Monday, December 8, 2014

NCAA | Can Seattle stake a claim as college volleyball’s epicenter?

Mounting wins and big crowds put Washington in elite company
  • #12 BYU vs #8 Florida State| Fri, Dec 12 | 4:00PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • #11 Nebraska @ #3 Washington| Fri, Dec 12 | 6:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
  • Regional Final | Sat, Dec 13 | 8:30PM | Alaska Airlines Arena
see also: Jade Finau fits in as Washington volleyball returns to the Sweet 16

Washington players celebrate a point in their 3-1 win over Hawai'i in the NCAA Tournament's second round
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Is Seattle the epicenter of women’s volleyball? Places like Honolulu and Lincoln regularly draw larger average crowds, but the nation’s best-attended match this season was in Seattle. 12 days ago, 8,646 fans packed Alaska Airlines Arena to see Washington knock off #1 Stanford. That huge turnout comes on the heels of sold-out matches (14,000+) at the 2013 Final Four in Seattle’s Key Arena.

And then there are the victories. Only Western Kentucky (Conference USA) and defending national champion Penn State have more wins than Washington over the past three seasons:


This weekend, Seattle fans will get a chance to burnish their reputation as Alaska Airlines Arena hosts a Sweet 16 Regional Friday and Elite 8 match Saturday night. The 3,983 in attendance for last Saturday’s Hawai’i match was a record for a second round contest in Seattle.

When Washington hosted Nebraska in the 2008 and 2010 tournaments, home attendance topped 5,000 each time. The all-time record crowd for a third/fourth round match in Seattle was 6,846 for Ohio State in 2006.

This weekend, Seattle will be the only Regional with the home school participating. Iowa State was in the Ames Regional, but lost in the second round to favored Illinois. Neither Minnesota nor Louisville were among the 64 teams selected for this year’s tournament. Hard to tell what that will do to attendance, but it should draw even more attention to Seattle’s attendance this weekend.

Here is Friday's schedule:

Regional sites, by the way, are announced more than a year in advance, and are chosen from cities who submit formal bids. Next season’s regional host cities will be San Diego, Austin, Lexington and Des Moines. The 2015 Final Four will be in Omaha, followed by Columbus in 2016 and Kansas City in 2017.

In each round of the NCAA Tournament, the winning team's coaches and players are ushered into the postgame press conference first. Afterwards, most of the media leave, and the losing team takes the podium. Expressions are invariably glum, cheeks are tear-stained, and remarks are brief. It’s an obligation that 63 of the 64 teams have to endure every December.

Every once in a while, a losing team’s postgame comments stand out. Such was the case when New Hampshire senior setter Taylor Dunklau—whose eyes were puffy and cheeks were red—talked about the moments after her team lost to Washington.

“It’s my last game. The end of my career,” she said. “I’ve spent 14 years playing volleyball. So, to see it all come to an end? It’s tough. But, I had a great ride with these girls. And I couldn’t have asked to go out a better way.

“These girls, I know we’re going to be friends the rest of our lives. I’m thankful for the experience.”

And, as the tears welled, she flashed a smile. A big one.

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