OK - Just a quick report from the pre-match day at the NCAA Championship. First of all, it is COLD; I mean like temperature in the teens cold. At least the sky is blue and there is little if any wind - I guess Nebraska would have some local advantage, but the team buses pull into a sheltered area in the Qwest Center, so the 3 seconds Stanford and Texas are exposed will be forgotten. Along that line of thought, maybe Penn State would not be bothered by the chill. In any case - I don't believe teams will be walking around outside when they have down time; maybe next year in Tampa!
A few things that I noticed while watching the team practices:
1) The teams are tall; everyone knows this, but I was amazed by the number of kids putting shoulders above the net when taking hitting reps. Texas really stood out with their tall ones and Stanford was probably the shortest team.
2) The practices by and large were very relaxed. One would think that after 30+ matches, you know what you need to do. Penn State finished 20 minutes early and bailed, I only caught the last 10 minutes of Stanford's practice, Texas did a bunch more scrimmaging situations than I anticipated, and Nebraska looked to be the most structured and repetition oriented. With the exception of Nebraska, the other teams were almost casual about the work-out.
3) Penn State and Stanford each had that 'been here before' confidence about them - they seemed to know they are the real deal.
4) The drills that these teams do is just like the same drills almost every college volleyball team does, but they do them better. As simple as that sounds, it is true - they went after every scramble ball, finished every dig, they hit line-angle, they moved their feet to pass, they were in the correct spot when it was time to attack, defend or transition and they hit the ball in the court - they got blocked 10 times more (in team situations) then they hit out.
5) When Nebraska came onto the floor there were cheers from hundreds of Nebraska supporters and multiple television cameras filming. It was cool to see families with young kids (skipping school, I might add) that came out to watch the teams practice and specifically came to watch the Huskers.
6) The facility is very nice and I am curious if it will fill up for the semi-finals.
7) After watching both teams practice, I do stand by my prediction of Penn State and Stanford - they just seemed to project the most confidence.
Hope you enjoy the match in person or on television!