Starting tonight and running through this Saturday night, the top four teams in the three big conferences will compete for each's conference championship. When it is all over, we'll see who's still standing and finally find out which teams the committee deems worthy to move on to the play-in matches and the national semifinals.
In Provo, No. 1 BYU will host No. 2 Pepperdine, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Santa Barbara. In Happy Valley, No. 1 Penn State will host No. 2 Harvard, No. 3 Princeton and No. 4 George Mason. And in the MIVA, national No. 1 Loyola Chicago will host No. 4 IPFW and No. 2 Lewis will host No. 3 Ball State.
Both the MIVA and MPSF held quarterfinal matches last weekend and each of the top four seeds managed to live to play another day. Though some of the matches were not easy ones in the MPSF. It was not the same story in the Midwest. All four of the MIVA quarterfinal matches were over in three sets. Now things should really heat up as they take each other on for all the marbles.
EIVA did not hold quarterfinals so the top four teams will begin this weekend with the semifinal matches at Penn State. Conference Carolinas has already crowned its champion as Erskine won the title last week with a 3-0 victory over Mount Olive.
Check out the rest of your matches to watch for this week.
Matches to Watch
Wednesday, April 23rd
No. 3 Ball State @ No. 2 Lewis
No. 4 IPFW @ No. 1 Loyola Chicago
MIVA Championships - @ Highest Remaining Seed
Saturday, April 26th
MPSF Semifinals - @ BYU
Thursday, April 24th
No. 2 Pepperdine vs. No. 3 Stanford
No. 1 BYU vs. No. 4 UC Santa Barbara
MPSF Final - @ BYU
Saturday, April 26th
EIVA Semifinals - @ Penn State
Thursday, April 24th
No. 2 Harvard vs. No. 3 Princeton
No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 4 George Mason
EIVA Championship - @ Penn State
Saturday, April 26th
The 2014 NCAA Sand Volleyball championships will kick off next weekend and the AVCA announced the participants this week. There will be no repeat winner as last year's champion Long Beach State will not be competing in the playoffs.
Pepperdine, the 2012 national champion and 2013 runner up will be there along with this year's No. 1 team in the nation, USC. Joining them will be Florida State, Hawaii, Florida International and Stetson.
The playoffs will take place May 2-4 and will begin with the team tournament followed by the pairs tournament in Gulf Shores, AL. Long Beach will have a shot at the pairs championships as they were among the 16 pairs chosen for that competition. The top pairs from the team competition will also compete along with pairs from the University of North Florida, Grand Canyon University, the University of Louisiana Monroe, Jacksonville University, Saint Mary's College of California, Loyola Marymount University, Tulane and UAB.
CBS Sports Network will broadcast portions of the team competition in a two-hour window that will air three times - Monday 5/26 4 PM PT, Friday 5/30 4:30 PM PT and Monday 6/2 4 PM PT. The semifinals and the championship matches in the pairs competition will also air on CBS Sports Network. Check your local listings.
I'll admit, I'm having a hard time picturing what a game of snow volleyball would look like. Volleyball being played in the heavy powder while skiers whiz by? Hmmm. It appears that the sport is gaining a bit of momentum as the proponents begin to get more organized.
While it was once just a casual occurrence, there is now an organized annual tournament held in the Alps that started in 2009 and now has multiple stops in Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The tournament is starting to draw top tier sand players including a few Olympians and world champs. The organizers have their sights set on eventual inclusion in the Winter Olympic Games. With some of the more obscure sports in the world showing up in the Olympics it doesn't seem out of the question. But they'd have to increase participation in order to be considered.
I can't imagine the level of play being incredibly high on snow. Players say they slip a lot, which makes sense. And depending on the condition of the snow, it could be even harder to jump out of than sand. The players wear snow boots, which can't be helpful. Do they also wear gloves? And does that hinder their ability to set and get a nice touch on the ball?
If snow volleyball had been included in the 2014 Games in Sochi, they would have been victim to the constantly changing snow conditions as all the other athletes complained of back in February. Sand volleyball players have different sand conditions from beach to beach, but imagine if the surface conditions changed from day to day, hour to hour.
