Prior to the 2019 season, we identified five women's volleyball teams that we believed had the best chance at a perfect record — a feat that has been accomplished just five times since 1981.
Of our preseason predictions, just one remains unbeaten — Stanford. The Cardinal are 4-0 and riding a 36-match winning streak into its Friday night showdown with No. 4 Penn State.
Russ Rose was the last coach to achieve a perfect season. Rose and the Nittany Lions upped the ante, completing back-to-back unbeaten campaigns in 2008 and 2009 during a 109-match unbeaten streak, a Division I mark that remains untouched.
As of September 11, only 22 out of 335 Division I teams remain unbeaten. On that date, nine years ago, Penn State's incredulous run came to an end against Stanford. On Sept. 13, the top-ranked Cardinal put their 36-match winning streak on the line in State College as both Stanford and Penn State look to avoid its first tally in the loss column.
Ahead of the top-5 matchup, we took the opportunity to re-examine our preseason selections and provide an update on which teams could run the table with a perfect record in 2019.
Stanford has gone 36 up, 36 down following a five-set loss to BYU on Aug. 31 of last year. The defending national champions are the first one-loss program to win a title since 2006 and came within a few points of a perfect campaign.
Through four matches in 2019, the Cardinal have dropped two sets, both against Texas, as Stanford outlasted the Longhorns in five sets. The win was Stanford's second against the AVCA Top 25 this year, previously beating Florida. The Cardinal's next four opponents — Penn State, Minnesota Nebraska and Brigham Young — are also ranked.
Should Stanford's winning streak reach 40 matches, it will have taken down at least six ranked teams. The endeavor to move up the ranks of Division I history continues at Penn State on Friday.
Stanford returns five starters — notably AVCA Division I player of the year Kathryn Plummer among four AVCA All-Americans — and eight players overall from its 2018 rotation.
RANKINGS: The AVCA Top 25 rankings
At 4-0, Nebraska is joined by Penn State as undefeated Big Ten teams going into this weekend. With fellow Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Illinois searching for their 2018 form, Nebraska enters the conversation to complete a perfect season.
The Huskers were nearly tripped up against San Diego on Sept. 7, coming back from a one-set deficit to beat the Toreros. Head coach John Cook has won four titles during his time in Lincoln and understands what it takes to go undefeated. His 2000 team went 34-0 for the program's second of five titles.
To run the gamut, Nebraska's biggest upcoming test will be hosting Stanford on Sept. 18 in a rematch of the 2018 national championship game at the Devaney Center.
Baylor surged into the top-5 — its highest ranking all-time — of the AVCA Coaches Poll after a pair of top-15 wins. With Texas coming up short against Stanford, the Bears are the Big 12's remaining chance of producing an undefeated team this year.
For the 1st time in program history, the Bears are not only a top-10 team, but a top 5⃣ team! 💥— Baylor Volleyball (@BaylorVBall) September 9, 2019
The Bears shatter last year's program-best ranking of No. 12 with a 5-0 start this season. #SicEm
📝: https://t.co/fDWWhKXRNX pic.twitter.com/eZ0EPZEip1
Baylor already has three wins over ranked opponents and only dropped one set in 2019, but navigating the season mistake-free is no simple task. Non-conference matchups against Tennessee, Missouri and Hawai'i loom in addition to highly anticipated matchups with Texas in league play.
Hawai'i stands alone as the lone unbeaten in the Big West, indicating that the Rainbow Wahine could potentially overtake Cal Poly for control of the conference.
One trend of the Rainbow Wahine's schedule that stands out is the number of sets they've played. Hawai'i has played at least four sets in all but one of its first six matches. To have a chance at an undefeated record, the Rainbow Wahine might need to be able to put opponents away to avoid fatigue later on in the season.
Hawai'i owns a top-15 win over Washington. Missouri, Baylor and Cal Poly (twice) lurk on its schedule.
Pittsburgh dropped one match in the 2018 regular season, earning the No. 12 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers' 2019 schedule should be more beneficial to their RPI.
It's one thing to schedule more challenging opponents — it's another to win. Pittsburgh appeared in control for a majority of its four-set victory over Oregon to remain undefeated.
The Panthers only lost once in 18 ACC matches last season, a mark that could be matched or even exceeded. To have a shot at a perfect record, Pittsburgh will have to take down Penn State twice in addition to Cal Poly and Utah.