“Amazing night for the Texas Longhorns” puts defending champs back into NCAA semis
December 10, 2023
August 24, 2023
And not the Longhorns.
Although you can start there, since defending-champion Texas is ranked No. 1 in the AVCA preseason poll before an NCAA season that begins Wednesday.
Rather, the state of Texas looms large, with four teams in that top 25 and another getting votes, others not ranked but picked to win their respective conferences, and key players from the state of Texas sprinkled throughout the land.
When the last ball hit the floor in December, Texas swept Louisville for the NCAA title. It was the first title for Texas in 12 years and, in the grand scheme of things, more of the same. Just 12 programs have won the title since the NCAA began holding women’s volleyball championships in 1982: Stanford (9 times), Penn State (7), Nebraska (5), UCLA (4), Texas (3) Hawai’i (3), Long Beach State (3), USC (3), Pacific (2), Kentucky (1), Wisconsin (1) and Washington (1).
Is there a team outside that list that could break through in an era that has seen two new teams win in the past few years with Kentucky in the COVID-delayed 2020 season in the spring of 2021 and Wisconsin just half a year later?
In the past decade, the only teams to even make the finals who haven’t won it all were Oregon in 2012, BYU in 2014 and Louisville last year.
Don’t hold your breath.
A coach from a top-10 program asked privately the other day if I thought there was parity in the game. Sure, I said, among the top dozen or so teams. After that? It’s a three-tiered system, with the few that can win it all, the next 20 or so who can make noise and occasionally upset the NCAA bracket, and all the rest.
San Diego, the team from the West Coast Conference that caught lightning in a bottle and made the national semifinals and gave Texas all it could handle, gave everyone hope with its slogan, “Why Not Us?”
So why not someone else this year?
The teams at the top are simply too good.
The season begins Friday and here are some random thoughts and notes before the first serve with a day that has a whopping 226 matches.
Stephen F. Austin, located in Nacogdoches, Texas, is the preseason pick to win the WAC, a league that also includes UTRGV (Texas Rio Grande Valley), which is picked third, UT Arlington, picked ffith, Tarleton State at No. 9 and Abilene Christian at No. 10.
Eleven of SFA’s players are from Texas, including Ielan Bradley, the WAC preseason player of the year who is from Cypress, Texas, and Haley Hoang, the preseason libero of the year, who is from Plano, Texas.
SMU is the preseason pick to win the American Athletic Conference, a league with a much different look now that perennial favorites UCF and Houston have moved to the Big 12. Interestingly, SMU was not listed in the getting-votes section of the AVCA Poll, but was picked to finish ahead of Rice. Also in the ACC are Texas teams North Texas and UTSA. The AAC preseason player of the year is outside Jamison Wheeler, who is from Austin. Six of her teammates are from Texas.
Houston Christian is the pick to win the Southland Conference, a league that includes Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UIW, Texas A&M-Commerce and Lamar. Perennial Sun Belt favorite Texas State was picked to finish second in the West Division.
A quick run through the top 10 shows that Texas has just five players from Texas. Second-ranked Wisconsin has none, No. 3 Stanford has one (senior middle Annabelle Smith), No. 4 Louisville has three including UCLA transfer Charitie Luper, No. 5 Nebraska has Ally Batenhorst, No. 5 Pittsburgh has two, No. 7 Minnesota has none since Jenna Wenaas transferred to Texas, No. 8 Penn State has none, No. 9 Oregon has two including Baylor transfer Kara McGhee, and No. 10 Kentucky has four.
There are, of course, way too many Texas teams and players to continue talking about, but you get the point. According to our friend Rich Kern at richkern.com, who compiles an annual list of all NCAA Division I players, there are 855 players from Texas on the rosters of the 344 teams this year.
There are 513 from California.
Cue up Tom Petty (I Won’t Back Down), because in NCAA Division I volleyball, the best teams play each from the get go. For that matter, the four-weekend pre-conference schedule is just a volleyball junkies’ delight.