I suppose it could be nice off-season training for sand players who want to give it a go. But I can't see it ever drawing a huge crowd. I have yet to see video of this new sport and I really think I need to see it to believe it.
Could such a thing catch on? If it did, would you watch?
After a stellar 2014 season at the top of the MPSF and in the top three of the national rankings for the last eight weeks, the Cougars hit a speed bump at season's end. Last weekend they lost both of their matches in four sets to UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. Add that to the two losses in Hawaii the week before and BYU is going into the playoffs on a four match losing streak. They fell to No. 4 for the first time since early February. Not ideal.
BYU hit just .194 against Santa Barbara with leading hitter Taylor Sander only managing a .139 percentage. They hit a little better against UCLA with a .269 hitting percentage, but Sander still struggled at .111. Even with the losses they finished first in the MPSF, but now they'll share that ranking with Pepperdine as both teams have 18-6 records. Pepperdine won both its matches against Hawaii over the weekend in three and four sets. If BYU is to have a chance in this year's tightly contested west coast field, they need to step it up immediately.
Now we finally know for sure who will enter the Conference tournament and Hawaii is the odd man out. The losses to Pepperdine this weekend put USC one game ahead of them and into the last spot in the playoffs. Now USC will head to BYU for the conference quarterfinals to see if they can keep the upsets going over the Cougars.
It's a tough ask for the Trojans but they did manage to take the Cougars to five sets in their first meeting back in early February. They lost to BYU in three when they played in Provo last month. Pepperdine will face Long Beach in the quarterfinal. Same deal - the 49ers took Pepperdine to five sets in their first meeting as well, but lost in three in Malibu last month.
I expect those two matches to go according to plan with BYU and Pepperdine surviving to play another day. But the other two matches in the MPSF Quarters are toss ups. Stanford will host UCI and UCLA will head up to Santa Barbara. This is the second meeting in two weekends for Stanford and UCI.
The Anteaters just barely lost a squeaker in five sets up in Palo Alto on Friday night. Stanford won the first meeting easily in three back in February. Though UCI had a mediocre season by recent standards, one should never underestimate the two-time defending champs. The Anteaters have a knack for turning it on when it counts. And don't forget how difficult it is to beat a team three times in a season. UCLA beat Santa Barbara in three back in January, but fell to the Gauchos in three sets in early March.
The MIVA tournament begins on Thursday and the match ups are below. National No. 1 Loyola-Chicago should have no problem taking that title, they are 14-0 in conference. The EIVA tournament does not begin until next weekend. And the newcomers in Conference Carolinas will hold the championship match tonight featuring Erskine and Mount Olive.
Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch.
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, April 16th
Conference Carolinas Championship
Mount Olive @ Erskine
Thursday, April 17th
Quincy @ Loyola Chicago
Friday, April 18th
Grand Canyon @ Lewis
Lindenwood @ Ball State
Saturday, April 19th
Long Beach @ Pepperdine
UCI @ Stanford
USC @ BYU
UCLA @ UCSB
Ohio State @ IPFW
Upcoming: EIVA Semifinals April 24th & 26th
Well, I didn't see this one coming. But last weekend was a huge one for Hawaii, who hosted BYU for two matches and managed to win both. The first was a five set match in which the Cougars won the first two sets but couldn't finish the job once Hawaii caught fire and took the next three.
The 'Bows won the second match in a quick three sets. Though the first set was a marathon that ended at 37-35, they seemed to break BYU's spirit after that and won the second two rather easily 25-20 and 25-19. With these big wins, Hawaii launched itself into the final spot in the MPSF Conference tournament with one weekend of play remaining.
Hawaii is tin a three-way tie for the last spot with Long Beach and UCLA. USC is sitting in ninth place, just one match outside of the playoffs. Stanford has gone from out of the tournament to clinching a spot in the last three weeks. After an undefeated March, the Cardinal is now in third place in the MPSF. Despite the two losses, BYU is still in first place, two matches ahead of Pepperdine.
