Sept. 9, 2009

By Bo Rottenborn

A Look Back at Last Week's Highlights
Second-ranked Texas traveled to Honolulu last weekend for three challenges against elite competition in the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic. The Longhorns passed those tests with flying colors, posting wins against No. 10 California (3-1), host and fourth-ranked Hawai'i (3-1) and No. 19 Saint Louis (3-0). Even though UT dropped a pair of sets in the event, the Longhorns were generally in control throughout. They surrendered an average of just over 17 points per set and outhit their opponents .359-.119. Texas, now 5-0 on the season, is receiving seven first-place votes in this week's AVCA poll (one more than last week), which is quite impressive, considering Penn State has been No. 1 for 26 consecutive polls. The Nittany Lions extended their NCAA-record winning streak to 70 last weekend with home sweeps of Buffalo (in historic fashion - see below for more), Robert Morris and Pittsburgh. PSU has a streak of 38 consecutive sweeps in regular-season action, as well as a 60-match home winning streak.

In all, the tournament in Hawai'i lived up to its billing, with all four teams registering at least one victory in it. The hosts won in four sets against Saint Louis - which posted a sweep of Cal, while the Golden Bears outlasted the Rainbow Wahine in five.

Another matchup that delivered was a clash of traditional titans Florida and Stanford in the University of Pacific Banker's Classic. The fifth-ranked Gators rallied to save three match points and win the final two sets for a 3-2 triumph over the 11th-ranked Cardinal - a team that ended Florida's 2008 season with a 3-0 decision in the NCAA round of 16.

The de facto title match of the Diet Coke Classic in Minneapolis produced some exquisite volleyball, as well - with host and 13th-ranked Minnesota eventually prevailing 27-25, 27-25, 26-28, 25-13 against No. 12 Iowa State. Meanwhile, No. 15 USC has rebounded nicely from a season-opening defeat, having now reeled off six consecutive three-set wins - including sweeps of both No. 21 Pepperdine and 20th-ranked UC Irvine during the past week.


One of the biggest wins of the weekend came from Florida State - which came back from a heartbreaking near-miss (17-15 in the fifth) on Monday against rival and then-No. 5 Florida to post a sweep of No. 8 Illinois en route to winning the New Mexico State tournament. UC Santa Barbara also made a statement with a pair of road victories (3-1 and 3-2) against No. 15 San Diego. No. 17 Utah also lost twice, falling to both Utah Valley (3-1) and Washington State (3-0), and 24th-ranked Purdue fell in five sets against Baylor.

This Week's Top Matchups
On December 17 and 19, the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., will host the final two rounds of this year's NCAA Championship. Four teams with aims of making that trip - No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Florida, No. 9 Minnesota and undefeated but unranked host USF - will take part in the Tampa Twice Tournament this weekend in the same venue. All four are off to strong starts to the season, combining for a 21-1 record. Washington is at its highest ranking since 2006, while the Gators are at their highest since '05. On Friday, it will be the Huskies against the Gophers to begin the tournament at 6 p.m. ET, with Florida and USF to follow. Saturday will see the season's second matchup of top-five teams when Washington and Florida clash in the opening match at 6 p.m. ET, while USF will challenge Minnesota in the final contest.

Fifth-ranked Nebraska broke the NCAA record for home winning streak last week, but the Huskers' 88-match string will be put to the test this weekend in the Ameritas Players Challenge. After taking on Virginia on Thursday and BYU on Friday, NU will meet eighth-ranked UCLA on Sunday at 2 p.m. CT in a match to be televised live by NET.

Another matchup of top-10 squads will occur in Honolulu, where No. 6 Hawai'i will play host to 10th-ranked Stanford on Saturday at 7 p.m. HT. The teams met in the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA Championship, with the Cardinal prevailing in four sets.


The State Farm Illini Classic will wind up with a marquee match, when No. 14 Illinois plays host to 16th-ranked Saint Louis - which currently boasts its highest-ever ranking (see details below) - at 7 p.m. CT. The other match between nationally-ranked teams slated for this week will take place when 17th-ranked Kentucky takes on the 21st-ranked tournament host in the Varney's Kansas State Invitational on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CT. Purdue - which just fell out of the Top 25 this week - also will be competing in that event.


