The NCAA sand volleyball season begins this weekend and the AVCA pre-season poll puts Pepperdine in the top spot once again. The Waves have been a consistent powerhouse in the fledgling sport, winning the national title in the inaugural season two years ago and were ranked No. 1 in last year's national title hunt. The ended up losing in the NCAA final to Long Beach after suffering some injuries to key players.
With a mix of sand-only and sand/indoor athletes, Nina Matthies' team is back for another go and they are once again the team to beat. They are followed in the rankings by USC, Long Beach State, Florida State and Hawaii.
Check out the rest of the top ten here.
There will be one more men's volleyball team in the mix in the NAIA next year. Trinity International University will offer a men's program in 2015 and it's already attracting interest from men in the student body eager to participate.
Trinity is not completely new to volleyball, the school did have a program for 16 years before they discontinued it in 2001. Now, after a 13-year absence, the volleyball program returns under the guidance of new head coach of Dan Priest. Priest is a Trinity alum and former women's volleyball coach at Indiana Wesleyan and most recently a volunteer assistant for the Ball State men's program.
Trinity is located less than 30 miles outside of Chicago, a city that has a rich volleyball history. According to Priest, most of the high schools in the area offer volleyball for boys, but there are few local opportunities to continue with the sport in college.
Should Trinity be able to build a strong program, perhaps it could follow the lead of Cal Baptist and eventually make the jump from NAIA to NCAA's Division I or II, adding more depth to the Midwest region along with Loyola Chicago, Ohio State, Ball State, Lewis and IPFW.
It will probably be a while before that can happen, but fledgling programs popping up around the country are a great sign for men's volleyball.
I love innovative new ideas to market volleyball to larger audiences. This week the Netherlands announced that it will host its FIVB Beach Tour event in four cities instead of one. Usually held in The Hague, the tournament will feature competition there as well as in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Apeldorn.
The idea is to have buzz working all over the country and therefore garner more interest, more fans, more coverage in different local markets and more fans invested in the outcome.
Doesn't seem like a bad idea. The cities were chosen specifically because they are fertile ground for volleyball and the event will get local newspaper, blog and TV coverage in each of these towns.
But will it work? I'm not sure how this will effect the players themselves. Many travel from all over the world to get to The Netherlands. Now they'll have more travel time tacked on just to get between venues. Rotterdam is less than a half hour (about 14 miles) from The Hague, but Amsterdam is nearly an hour away (38 miles) and Apeldorn is about an hour and a half (81 miles.) It should be interesting to see how they set up the competition to accomodate the newly added drive times.
Would something like this work in the States? Suppose this year's World Series of Beach Volleyball took place in Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach? Would that naturally spawn more interest in events and media coverage here as well?
It's an interesting concept. The event in the Netherlands will take place July 15th - 20th. Can't wait to see how this goes.
Loyola Chicago is hung on to the No. 1 spot in the AVCA poll for the fourth week in a row, but BYU is making a strong case for the top spot as well. The Cougars are on a six match winning streak and last weekend handled two top ten teams - USC and Pepperdine - in three sets. For their efforts, BYU received seven No. 1 votes this week to Loyola's 11 which shows that BYU might be creeping in to unseat them soon. BYU heads to No. 3 Long Beach this week and if they make that one look as easy as they have been, they could make the leap. Loyola is off this week.
Also continuing to climb the ranks is Long Beach State. The 49ers are up two spots to No. 3 after a four set win over Stanford. The Cardinal fell two spots to No. 10 this week and are currently 9th in the MPSF. If the Conference Tournament were held today, Stanford would not make it, as only the top eight enter post-season play.
UCLA fell two spots to No. 5 after a rough trip to Hawaii in which they lost both matches in four and five sets to the 'Bows. Hawaii is up three spots to tie with UCI at No. 8 after the wins. They'll host fellow No. 8-ranked UCI this weekend. We'll have to see which remains standing after the two matches on Friday and Sunday.
Penn State lost an uncharacteristic match to Princeton last week, which snapped its 12-match winning streak. The Nittany Lions fell two spots down to No. 12 this week.
The match of the week is definitely BYU - Long Beach. But there are lots of other good match ups on the schedule for this weekend. We'll see if UCLA can bounce back against UCSB and if Penn State can recover for its match against Ohio State. Here are the rest of your matches to watch for this week.