Here’s a sampling of Friday’s slate with a reminder that elsewhere on this site are our TV & Streaming Listings with a viewing link to every match that is being shown.
The showcase gathering of the first weekend is at Minnesota, where the Gophers and Wisconsin play Baylor and TCU.
In Tampa, Florida, site of December’s NCAA national semifinals and final and AVCA convention, No. 11 Florida plays No. 8 Penn State and Georgia Tech plays USF.
In Missoula, Montana, No. 5 Pitt plays No. 17 BYU. No. 12 Marquette plays No. 24 Western Kentucky.
Top-ranked Texas opens at Long Beach State. No. 9 Oregon plays No. 13 San Diego in Hawai’i. Houston is home for No. 22 USC and No. 21 Washington State plays Wright State, which went unbeaten in the Horizon League last year.
There are a gazillion more matches Saturday with just as many intriguing battles. Washington State plays Louisville, No. 16 Purdue plays No. 18 Creighton, Penn State plays Georgia Tech, USC travels across Houston to Rice and Stanford plays Colorado State
On the home front — my home — I’ll get a chance to see Washington playing UTEP on Friday morning at Southeastern Louisiana. In Baton Rouge, UCLA plays at LSU on Friday and Saturday nights. This is their first meeting since 2008. And speaking of Texas, LSU has nine Texas players on its roster from our bordering state, including one player to watch, graduate-student middle Anita Anwusi.
There are six women taking over Power 5 teams (whatever Power 5 means now in the new realigned world), and four of them are first-time Division I head coaches.
UCF promoted longtime assistant Jenny Maurer when Todd Dagenais left to coach in the Pro Volleyball Federation. Maurer had previously been a head coach at Bradley and Lehigh. Dawn Sullivan is at Missouri after a five-year successful run at UNLV.
The new first-time head coaches are Rita Stubbs, the longtime assistant who was promoted at Arizona when Dave Rubio retired; Lindsey Behonick, the Pitt assistant now at Oregon State; Erin Virtue, the USA Volleyball national-team assistant now at Michigan and handling both jobs in this Olympic run; and Leslie Gabriel, the longtime assistant at Washington who was promoted at her alma mater when Keegan Cook left for Minnesota.
Worth noting is the situation at Cal, where two young assistants took over when head coach Sam Crosson abruptly left just two weeks before the start of practice.
Crissie Jones Schoonderwoerd, 26, is the interim head coach. She is a former Washington standout who finished her college career playing beach at Cal Poly — after Crosson was the indoors coach there — and then played pro beach volleyball. She was hired at Cal a year ago with no coaching experience.
The other assistant is the incomparable Savannah Rennie, about whom we have written extensively, a former Cal great who ended her indoors career at Cal in 2019 and finished at Marquette before becoming a volunteer coach last year at USC. She played for both Rich Feller, who retired, and Crosson, who took Feller’s place.
Cal is 0-40 the past two seasons in Pac-12 play, mired in a 55-match conference losing streak. Crosson is now the coach at West Valley College, a community college in Saratoga, California.
Last week, we did a Zoom with Notre Dame coach Salima Rockwell, Southern Miss coach Jenny Hazelwood and the Big Ten Network’s Emily Ehman. It’s worth it for the entertainment value alone, but we got deep into the NCAA volleyball weeds. Click here to watch.
This past Tuesday, Emily and I were joined by ESPN play-by-play afficionado Paul Sunderland for the sole purpose of previewing the season. Lots of great info. Click here to watch.
Emily Ehman has done quite a bit this preseason for the Big Ten Network, including ranking the top players. See those on Twitter @emilyehman.
Also, NCAA.com’s Michella Chester has done her own rankings and lists, including the top players at each position and listing the top matches of the pre-conference season. See those on Twitter @michellachester and on Instagram @ncaavolleyball
A new site evollve.net has launched. They have a similar in-depth site covering women’s basketball and this is their first foray into volleyball.
As they told us: