This year's tournament is going to be hard fought to be sure. I don't really see anyone running away with it as sometimes happens. Whoever ends up with the national title in 2013 is going to be battle-tested.
It seems most in the media are picking the top four seeds to make the Final Four. Which means we'd see Texas vs. Missouri and Washington vs. Penn State in the semifinals. I disagree. I think there will be some upsets this year.
And though I am not the best prognosticator in the world, I will go on record with my picks. When the Final Four begins on December 19th in Seattle, I expect the four teams competing to be No. 1 Texas vs. No. 13 Illinois and No. 6 USC vs. No. 2 Penn State.
That's right, I think Washington and Missouri meet their matches in this tournament and don't make the Final Four. I also think that if Penn State meets Stanford in the Regional Final, the Nittany Lions are going to have their hands full. They get the slight edge in that match up, but there's a chance they don't survive that battle.
My pick to win it all: Defending Champion Texas.
There remains just one unbeaten team in all the nation and that is No. 4 Missouri. The other team that was on pace to join them was Colorado State. But the Buffs went into San Diego with a target on their back and San Diego State was more than happy to take aim. The Aztecs did it in dramatic fashion as well, losing the first two sets and coming back to win the next three. They won the fifth set 15-13 to officially break the streak.
With their first loss of the season CSU fell three spots to No. 12 in this week's AVCA poll. Besides that, there wasn't much movement in the last poll of the season. Colorado State was the only team to fall out of the top ten and the top eight teams remained in place with Texas, Penn State, Stanford, Missouri and Washington making up the top five.
No. 15 Duke won the ACC Championship with a dramatic win over No. 14 North Carolina in the last match of the regular season. The two teams traded sets until the deciding fifth set, which Duke won 21-19. The two teams switched places in the national rankings this week.
Marquette moved up two spots to No. 22 this week after winning the Big East Championship with a 3-1 win over Creighton on Saturday. Iowa State fell out of the top 25 once again this week and they were replaced by Oregon in the No. 25 spot.
The NCAA tournament begins on Thursday, December 5th with first round action. Check out the NCAA Women's Volleyball interactive bracket for results as they come in.
Three-time gold medalist Misty May-Treanor retired from the sport after the 2012 Olympics in London citing her desire to start a family. Well, the dream has finally come true for Misty and her husband, pro baseball player Matt Treanor.
Misty says she is currently three months pregnant and expects to deliver before the summer. Congratulations to Misty and Matt. Maybe we'll get a glimpse of Baby Treanor at one of next summer's beach volleyball events!
The U.S. men's and women's teams are done for the year after concluding competition at the Grand Champions Cup. The round robin tournament in Tokyo featured six of the top teams in the world.
The U.S. women lost their first match against No. 1 Brazil in three sets but rebounded to win all four of their other matches to finish the tournament with the silver medal. The American women beat Japan and the Dominican Republic in four sets but went a full five sets with Russia and Thailand before winning both of those matches 15-13 in the fifth.
The men's team finished with a 2-3 record, beating Japan in four and Italy in five and losing to powerhouses Russia and Brazil in three. The men went five sets with the upstart Iranian team and just barely lost 18-16 in the fifth.
Despite finishing in fifth place the players and coaches on the men's side seem excited about the potential of this new squad. Both teams have plenty of bright spots and young players that should be fun to watch develop in 2014 and beyond.
Congratulations to Joe Sagula, long-time coach at the University of North Carolina for earning his 700th win. His team made it interesting, taking the match against Maryland to a full five sets. Down 14-13 in the fifth, Sagula's Tar Heels turned things around, winning the set 20-18.
In Sagula's 24 years at UNC, he has lead them to five ACC titles and nine NCAA tournament appearances. Now UNC has a shot at yet another ACC title as they sit just one game behind Duke in the conference standings, but one place ahead of the Blue Devils in the national rankings. The rivals will face each other this Friday night.
A volleyball story made news this week as former St. Louis University volleyball player Megan Boken, 23, was killed in her car last August by a teenager who was attempting to rob her of her cell phone, among other things. Now, Boken's parents want to prevent other such tragedies by changing the way cell phone operate.
Just after Megan's killer was sentenced to 50 years in prison last week, her father pleaded with cell phone manufacturers to adopt "kill switch" technology that would render a stolen cell phone useless and thus eliminate the kinds of robberies that ended in his daughter's murder.
Paul Boken is working with legislators in New York and San Francisco as part of a group called the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative to push new laws that will discourage cell phone theft. It may not be easy though. The wireless industry says that such technology would not be effective because it would allow hackers to disable and break into phones.
