  3. Are the Wednesday/Sunday matches for television going to be live on the new Pac-12 Network? Or another?

    1. As of this writing, the Pac-12 Network is still working out its broadcast schedule, including volleyball, both live and taped.

      It's a good bet that Washington @ Stanford (Thursday, November 8) is slated for live national broadcast. I'm also guessing that UCLA @ Washington (Wednesday, September 26) will be a regional or national broadcast.

      We'll pass along confirmations and details as we get them ...

  4. Getting some of the same confirmation surrounding the dramatic expansion of live Pac-12 (and UW) volleyball matches on TV both nationally and regionally.

    Hopefully there will be some official announcement soon. :)


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