The last week of play will make or break the finalists. Hawaii has two tough matches left, both against No. 2 Pepperdine. UCLA has No. 3 BYU on the schedule this week and Long Beach has two matches against No. 15 Northridge, who finds itself back in the AVCA poll's top 15 after six weeks unranked. Northridge also had an incredible weekend, beating UCLA in five and Santa Barbara in four. Long Beach shouldn't underestimate these guys.
UCI and UCSB are tied for fourth in the MPSF, just one game in front of the last three qualifiers. UCI still has to face Stanford and Santa Barbara will be up against BYU in Provo so keep an eye on those key match ups.
Northridge is out of the running for the Conference tourney as they are four games out of the final spot. But they can finish strong by beating the 49ers this weekend. Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch:
Matches to Watch:
Thursday, April 10th
No. 15 CSUN @ No. 7 Long Beach
Friday, April 11th
No. 1 Loyola Chicago @ Ohio State
No. 9 Hawaii @ No. 2 Pepperdine
No. 3 BYU @ No. 5 UC Santa Barbara
No. 4 Stanford @ No. 6 UCI
Saturday, April 12th
No. 9 Hawaii @ No. 2 Pepperdine
No. 3 BYU @ No. 10 UCLA
No. 7 Long Beach @ No. 15 CSUN
It went on without much fanfare, but last weekend USAV held a qualifier for the fourth USA spot in the first FIVB Tour event of the season in Shanghai. There's been a bit of a shake up in partnerships as usual over the winter break and so some new teams now need to bolster their international points in order to be included among the automatic qualifiers.
The top three teams of both genders qualified on points. So on the women's side that means April Ross & Kerri Walsh Jennings, Lauren Fendrick & Brooke Sweat and Emily Day & Summer Ross qualified automatically. On the men's side it was Jake Gibb & Casey Patterson, Phil Dalhausser & Sean Rosenthal and Ryan Doherty & Nick Lucena who were automatic qualifiers.
That left the best of the rest to fight it out for the last spot. In the end, John Hyden & Tri Bourne took the spot on the men's side and Brittany Hochevar & Lane Carico will compete in Shanghai for the women. Hyden and Bourne were seeded fourth of the four teams competing, but beat No. 1 seed Todd Rogers & Theo Brunner and No. 2 Will Montgomery and Stafford Slick in two sets each. John Mayer and Brad Keenan were seeded third but lost in two sets to Montgomery and Slick.
On the women's side, No. 2 Hochevar & Carico defeated No. 3 Heather Hughes & Christal Engle and No. 1 Jennifer Fopma & Whitney Pavlik each in two sets. Sarah Day and Allison Daley were defeated in three sets by Fopma & Pavlik.
The Shanghai event officially opens the 2014 pro beach volleyball season on April 29th and runs through May 4th.
The top three remained in place this week with Loyola Chicago, BYU and Pepperdine leading the way in the AVCA Poll for the second straight week. Of the three top teams only Pepperdine suffered a loss this week, but it didn't hurt them in the polling. The Waves dropped a match to Stanford on the road in three rather quick sets - 25-21, 25-18, 25-19. Stanford went undefeated in the month of March and beat Pepperdine in both meetings this year -- in early March the Cardinal won in four -- but the wins did not yield a higher ranking than the Waves. Stanford did rise two spots to No. 4 in this week's AVCA poll, it's the first time they've been in the top five since Week 2 in mid-January.
UC Santa Barbara held on to the No. 5 spot after taking No. 2 BYU to a deciding fifth set over the weekend. BYU started off strong with a win in the first set but lost the next two, putting them in the unfamiliar position of having to come from behind. But they did what they had to do, winning set four and coming out with a 15-13 victory in the fifth.
Long Beach lost to UCI in three sets as well which sent the 49ers down two more spots to No. 6 this week after reaching the No. 2 spot nationally just two weeks ago. With the win, UCI is up one spot to No. 7. For the Anteaters, Connor Hughes had a stellar match with just one error on 37 attempts for a .486 hitting percentage.
In the MPSF standings BYU still leads the way by three games over Pepperdine. There is a three-way tie for third place between UCSB, Long Beach and Stanford which all have 13-7 conference records. UCI and USC are in the sixth and seventh place spots respectively with UCLA filling the last playoff spot, just one game ahead of Hawaii. Two ranked teams remain on UCLA's schedule in the final two weeks of the season - Long Beach and BYU. Hawaii has four tough matches remaining - two against BYU and two against Pepperdine.
