The Division I season comes down to this weekend - 1 new member and 3 teams looking to add to their National Championship trophy case.
Congratulations to each team - Stanford and Penn State achieved what was expected of them; most of the volleyfolks knew that the Cardinal and Nittney Lions had very good teams and would have been surprised if they had not made the Final Four.
The University of Southern California had another good year and I think slightly exceeded what fans thought they would achieve this year. There was no doubt this team was good, but with the challenge of the Pac 10 combined with the unpredictability of the NCAA Championship seeding, there were some questions about just how high the Trojans could fly.
The new kid on the block is the University of California at Berkeley. Being competitive in the Pac 10 means that Cal was good, but to make a Final Four run must have come as a suprise to many of the faithful, especially the win over Nebraska!
As for me, I batted .500 on my original NCAA Championship prediction - if I was a baseball player, I would have more millions than I have fingers and toes, but alas volleyball got its hooks into me early!!
The left side of the bracket I called perfectly (I think) and the right side of the bracket got the best of me. I had Washington running the table, but that prediction bit the dust in the second round - the Huskies probably are still taking Advil for their headache. Nebraska was supposed to take one Final Four slot, but the Bears rose up to vanquish a repeat.
So, with no further delay - Here is how the weekend will turn out:
Stanford vs. USC - Nothing like playing for the third time this year! On paper, Stanford just has too much for USC to overcome and thus gets my pick for the win. USC is no slouch, but Stanford has made a habit of getting to the big game and should have plenty of motivation after the loss to Nebraska last year. Stanford's biggest strength could also be their biggest weakness - Outside Hitters. Barboza had a poor Final's match last year, and Klineman, even though she is extremely talented, is still a freshman - great freshman can sometimes act like freshman. For USC to win, they have to attack at a very high percentage and Stanford's Outside Hitters need to have a poor match. Nod goes to Stanford.
Penn State vs. UC Berkeley - My earlier prediction on Washington running the table was based on them overcoming Penn State by exposing PSU's only weakness - Passing. Penn State has been able to pass average and win in the Big 10 because their opponents did not have the talent to take advantage of the situation - PSU's outsides could still attack for kills against two blockers and a set defense. One would think that Coach Feller and his staff have also come to this conclusion, but the question will be if Cal has the size on the block and the talent on defense - if they do, then they win, if they don't then they lose. My pick is that they lose - Penn State wins. Penn State's outsides are just too strong and too talented, even though Cal plays in the Pac 10 with a plethora of nationally ranked teams. I believe it will be a close match and maybe a 5 gamer, but Penn State will win.
Might as well do the Finals prediction because my Fridays get rather busy with golf now that the season is over.
Stanford vs. Penn State - These teams should be evenly matched - each has a coach with a ton of wins on the resume, each has very talented outside hitters, experienced setters and athletic middles. Stanford's weakness is they have a freshman outside hitter and Penn State's weakness is their offense can falter at times because of passing. My prediction is Stanford will win the match in 4 games. Why you ask? The Sacramento tournament site will allow Stanford to bring more fans (Nebraska fans are dumping their tickets like housing stocks), Stanford as a team will wish to avenge last season's loss (most notably Barboza by playing like an All American) and passing is always critical. If Penn State can fluster Klineman, then they have a good shot at victory, but they have to keep their passing together.
In the end, Stanford rings up another title - But, then again, I could be completely wrong!