Sept. 2, 2009

By Bo Rottenborn

A Look Back at Last Week's Highlights
As always, the opening weekend of the women's volleyball season featured a bevy of matchups of top teams eager to measure themselves against each other. In all, there were 11 matches that featured teams from the top 25 playing each other. The only lower-ranked unit to pull off a victory was Michigan - which was undoubtedly the team making the biggest statement during the first weekend. The Wolverines left Omaha, Neb., as champions of the season's traditional elite lidlifting tournament, the Runza/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase. Michigan, ranked 16th in the preseason, first stunned a crowd of 5,772 with a 25-23, 25-21, 25-17 victory over No. 3 Nebraska that was keyed by the hitting of sophomore right side Alex Hunt, who had 14 kills on .406 hitting. The result was particularly startling since the squads met in the round of 16 of last year's NCAA tournament, and the Cornhuskers won 25-13, 25-16, 25-18. The Wolverines then followed that up with a four-set victory against 22nd-ranked Kansas State that featured 20 kills from senior outside hitter Juliana Paz. The Huskers did bounce back with a five-set win over No. 11 Minnesota, while the Gophers had beaten K-State 3-2 in one of the other opening matches of the tournament.

The Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational also featured some big matchups, but host and seventh-ranked Hawai'i would end up taking the tournament title with wins over Western Michigan (3-0), No. 25 Santa Clara (3-1) and No. 9 UCLA (3-0) - which swept its other two matches. Sophomore outside hitter Kanani Danielson was outstanding for the Rainbow Wahine, averaging 5.40 kills on .408 hitting to go with 1.10 blocks per set. Those results allowed Hawai'i to move up to No. 4 in this week's national rankings - its highest listing since the start of the 2005 season.

Top-ranked and two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State began the season with sweeps against Miami University, Alabama and No. 20 Saint Louis, but some other elite teams had more difficulty. Second-ranked Texas dropped its first two sets of the season, but would rally for a 3-2 win over No. 23 Long Beach State and then sweep No. 15 San Diego to claim the tournament championship at the Long Beach State Baden Classic. USD topped the host in four sets in the other matchup. Last year's NCAA runner-up, No. 5 Stanford, was stretched to the limit in its season opener - a win against LSU - before being swept (25-22, 25-20, 25-21) by Notre Dame in its second match. It was the first win over a top-five opponent for the Irish since 1993. No. 8 Florida was challenged on Monday by Florida State, but the Gators eventually saved a match point and won, 17-15 in the fifth, to earn their 18th consecutive victory against the Seminoles.

Sixth-ranked California tasted defeat in its season opener against UC Irvine (see details below), while another Pac-10 squad, No. 12 USC, lost in five to Michigan State. That marked the Spartans' first win over a Pac-10 team since 1976 and helped the Big Ten post an impressive 5-1 mark against nationally-ranked teams over the weekend (the lone loss being Minnesota's 3-2 defeat against Nebraska).

Other noteworthy results included Pittsburgh sweeping No. 18 Wichita State and Dayton winning in five against No. 19 Purdue. No. 24 Colorado State had its 28-match home winning streak ended in a 3-0 decision against Pepperdine, and the Rams also were swept by Oregon State.

This Week's Top Matchups
The only matchup of top-10 teams last week came in Honolulu, and this week it will be the site of a few more. Hawai'i plays host to the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic, which boasts an outstanding field of the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine (3-0), as well as No. 2 Texas (2-0), 10th-ranked California (2-1) and No. 19 Saint Louis (2-1). Each team will play all of the others, leading to a great early opportunity to see where some of these squads stack up. The tournament begins on Thursday, with the Longhorns and Golden Bears playing at 5 p.m. HT before the Billikens challenge the host school. On Saturday, Cal and SLU will play at 5 p.m. HT before the season's first matchup of top-five teams: Texas vs. Hawai'i. The event winds up on Sunday, with the Longhorns and Billikens locking up at 5 p.m. HT, and the Golden Bears and Rainbow Wahine pulling the curtain on the tournament. All six matches will be televised in Hawai'i (see below for information).

