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.

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