Apple's new operating system has an activation lock that is supposed to prevent thieves from disabling the Find My iPhone app, but the jury is still out on whether it works the way it should. Boken would like more cell phones to feature similar technology. This could be a long-fought battle, but could very well make a dent in the huge number of cell phone thefts that occur daily across the country and possibly cut down on the needless violence to which thefts like theses sometimes lead.
Playoffs begin in just one week and this Sunday, the NCAA selection show will air on ESPNU to tell us just where our favorite teams will be placed in the tournament bracket. Next week we'll chat about the decisions and take apart some of the more interesting ones.
While a few teams are already finished with regular season play, there are still quite a few good match ups to look out for this Thanksgiving weekend. Texas still leads the way in this week's AVCA poll with Penn State earning just under half as many first place votes. Stanford replaces Washington in the No. 3 spot this week after beating the Huskies 3-0 over the weekend. Washington falls to No. 5 in the poll while Missouri holds on to the No. 4 spot.
Michigan suffered the biggest fall of the week after losing to Minnesota in three and to Wisconsin in five last week. The Wolverines are down five spots to No. 23. Nebraska also hurtled down the rankings, losing four spots this week after getting smacked down by Purdue in three sets. For the win, Purdue was rewarded with the biggest climb of the week. The Boilermakers are up five spots to No. 20. Cal fell out of the rankings once again this week and for the first time in program history, Marquette joins the Top 25 at No. 24.
Most of the conference championships have been decided at this point, but there are a few teams that need to win their remaining games to clinch. The done deals include Texas as the Big 12 champ and Missouri winning the SEC championship. San Diego beat BYU in a five set come-from-behind victory to capture the WCC title.
It looks like Washington will take the Pac 12 Conference title, though Stanford sits just one match behind them in the standings and each team has one match remaining on the schedule. Washington should not have trouble defeating Washington State on Friday as the Cougars are just 5-13 in conference play and currently 11th out of the 12 teams.
Penn State would have to lose both of its matches this weekend in order to miss out on the Big 10 conference championship, which is highly unlikely. But its final regular season match is against Nebraska, the conference's second place team, on Saturday.
Colorado State remains undefeated in conference play and has run away with the Mountain West title. They've got two conference matches remaining and you better believe San Diego State and UNLV are going to try to break the streak this weekend. No. 15 Duke leads No. 14 UNC by just one match in the ACC title race and the two will face each other in a showdown on Friday. Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch.
Matches to Watch:
Wednesday, November 27th
No. 1 Texas @ No. 25 Iowa State
No. 3 Stanford @ Arizona
No. 6 Florida @ No. 17 Kentucky
No. 7 USC @ UCLA
No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 11 Minnesota
No. 19 Michigan State @ No. 23 Michigan
Friday, November 29th
No. 3 Stanford @ California
No. 14 North Carolina @ No. 15 Duke
Saturday, November 30th
No. 2 Penn State @ No. 10 Nebraska
No. 11 Minnesota @ No. 18 Illinois
No. 19 Michigan State @ No. 20 Purdue
Alright, time to weigh in on another volleyball controversy. It seems that a freshman volleyball player at East Central College in Missouri is between a rock and a hard place. Hannah Leslie earned a scholarship to the school and helped her team earn a berth in the playoffs.
However, during the course of the season, Hannah missed three biology classes due to volleyball games. She's an honor student and had excuse notes from the Athletic Director for each of her absences. But the rule in this particular class is that if a student misses more than three classes, they have to take the course again. Hannah is scheduled to miss another class if she plays in the Division II NJCAA national championship tournament this weekend.
Her Biology professor isn't budging. Rules are rules. So with no compromise on the table the team has to shoulder the extra expense of flying Hannah back early so that she can play the game and make her class.
Is this fair?
There's no doubt which conference is the most competitive this season. The Big 10 boasts eight teams in the top 25 according to the AVCA Coaches Poll. The next best ranked conference has half that many, but the Pac 12's four teams include three in the top ten. The Big 12, SEC and ACC each have three ranked teams, while the WCC has two and the Big West has just one, Hawaii.
But the battles for the conference championships are still undecided for a few of these conferences. In the mighty Big 10, Penn State is leading the way in on the East coast with a 15-1 record, but Nebraska is hot on their heels at 14-2. The two meet in a showdown for the last match of the regular season on November 30th.
No. 3 Washington is leading in the West and the Pac 12 with a 15-1 record, but this week they head to No. 5 Stanford who sits at 13-3. A win by the Cardinal could put them in contention for the championship, though it is slightly unlikely. Washington would have to have a pretty huge lapse to drop a match to the other teams remaining on their schedule, the only ranked opponent left is No. 23 Cal, who they beat rather handily in mid-October. No. 8 USC (12-4) could take over the second place spot if Stanford falters.