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, March 5th
No. 5 UCLA @ No. 7 UC Santa Barbara
No. 14 Ohio State @ No. 15 IPFW
Friday, March 7th
No. 2 BYU @ No. 3 Long Beach
No. 10 Stanford @ No. 4 Pepperdine
No. 8 UCI @ No. 8 Hawaii
No. 12 Penn State @ No. 14 Ohio State
Saturday, March 8th
No. 2 BYU @ CSUN
UCSD @ No. 5 UCLA
Sunday, March 9th
No. 10 Stanford @ No. 6 USC
No. 8 UCI @ No. 8 Hawaii
Tuesday, March 11th
No. 14 Ohio State @ No. 11 Lewis
No. 15 IPFW @ No. 13 Ball State
Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in the world. But while it is huge in many countries, it is still working to break through in others. African nations have lagged behind in funding and in participation, but federations are continuing to work to move the sport forward.
There has been some progress. African nations are starting to become more competitive on the indoor side as they compete in qualifiers for the big events. There is still a long way to go and setbacks abound. Uganda had to cancel its FIVB beach volleyball event last summer. It was to be the first such event in East Africa.
This week, the news came that Ghana's national team missed the World Championship qualifier in Algeria due to lack of funding. Again, right at the last minute, the funds could not be secured for the FIVB event and the team was left in the lurch.
Despite all of that, there is hope as well. The Nigerian Volleyball Federation is working to get a national beach volleyball tour off the ground. They're reaching out to large corporate sponsors like Samsung in hopes of creating a circuit where local players can compete.
This is a huge undertaking, as we know from our successes and failures in starting and maintaining a pro beach volleyball tour here in the States and the length of time it took to get NCAA sand volleyball going. But it speaks to a will to find a way to grow the game and promote the sport in Africa despite all of the obstacles. Where there is a will, there may be a way.
Loyola Chicago remains in the top spot for the third week in a row after four set wins over Ball State and IPFW. The Mastodons of IPFW upset Lewis in five sets and now find themselves back in the rankings at No. 15 after three weeks outside the top 15. Lewis fell two spots to No. 12 this week while Cal State Northridge fell out of the AVCA rankings entirely for the first time since late January.
The top four remained the same with BYU, UCLA and Pepperdine holding onto their spots behind Loyola. UCLA had a close call against Stanford. After winning the first two sets, the Bruins lost the next two forcing a fifth. They squeaked by with a 17-15 win in the deciding set. Long Beach broke back into the top five for the first time in five weeks after beating UCI in a quick three sets over the weekend. UCI fell two spots to No. 9 following the loss.
This week keep an eye out for the Pepperdine - BYU match on Saturday in Provo. The Cougars will also host USC this weekend. Ball State will head over to Ohio State on Wednesday night and Stanford will travel to So Cal for matches against Long Beach and Northridge.
Here are the rest of your matches to watch this week:
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, February 26th
No. 14 Ball State @ No. 13 Ohio State
Friday, February 28th
No. 7 USC @ No. 2 BYU
No. 3 UCLA @ No. 11 Hawaii
No. 8 Stanford @ No. 5 Long Beach
No. 6 UC Santa Barbara @ No. 9 UCI
Saturday, March 1st
No. 4 Pepperdine @ No. 2 BYU
No. 3 UCLA @ No. 11 Hawaii
No. 8 Stanford @ CSUN
BYU is making a comeback after a rough start to the season. Last year's national runner up started the season ranked No. 3 in the nation but fell to No. 9 after two early losses to Loyola and Lewis. Since then, they've steadily climbed back up, winning ten of their last 11 matches. Their only loss was to Pepperdine in five sets at the end of last month. Last weekend, the Cougars beat Stanford 3-2 and were rewarded with the No. 2 ranking in the AVCA poll this week.
Loyola Chicago is still in the No. 1 spot and this week they'll take on a ranked opponent in No. 13 Ball State. UCLA and Pepperdine stayed put at No. 3 and No. 4 despite both teams suffering losses over the weekend. UCLA lost to Long Beach in five and Pepperdine lost to UCI in three. UCI also beat USC in five and jumped two spots to No. 7 in this week's poll.
There's a new No. 5 in town as UC Santa Barbara climbed two spots after beating Northridge in three and Long Beach in four. The rest of the rankings remained mostly unchanged with the exception of Ball State, which rose two places to No. 13 while CSUN fell two places to No. 15 after three set losses to both Santa Barbara and UCLA. Northridge is on a five match losing streak that they'll try to turn around this weekend against UC San Diego and UCI. The Anteaters will also take on No. 6 Long Beach this week.
This weekend USC will host Hawaii while UCSB and UCLA will head to Stanford so keep an eye on those match ups. Ball State will take on Lewis on Saturday. Here are the rest of your matches to watch this week.
