Dec. 12, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The Minnesota Golden Gophers (28-8) win at the Sports Pavilion in Saturday's second of four regional finals around the country was surely inspired in-part by a fevered fan base that roared with each of the Gophers' 93 points.  

But do those same fevered fans of NCAA women's volleyball ever find a team that gets cold?

The NCAA began sponsoring women's volleyball in 1981, although the 64-team tournament field has only been in play since 1998.  In that 11-year time span through 2008, there have been 44 regional finals.  In those 44 different Sweet 16s, the host team has advanced through the first two rounds and made it back home to play the regional round on their home court an incredible 36 times -- good for 82 percent.

Perhaps even more impressive is that of those 36 teams, 24 of them have won their respective regional and advanced to play in the national semifinal -- that's good for 67 percent.  Prior to their win over Florida State (31-3) on Saturday, Minnesota has played a role in both sides of those historical numbers, having advanced from their own court in 2004 before knocking off Florida in the Gainesville Regional of 2006.  

"It was very motivating to have the fans cheering so hard for us," freshman outside hitter Tabitha Love said of the crowd after the Gophers' win.  "We knew that their support was the extra motivation we needed at times.  If we were down a point, the crowd enthusiasm helped us side out for the next one. It's a comfort thing, to know we have all these people that are trying so hard to support and motivate us."

Home cooking certainly seems to behoove the host team for a Final Four run; however playing on one's own turf isn't quite as much a sure thing as in once was in the world of women's volleyball.  As evidence of such, one need look no further than the first seven years (1998-2004) of the 64-team field, as compared to the last four years (2005-2008).  Those first seven years saw 25 teams play in a regional in which they also served as host.  Of those 25, a whopping 19 (76 percent) won on their home court to advance to the national semifinal.

Yet, in the last four years, of the 11 teams that made in through the first two rounds to play in a regional that they hosted, just five teams (45 percent) made it through to the Final Four.

This year, to add to the trend, of the four teams that hosted a regional, two lost in the regional semifinals - Stanford and Florida. Minnesota advanced with a four-set win against Florida State and host Nebraska played Texas in a late regional final Saturday night.

The numbers may suggests many evolving tendencies about the ever-growing popularity of women's volleyball; yet, the name suggestion is that the increasing popularity is resulting in larger crowds which, in turn, in resulting in furthered player comfortability with playing before more people -- wherever the event may take place.

Florida State had an opportunity to become just the fifth team since 1998 to play a national semifinal in their home state.  However the trend for winning a title in a state from which a school hails has been changing as well.  The first two teams to play a Final Four in their home state -- Stanford in 2004 and Nebraska in 2006 -- both brought a championship to their home faithful.  But in the last two years, Penn State (which qualified for another Final Four on Saturday afternoon) changed that trend.  In 2007, the Nittany Lions won in Sacramento in a semifinal that had three California-based teams, and last season Penn State won in Omaha, beating Nebraska in the first Final Four match.