The two ranked WCC teams, No. 9 San Diego and No. 21 BYU, are tied at the top of the conference rankings with 15-2 records. These two teams will face each other this Saturday with the conference title on the line.
Missouri catapulted into the top five and leads the Midwest teams in the national rankings after beating perennial SEC conference champs Florida last week. Florida has won 20 out of the last 22 conference titles, but Missouri's 15-0 record puts them two games ahead of the 13-2 Gators, which means they could cruise to their first conference title ever. With just one ranked team left - No. 16 Kentucky - in the three remaining matches, Missouri is looking like they'll make history.
No. 13 Duke leads the ACC in the South with a 15-1 record, but No. 14 UNC is just two games back with a 13-3 record. The two face each other in the last match of the regular season next Friday night. Duke has to hold off No. 19 Florida State this Sunday to avoid making that match its match with UNC a battle for the title.
Strangely, the only ranked team in the Big West actually sits in third place in the conference standings. No. 12 Hawaii has just a 9-3 conference record and sits behind unranked Northridge (12-2) and Santa Barbara (10-2.) Northridge heads to Hawaii for a match this Saturday. The Matadors won the first match up in five sets. A loss to the 'Bows could give UCSB a shot at the conference title.
Two teams have already clinched the conference titles by a long shot. No. 1 Texas is 12-0 in the Big 12. The next best team is No. 22 Kansas with a 10-3 conference record. With only one more ranked team on the schedule for the Longhorns (No. 24 Iowa State) it appears they'll capture their third straight conference title and their 7th overall.
There is no contest in the Mountain West, with the conference's only ranked team, unbeaten No. 10 Colorado State, completely untouchable. The 16-0 Rams sit five matches ahead of the next best team, Fresno State (11-5.)
We'll have to wait and see how all this plays out leading into the first round of the NCAA tournament scheduled for the first weekend in December. As of now, there are few guarantees.
Just when it looked like the top teams would stay put for the remainder of the season, Week 12 brought a new team in the top five in this week's AVCA poll. Missouri jumped to No. 4 in this week's rankings after beating previously No. 5 Florida in three sets over the weekend. Missouri is now 15-0 in conference play and leading the SEC. Florida fell two spots to No. 7 with the loss.
The Gators weren't the only ones to fall. USC lost its spot in the top five after an extremely rough weekend in which they lost to both No. 3 Washington (0-3) and unranked Washington State (2-3.) The Trojans fell four spots to No. 8 this week. This Friday, they will get a chance to rebound in a re-match with Arizona, another unranked team that bested them this year.
Illinois continues to climb the ranks after getting back on the poll last week for the first time in six weeks, they moved up another five spots to No. 20 after beating previously No. 18 Purdue in three. Nebraska also made some upward progress by beating Michigan State and Michigan last weekend in three and four sets respectively. The Cornhuskers are up three spots this week to No. 6.
Purdue had the biggest fall of the week. The Boilermakers are down seven spots to No. 25 after that loss to Illinois and another to unranked Northwestern in four.
Just one team dropped out of the poll as Cal State Northridge fell back into the unranked category after spending three weeks in the top 25. In their place, Iowa State finds itself back on the poll after toggling in and out of the rankings for the last several weeks.
We've got some good matches on the docket this week. The match of the week goes to the Pac 12 as No. 3 Washington travels down to No. 5 Stanford. Riding on the high of the win over USC, Washington is hoping to clinch a Pac 12 Championship with a win. Stanford's offense was a little off last weekend, but they still pulled out the wins they needed. They'll have to improve their efficiency if they want to steal one from the Huskies.
No. 15 Wisconsin will travel to No. 17 Michigan State this week as well. The Badgers will also take on No. 18 Michigan. Here are the rest of your matches to watch this week.
Matches to Watch
Wednesday, November 20th
No. 3 Washington @ No. 5 Stanford
No. 22 Kansas @ No. 24 Iowa State
Friday, November 22nd
No. 3 Washington @ No. 23 Cal
No. 6 Nebraska @ No. 25 Purdue
Arizona @ No. 8 USC
No. 11 Minnesota @ No. 18 Michigan
No. 15 Wisconsin @ No. 17 Michigan State
No. 20 Illinois @ Ohio State
Saturday, November 23rd
No. 21 BYU @ No. 9 San Diego
No. 11 Minnesota @ No. 17 Michigan State
No. 15 Wisconsin @ No. 18 Michigan
No. 20 Illinois @ No. 2 Penn State
Sunday, November 24th
No. 4 Missouri @ No. 16 Kentucky
No. 13 Duke @ No. 19 Florida State