A question from a reader:
Can you please name off some top Division 2 and 3 programs. I know that NAIA is kind of one end of the spectrum to the other and is not as tightly regulated as NCAA but if you would not mind touching on them also it would be appreciated....Chris.
I am not trying to duck this question, but it can be difficult to give an in depth answer because of the way Division II and Division III volleyball is set-up.
For a listing of the final 2007 NCAA DII Regional poll click here. For the last Top 25 NCAA DII Coaches Poll click here. The 2007 NCAA DIII final Regional poll click here and for the final DIII Coaches Poll click here.
Division I women's volleyball seems to emphasize a different set of parameters when determining its NCAA selections, than does Division II and Division III. Even though all divisions have regional rankings, Division I tends to put more emphasis on conference affiliation and finish, and then the R.P.I to determine the Championship field. It is my understanding that NCAA Divisions II and III select their NCAA tournament participants exclusively from the regional rankings.
There are Eight Regions that make up DII and DIII volleyball. Come tournament time, each region will provide eight teams and thus the 64 team field is selected. Usually three conferences make up the regional membership and each conference champion is guaranteed a spot and the 5 remaining spots come from the five highest ranked teams. Each region will have a group of coaches that is responsible for ranking the top 10 teams in the region, based on each team's win-loss schedule and how they have competed against other teams in the same region.
Come NCAA Championship time, after each region has its 8 teams selected, the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament is just a regional championship. Each region will be seeded 1 through 8 and the winner of this regional tournament will advance to the Elite 8 of the DII/DIII tournament before they play anyone out of region.
Because of this protocol and because of cost containment measures, volleyball teams rarely play out of their region and if they do, it is usually just in a border state that happens to be in another region. Unlike Division I where a team can financially afford to increase its RPI by playing tougher teams in a different part of the country, DII/DIII teams only increase their ranking by beating in-region teams.
I bring this up, because it can be very hard to get a feel for teams outside of your general region of the country. For Division I programs, it is common place for a team from Florida to play a team from Washington in a tournament in Arkansas - each coach is able to get a general impression of the other teams via competition and professional interaction at the tournament. Again, this situation would rarely happen in DII or DIII - this makes it very hard to give an in-depth compliment to other programs.
While I know of programs that are consistent winners, I would hesitate to provide any recommendations, just because I don't know the coaches, the program philosophy, the challenges, etc. I just recommend using the NCAA and AVCA websites to do a bit of research about successful Division II and Division III programs.
One thing that I will say, is that too many Prospective Student Athletes (PSA) and their folks are making a mistake by only considering Division I programs. I have seen many, many DI schools that are trading on the Division I moniker to attract athletes and coaches, without providing appropriate resources. Many of the upper Division II programs could easily beat many of the low ranked Division I teams. Not only could they beat them, but they receive much better support - travel, clothing, marketing and promotions, etc.
If you are an athlete that is choosing between a high ranked Division II program or a bottom end Division I program, my belief is that you will have a better volleyball experience with the DII program.