The University of Pacific Banker's Classic will be the backdrop as two perennial national powers hook up on Friday at 5 p.m. PT, as No. 5 Florida (3-0) will take on No. 11 Stanford (2-1). The teams played in the round of 16 of last year's NCAA Championship, with the Cardinal prevailing in three sets thanks to a strong defensive effort.

There are a few other interesting tussles this week, as well. The Diet Coke Classic in Minneapolis will conclude with a marquee matchup, as host and 13th-ranked Minnesota (3-1) will take on No. 12 Iowa State (2-0) on Sunday at 8 p.m. CT. Two Los Angeles-area powers will play on Friday at 7 p.m. PT in the Holiday Inn LA City Center Trojan Invitational, when the tournament host - 16th-ranked USC (2-1) - will take on No. 21 Pepperdine (3-0). After three matches in that event over the weekend, the Trojans will come back quickly to play host to No. 22 UC Irvine on Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT in another big contest.

A couple of top-10 teams also could face challenges in road tournaments this weekend. Michigan (2-0), now ranked an all-time program best of seventh, will head to the Xavier Invitational and play Tennessee (3-0), Xavier (1-2) and Notre Dame (2-1). Sixth-ranked Nebraska (1-1) - which set an NCAA record with its 88th consecutive home victory on Tuesday against Creighton - heads to Baton Rouge, La., for the Tiger Classic, where the Huskers will face Louisiana-Lafayette (3-1), LSU (2-1) and Tulane (0-0).

Meanwhile, Penn State - ranked No. 1 for the 25th straight poll - will begin its home slate with the Nittany Lion Invitational. PSU will try to extend its NCAA-record 67-match winning streak against Buffalo (2-1), Robert Morris (0-1) and Pittsburgh (2-1). The Lions have won 57 straight at home.

This Week's Televised Matches
Thursday, September 3
#2 Texas vs. #10 California, 11 p.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Friday at 4 p.m.)
#4 Hawaii vs. #19 Saint Louis, 1 a.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Friday at 6 p.m.)
Saturday, September 5
#10 California vs. #19 Saint Louis, 11 p.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Sunday at 4 p.m.)
#2 Texas vs. #4 Hawaii, 1 a.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Sunday at 6 p.m.)
Sunday, September 6
#2 Texas vs. #19 Saint Louis, 11 p.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Monday at 4 p.m.)
#4 Hawaii vs. #10 California, 1 a.m. – Oceanic Cable PPV Channel 255 (airs on KFVE on Monday at 6 p.m.)
(Times are Eastern)

An Accomplishment or Milestone
UC Irvine began the '09 campaign with a five-set upset victory against #6 California in Nevada's Marriott/Fairfield Courtyard Invitational. That marked the first time ever that UCI had posted a win against a team ranked among the national top 10. The Anteaters then completed their weekend with a five-set triumph against Connecticut and a 3-1 win vs. the host Wolf Pack to claim the tournament championship. UC Irvine was rewarded by being listed at No. 22 in this week's AVCA Top 25 national poll - which marks the first time since 1988 that the Anteaters have been ranked in any national poll. They will play host to the UCI Classic this weekend in Irvine, taking on Montana, Northeastern and Maryland-Baltimore County.

Statistics Worth Noting
Purdue junior middle blocker Kristen Arthurs began the 2009 season flawlessly, posting kills on all 10 of her swings in a three-set victory against Ball State on Friday. The performance, of course, tied the NCAA record for best hitting percentage in a match and marked the 23rd time that a Division I player posted a 1.000 attack percentage in a match, while registering at least 10 kills. The last player to do it was Jenna Gideon of Western Kentucky, who pounded kills on all 10 of her attempts against Western Kentucky on Oct. 25, 2005. Katie Silliman from Arkansas State holds the NCAA DI record for most kills in a match while notching a 1.000 hitting mark, as she converted 15 against Jackson State on Oct. 11, 1998.