2011 was a year of surprises in men's volleyball. After the USC Trojans dominated the regular season it looked as if they would roll to the national championship. But a funny thing happened at the MPSF Tournament. Santa Barbara had other plans. In the end, the Gauchos didn't have enough left to take down Ohio State who took home the school's first ever national championship.
It has been a long time coming, but after 18 trips to the Final Four and four national title game appearances, The Ohio State Buckeyes are going home with the hardware. No matter how you slice it, this is an enormous victory for Midwest volleyball. The Buckeyes became the first Midwest team to win the title legally (Lewis won in 2003, but their title was vacated due to violations) and are only the second non-west coast team (Penn State won on two occasions) to win the national title in the sport's 41-year history.
I love it when volleyball fans make their presence known. For the most part, we sit back and take it when big things happen in our sport and it goes unacknowledged in the media. We understand that we're a small sport, a niche market (at least in the U.S.) and it goes without saying that for volleyball to be on the front page of the sports section, the news would have to be a really, really big deal.
I have to take a moment to give some credit to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. What a fun team to watch and what a run they put together in the playoffs. They came up just one match short of a dream season. Strange considering that they won only half the games they played in the regular season. But this team entered the post-season on a mission.
After a season of domination the likes of which we haven't seen for a while in men's volleyball, the USC Trojans looked like they would cruise to the national title this year without question. They blew through just about every team they went up against with the exception of a few isolated break downs. They were head and shoulders above everyone all season long. So what happened?
Now that the playoffs are imminent and we've taken a look at the match-ups, it is looking like things will most likely go according to plan for the MPSF quarters this weekend. This national title is definitely USC's to lose. There is no reason why these guys shouldn't win the whole thing unless they somehow manage to beat themselves. The national rankings are very accurate this season and I'm predicting that the top four squads in the MPSF will move on to the conference semifinals.
Congratulations, Santa Barbara. You did the improbable. You somehow managed to march into No. 1 USC's Galen Center and pull out a five set match with a score of 16-14 in the fifth. Your reward? You get to try to do it again. Like immediately.
I was wrong. I predicted no surprises for last week's quarterfinals and in fact, there were several. Who'd have guessed that both No. 2 and No. 3 would go down in the first round of the playoffs out west and that No. 3 would bow out in the Midwest as well? I didn't.
The men finished out the last few matches of the regular season and most of the matches went according to plan. There was one exception to the rule though with Penn State's three-set loss to Ball State. Not exactly the way the Nittany Lions wanted to enter playoff season, but they'll have a week to think about it as they have a bye for the first round.
Check out the scores and results from the 2011 Men's Volleyball NCAA Tournament.
Find out who won the national title each year since the match has been played along with Final Four appearances by school and the leaders in championships.