As I write, the matches are being played to slot the Final Four for the NCAA Volleyball Championship and unfortunately, many of my predictions may come true from my earlier Prediction post in the Random Thoughts label.
But, before we start throwing laurel wreaths upon the heads of the victorious, a few programs deserve to be recognized for beating the system!
1. Middle Tennessee State - Just the name alone is enough to push out of mind any serious volleyball consideration; maybe that is what happened to Louisville and Hawaii! Probably not, as both those head coaches know what they are doing. More likely the MTSU program is very good and played well. My compliments to the staff and players for beating the host team, then coming right back and beating a team that is synonymous with NCAA Women's Volleyball.
2. St. Johns - They could have easily been placed into my first place mention, but they did have a #12 tournament seeding and an unreal 31-3 record (no matter how good or how easily you schedule, only dropping three matches is a feat!). They gave the University of Southern California all it could handle in a quest to reach the Elite 8. It is rare that you hear about any top flight college team from the northeast, but I hope St. John's is around for a while because it would be great for college volleyball!
3. BYU - The great hope of all the upper mid-major programs; I say upper because just about EVERY non Pac 10, Big 10 or Big 12 conference considers themselves a mid-major. An impressive run by the folks from Utah - Beat #6 seed Washington at home and then have the focus to sweep a hot Middle Tennessee State team in a neutral setting to grab the Elite 8; could a revival of the glory days of big time BYU volleyball be coming? Hope so!
One of the things that has been much heralded this year in the college football scene is the balance of the teams and the continuous upsets of the Top 5 ranked schools. While I enjoy college football as much as the next fan, I do admit that having so many top programs bite the ranking dust has made it very exciting.
I hope that the Middle Tennessee State's of the volleyball world will continue to achieve. I get discouraged, as I am sure many hard working coaches do, that so many tournament selections go to the Power Conferences. Tough to get excited about the 5th place team in a conference making much noise in the tournament.
Back to reality - the Pac 10 continues to let the world know its dominance. Was it last year they put 3 teams into the Final Four (I need to drink more fruit juice)? By the looks of the bracket, they are guaranteed 2 with a shot at 3 in the Final Four - Plus, Washington was the only team to lose before achieving the Sweet 16! Amazing - not great for volleyball nationwide - but still Amazing.
Random thought here, while in the Random Thoughts label - Can an argument be made for the popularity of women's basketball because of the national balance? Think about it - just off the top of my admittedly bitter head, the top women's hoops programs traditionally are - Connecticut, Tennessee, Baylor/Oklahoma and Stanford. I am sure I could be missing a few, since this is a stream of conscious paragraph, but it sure looks to me that women's basketball has some balance. If the championship tournament was dominated by the Big East every year or it became the SEC open, then I can't really see the mid-west or west coast buying in to the action.
To that end - GO PENN STATE!!! Seriously, it probably would not hurt the national support of women's volleyball to have more regional balance - 3 Pac 10's and Nebraska may not be the perfect formula, and it could be 3 Pac 10's and Penn State this year. Oh well, too many other mountains to climb before trying to legislate any artificial competitive balance.
Congratulations to those programs that are achieving national recognition without nationally ranked funding! Keep up the good work and I hope you get a raise!