The rest of the AVCA rankings remained mostly unchanged outside the top 5 with the exception of Ball State which is now tied with Penn State at No. 12 after taking both No. 1 Loyola and No. 11 Lewis to five sets.
This week, Long Beach State will take on UCSB and UCLA to see if they can find their lost mojo. In the East, Penn State will take on Harvard. Here are the rest of your matches to watch for this week.
Matches to Watch:
Thursday, April 3rd
No. 5 UC Santa Barbara @ No. 6 Long Beach State
No. 9 UCLA @ CSUN
Friday, April 4th
No. 2 BYU @ No. 10 Hawaii
No. 7 UCI @ UCSD
No. 13 Penn State @ No. 15 Harvard
No. 14 IPFW @ Ohio State
Saturday, April 5th
No. 2 BYU @ No. 10 Hawaii
No. 8 USC @ No. 3 Pepperdine
No. 5 UC Santa Barbara @ CSUN
No. 9 UCLA @ No. 6 Long Beach State
More good news this week for NCAA sand volleyball. After the announcement earlier this month that the sport reached the 40 school threshold and will soon be an official NCAA Championship sport, the Pac-12 Network announced that it will actually give us an opportunity to view the action.
NCAA sand volleyball will debut on the Pac-12 Network this Thursday, March 27th with two matches - USC vs. Cal State Northridge and USC vs. Oregon. Three more matches will air on April 3rd and will include airtime for two more teams - UCLA and Loyola Marymount. Each of the five matches airing next week will take place at USC's Merle Norman Stadium.
The Pac-12 leads the NCAA in sand programs with eight of its 12 schools fielding teams this season, so it is fitting that the conference's network would be the first to step up. Here's hoping they will expand its coverage beyond LA next season.
I'm going to file this one in the "good problems to have" category for boys volleyball. In Arizona, the sport is growing and expanding for boys annually. That's awesome news. Now with 67 schools offering boys volleyball in the state, the number of teams is beginning to become unwieldy for the state's single solitary division.
Twenty-four teams make the state playoffs each year, but there are stark differences in the levels of play from school to school. Some of the schools are tiny, with the smallest one being a school for the deaf that has only 86 students total. Several schools have under 500 students and they are being asked to compete alongside schools with over 2,o00 students.
The fact that Arizona has such a healthy offering for boys volleyball and the fact that people care enough to grumble about the state of the state playoffs are both developments to be noted. With both of those in place it is only a matter of time before the state starts to accommodate the interest in a growing sport. Now, how can we get a few more states to encounter this "problem?"
It's tentative, but we now know what each of the major pro beach volleyball tours are planning for the 2014 season. The FIVB, AVP and NVL each published schedules and I've put them all together for you in a comprehensive list of events.
Dates and places are subject to change but it appears that the season will begin with the FIVB's Fuzhou Open on April 22nd. The FIVB season will extend all the way through mid-December. There will be just two FIVB tourneys in August which leaves space for the domestic tours to host events. The AVP will host three events in the month of August while the NVL hosts one.
The NVL will start off the domestic tourneys with an event in Dallas starting on May 22. The AVP's season debut is planned for the following weekend starting on May 29th in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The NVL has a total of six events on the schedule as of now and the AVP is planning to hold seven events. Of the total of 13 domestic tour events, only three will be held in Southern California. The FIVB will bring the World Series of Beach Volleyball back to Long Beach July 22nd-27th for a total of four So Cal events in 2014.
The AVP and NVL will hold competing events on just one weekend as of now. The weekend of August 15-17th the NVL will be in Milwaukee while the AVP is running the famed Manhattan Beach Open. The AVP also announced a partnership with IMG this season so that may mean a return to some of the familiar aspects of pro beach volleyball that we're used to seeing from IMG. But at this point, it's anybody's guess what the AVP has planned for us in Donald Sun's third year at the helm.
Check back for schedule changes as they arise and results once the season is underway.