A strong field also is set to compete in the SCU Invitational, which features No. 25 Arizona, Utah (the first team outside of the Top 25) and host Santa Clara - which is receiving votes in the latest poll. The Utes will then turn around right away and play host to 12th-ranked Oregon on Tuesday.


An intriguing matchup will open the Hawkeye Challenge, as 11th-ranked Iowa State faces an undefeated Iowa squad in a rivalry match. No. 23 Wichita State is another ranked team that could be challenged this weekend, as the Shockers will face not only host Rice, but also undefeated South Carolina and Harvard in the Mizuno Invitational II in Houston.


Top-ranked Penn State takes its winning streak to Durham, N.C., for the Duke Invitational. The Nittany Lions will face Loyola College, the College of Charleston and the Blue Devils.

All of This Week's Televised Matches and Some Big Ones Featuring Online Video
Thursday, September 10
Weber State at No. 6 Hawai'i, 7 p.m. HT - KFVE
Friday, September 11
No. 3 Washington vs. No. 9 Minnesota, 6 p.m. ET - Watch (subscription required)
No. 4 Florida at USF, 8 p.m. ET - Watch (subscription required)
UT San Antontio at No. 6 Hawai'i, 7 p.m. HT - KFVE
Saturday, September 12
No. 3 Washington vs. No. 4 Florida, 6 p.m. ET - Watch (subscription required)
No. 9 Minnesota at USF, 8 p.m. ET - Watch (subscription required)
No. 10 Stanford at No. 6 Hawai'i, 7 p.m. HT - KFVE
Sunday, September 13
No. 8 UCLA at No. 5 Nebraska, 2 p.m. CT - NET (Watch Free)
Tuesday, September 15
No. 12 Oregon at Utah, 7 p.m. MT - Watch Free
USF at UCF, 7 p.m. ET - Bright House Sports Network Channel 47 (airs at 8 p.m. ET)

An Accomplishment or Milestone
Saint Louis has faced a brutal early-season schedule featuring four matches against top-10 teams (including tilts with both No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Texas) over the first two weeks of the season. The Billikens broke through on Saturday with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-22 victory against then-No. 10 California in the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic in Honolulu. That marked just the third time in program history that the Billikens had knocked off a nationally-ranked opponent. SLU - which returned five starters from last year's team that claimed the Atlantic 10 championship, achieved the program's first-ever national ranking and won an NCAA tournament match for the first time - moved up three spots to 16th in this week's AVCA poll. It is the second week in a row that the Bills have earned their highest-ever placing in that listing.

Statistics Worth Noting
Penn State
has made a habit over the last few years of putting up eye-popping statistics on a regular basis. But the Nittany Lions were in rare form on Friday against Buffalo in their first home match of the season. En route to another dominating victory (25-9, 25-6, 25-7), Penn State put forth a near-perfect offensive performance. The Lions finished with 34 kills and just a single attack error on 47 attempts for a .702 hitting percentage. That stands as the fifth-highest match hitting percentage in Division I history and the best mark since Marshall hit .716 in a victory over Savannah State on Sept. 13, 2003.

The NCAA record for hitting percentage in a match is .800 - which was done by Colorado State against Loyola Marymount on Sept. 4, 1987. Perhaps most impressive, though, is that PSU committed just the one solitary attack error - which, incidentally, came in a third set that saw the Nittany Lions register 13 kills on 14 swings for an .857 attack percentage. Of all of the top-15 hitting percentage marks that are listed in the NCAA record book for three-set matches, only two of them saw teams post just one attack error for the match (none of those performances saw a team finish without an attack error). So Penn State's performance may have tied the NCAA DI record for fewest attack errors in a match, which had been done previously on at least two occasions: by Oregon against Fresno State on Oct. 10, 1986, and by Fairfield vs. Iona on Nov. 3, 1999.