Penn State and Texas are supposed to be in Louisville this week. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season and Texas No. 3. But the other two teams that will take the court on Thursday night will make the first ever Final Four appearances in program history, which will make this weekend's finale a tough one to call.
The make-up of the 2012 Final Four is historic in another way as well. This is only the second Final Four in history without a team from California in the mix and the first time ever that neither California or Hawaii will be represented.
Michigan and Oregon have a rough road ahead as they will take on two of volleyball's powerhouse programs in the semifinals. Both of the surprise finalists are playing with good confidence and cohesiveness right now, so I don't expect either to crumble under the pressure. But they will have their hands full against two very tough opponents that will have something to say about where the dream seasons end.
In my opinion, Texas is playing the best volleyball of the four right now. I liked the way they looked in the Regional Final against USC. They beat a very good team in an easy three sets. They looked relaxed and efficient and they are clearly well-coached.
Texas is due for a title. Though they've appeared in three of the last four Final Fours, they have not been able to leave with the trophy. They look hungry. But they'll have to get through a tough Michigan squad that took out No. 2 Stanford in the Regional Final to make the final match.
No. 1 Penn State didn't play its best last weekend. They got great production out of Big 10 Player of the year Ariel Scott, who had 25 kills and hit .422 in a four set victory over No. 8 Minnesota in the Regional Final. But to get past Alaina Bergsma and this feisty Oregon squad, the Nittany Lions are going to need their next biggest hitters to step it up. Deja McClendon hit just .152 and Megan Courtney hit .138 as the team hit .237 for the match.
If Penn State is firing on all cylinders, they should win this match. But I think Oregon is going to match up very well against them and give us some great volleyball to watch on Thursday. I don't think Michigan will match up as well against Texas and though I am terrible at prognostication, I am predicting a Penn State - Texas final with the Longhorns winning their first national title since 1988.
Regardless of who ends up the champion, I think we should see some hotly contested matches in what has been a great year for women's collegiate volleyball.