Dec. 11, 2008

By Amy Farnum Novin

The top-ranked and defending NCAA champion Penn State is not only setting records on the court with their successful season, but also in awards recognition.

The Nittany Lions had a school-record six players named to the First Team All-Mideast Region, while head coach Russ Rose collected his sixth AVCA Mideast Region Coach of the Year award after leading the 2008 squad to become the first collegiate women’s volleyball team to finish the regular season undefeated in individual games.

Sophomore opposite Blair Brown (Purcellville, Va.), senior outside hitter Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio), junior setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Mich.), senior middle hitter Christa Harmotto (Aliquippa, Pa.), junior outside hitter Megan Hodge (Durham, N.C.) and sophomore middle hitter Arielle Wilson (Broadview, Ill.) headlined the list for Penn State.  Harmotto and Fawcett, the last two Big Ten Players of the Year, both received the fourth all-region honor of their careers.

The group has not only led the Nittany Lions to a 34-0 mark this season, but Penn State also tops the nation with 3.26 blocks per set and a .404 hitting percentage.  PSU ranks second with 14.03 assists and 15.00 kills per game.

JUST DUCKY: After compiling a 1-4 record in four previous NCAA appearances – all of which were in the 1980s -- Oregon has earned three straight postseason bids, advancing to regional play in each of the last two seasons, under fourth-year head coach Jim Moore.

The Ducks have recorded their most wins (25) since 1984, and tied for their best Pac-10 finish (fourth) since 1987.  Oregon has improved its conference finish by one place in each of the last three years, the first time Pac-10 history the Ducks have posted three straight top-six league finishes.

The 11th-seeded Ducks are one of five Pac-10 teams remaining in the bracket, and will join fellow league member UCLA at the Austin Regional.  Oregon faces Iowa State in the regional semifinals Dec. 12, while host Texas follows against UCLA.

“The Pac-10 is one of the premiere conferences in the country and has consistently had teams in the final four,” said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott. “They are what everyone looks up to and sets their standards to. They get good opponents every night and they’re used to playing teams like ours. It’s going to be a big challenge for our team.”

SENIOR STYLE:  Nebraska has earned the program’s 15th consecutive NCAA Regional appearance – the longest active streak in the nation – after wins versus Liberty and UAB in first and second round action last week.

Seniors Amanda Gates, Jordan Larson and Rachel Schwartz have been a vital part of continuing the Huskers’ winning tradition during their four-year careers.  The trio has sparked Nebraska to four straight Big 12 titles, and played a role in the Huskers’ NCAA title game appearances in 2005 and 2006 (national championship).
The senior class is the first in Nebraska history to go an entire career without losing a regular season non-conference match (34-0), and also is the first senior class to post a perfect record at home (72-0).

The Husker seniors are 125-7 (.947) in the last four seasons, and can tie a school record for the most wins in a four-year stretch if they defeat Michigan Dec. 12.  Washington and Utah will play in the other Seattle Regional semifinal.

NOTABLE:  Utah is making the program’s second regional appearance in school history.  The Utes have qualified for the NCAA tournament in 10 of the last 11 years with a 10-9 mark in those appearances, but have only advanced to regional play one other time in 2001 … Stanford head coach John Dunning is look for his fifth NCAA Division title.  He first led Pacific to championships in 1985 and 1986, and then guided Stanford to titles in 2001 and 2004.  His four championships match former Stanford head coach Don Shaw for the most of any coach in NCAA history.  The second-seeded Cardinal faces Florida in the Fort Collins Regional semifinal Dec. 12.