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, February 19th
No. 7 UCI @ No. 6 Long Beach
Thursday, February 20th
No. 1 Loyola Chicago @ No. 13 Ball State
No. 11 Hawaii @ No. 8 USC
No. 10 Lewis @ IPFW
Friday, February 21st
No. 5 UCSB @ No. 9 Stanford
No. 7 UCI @ No. 15 CSUN
Saturday, February 22nd
IPFW @ No. 1 Loyola Chicago
No. 11 Hawaii @ No. 8 USC
No. 13 Ball State @ No. 10 Lewis
Monday, February 24th
No. 3 UCLA @ No. 9 Stanford
This week the news dropped that after five seasons at Texas, Salima Rockwell will return to coach at her alma mater, Penn State. Salima will re-join the Nittany Lions staff as Associate Head Coach under the legendary Russ Rose. I don't mean to put the cart before the horse here, but could Russ be grooming his replacement here?
I'm not trying to push him out or anything, but at 60 years of age, Russ has to be thinking about life after coaching and about the program's direction once he moves on. In whose hands would he like to leave his powerhouse program?
As one who laments the meager numbers of female head coaches at the top levels, this would be exciting news. Think of it, a woman at the helm of the winningest program of the decade. This would be something we haven't seen. And though Salima has not been a head coach yet, this is her second Associate Head Coach position and she clearly brings a lot to the table with the teams she works with.
I'm sure Penn State would love to have an alum in the head coaching position once Russ does decide to retire. And Salima was not only a student-athlete at Penn State, but she also served as it's Director of Volleyball Operations and then for two years as an assistant coach before she left for Texas. She knows the place and the program better than just about anyone.
Besides that, she's good at what she does. She has found success at every stop. While at Texas she helped lead the Longhorns to three NCAA semifinal appearances and a national title in 2012. Also serving as the recruiting coordinator, she brought in some of the top recruits in the country. By all accounts, she's great when it comes to relating to young women.
Most importantly, she knows her stuff. She was a high level player herself and she's been groomed under great coaches. A few more years under Russ and she could be ready for prime time.
I'm getting ahead of myself. But this is big news that could eventually be a game changer. I'm keeping an eye on this one.
One of the most difficult aspects of coaching young people is not the youngsters themselves, but their parents. Sometimes politics come into play and coaches are just as susceptible as anyone. That's where this week's volleyball controversy begins. Check out the story of Davis (Calif.) High School's volleyball coach who was relieved of her duties in June of last year.
Why? Was it because she wasn't good enough? Or was it something else entirely? Read about Davis coach Julie Crawford and let me know if you think she is getting a raw deal.
The No. 1 Bruins enjoyed two weeks in the top spot, but fell this week to No. 2 after a surprisingly quick loss to No. 3 Pepperdine in three sets that snapped their nine-match win streak. UCLA couldn't get much going against the Waves, who out-blocked them 14.5 to 5 in the match and kept all the UCLA hitters below .200 in hitting percentage. The Bruins hit just .110 as a team for the match.
Pepperdine might have taken over the top spot this week had they not followed that big win with a five set loss to No. 7 UC Santa Barbara a few days later. With that, Loyola-Chicago finds itself back in the top spot after making program history when it shared the No. 1 ranking with UCLA two weeks ago. Now they own the spot outright for the first time and they should be able to hold on to the ranking for at least another week.
The shake up in the No. 1 spot was the pretty much the only movement on the AVCA poll this week besides Stanford who dropped one spot to No. 8 through no fault of their own. The Cardinal beat both UCI and UCSD last week in three sets. Overall it seems that teams are starting to settle into their positions, but there are some good match ups scheduled for Valentine's weekend that could upset the balance.
UCLA has two tough matches ahead as they'll host No. 6 Long Beach and No. 13 CSUN. Long Beach will take on a UCSB team that just took down Pepperdine and Lewis will face Ohio State this weekend.
Here are the rest of your matches to watch:
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, February 12th
No. 6 Long Beach @ No. 2 UCLA
No. 13 CSUN @ No. 7 UCSB
Thursday, February 13th
No. 5 USC @ No. 9 UCI
Friday, February 14th
No. 13 CSUN @ No. 2 UCLA
No. 5 USC @ UCSD
No. 6 Long Beach @No. 7 UCSB
No. 3 Pepperdine @ No. 9 UCI
Saturday, February 15th
No. 4 BYU @ No. 8 Stanford
No. 10 Lewis @ No. 14 Ohio State