NCAA notes: Huge move to ESPN, friendships, freshmen and more

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Among those attending Wednesday's open practices at the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship was Belmont Abbey men's coach Sean Manzi, decked out in the holiday spirit.

COLUMBUS, Ohio —You could argue that moving the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship semifinals from ESPN2 to ESPN is potentially a huge moment for the women’s college game and perhaps the sport overall.

Both the 7 p.m. Eastern first serve between Stanford and Minnesota and the scheduled 9:30 p.m. start between Texas and Nebraska will be seen on ESPN for the first time.

“The regional play this past weekend was terrific and because of that we had a rare opportunity on ESPN,” said Patricia Lowry, the ESPN volleyball coordinating producer. “Contractual obligations with ESPN to have certain things on ESPN sometimes limit our ability to move things around like we would like to.”

In other words, no basketball game, for example, was scheduled in which both teams were promised to be on ESPN. And last weekend, “the (ratings) numbers were really good,” Lowry said, and the regionals were all sellouts at Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas with some really exciting volleyball.

“They looked at it and said this is a better play. We don’t have an obligation. It doesn’t happen all the time and it can’t happen every year, probably, but this was a fantastic opportunity and the motivation was how incredible dramatic the regionals were. And the rare opportunity was there. The volleyball world, accordingly, should be hoping more than ever for highly competitive, close matches on Thursday.

No matter what, more people will likely watch the semifinals than ever before.

“Your rating is going to be better on ESPN,” Lowry said. “It’s the mothership.”

Ebony and Andie, closest of friends

Texas junior right side Ebony Nwanebu and Nebraska senior outside Andie Malloy have been close for a long time, a friendship cemented when Nwanebu transferred to Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas, northeast of Dallas.

“I was the setter at the time and I would just set Ebony,” Malloy said with a laugh. “Ebony became really great friends and I consider her one of my best friends to this day. She’s just a fun, humble spirit to be around. And she’s so good.”

As kids, Nwanebu played club for TAV, while Malloy played for Skyline.

Malloy, a grade older, started at Iowa State and transferred to Baylor before ending up at Nebraska this year. Nwanebu started at USC before transferring to Texas.

Nwanebu lit up when asked about Malloy.

“I’ve known Andie since our awkward pre-teen years, and we ended up going to the same high school together. And she’s one of my best friends,” Nwanebu said. “And she was my setter. I don’t know, I love her and it’s going to be weird seeing her across the net.  But I’m excited.”

They’ve communicated this week through social media and Malloy said there won’t be any teasing or trash talking on the court.

“No, we’ll just leave it all out there,” she said.

From 64 to 4, Lisa Peterson reflects

Lisa Peterson, chair of the NCAA Division I volleyball committee, is happy to finally get to this point. The tournament has gone well and the seeding held largely to form. The committee, it was suggested, has every reason to feel good about the job it did.

“We do feel very good.As I said before, the committee worked really hard to make sure we had the right 64 teams and it did seem to follow form,” said Peterson, senior women’s administrator at Oregon serving in her first year as the chair after two years on the committee.

“Certainly there were some upsets, but to have these four teams here kind of feels like we did it right. I’m sure there are people who disagree, but I think we have the right four teams.”

Upsets are weaved into the American fabric of bracketed sports competitions, and we root for them, but every time there is one it could mean the seeding was wrong.

“Obviously Stanford upset Wisconsin but that was a really great match, and Wisconsin was on the ropes the day before with Ohio State. The regionals were a lot of fun and obviously ESPN thought so, too.

“I think it’s been great and this weekend will be a lot of fun.”

So, after this selection process and tournament, what did she and the committee take from it heading into next year?

“We want to make it even easier for everyone to watch even more matches, because there’s big difference when you can do more than just look at all the numbers. I think that people are just more prepared the second time they go through something, so having been in this chair before and having that experience will help.

“I really think we did well and it’s going to be hard to do this well again.”

“And babes shall rule over them … “

The outcomes of the matches here may well be decided by the many freshmen sprinkled throughout the lineups, from Texas redshirt freshman outside Micaya White to Minnesota freshman outside Alexis Hart to the four freshmen who start for Stanford, setter Jenna Gray, libero Morgan Hentz, middle Audriana Fitzmorris and outside Kathryn Plummer.

Wednesday the AVCA named Plummer its national freshman of the year.

“That was a surprise, definitely. I’m honored to be the national freshman of the year,” Plummer said. “I know there’s a lot of people in the class that are very deserving of it.  And I’m just so humbled to be it.”

Stanford senior Inky Ajanaku told her as if she was interviewing her, a moment that went out on Twitter.

“Inky surprised me. That was just classic for our team because we’re just such goofballs and it was the perfect way to find out.”

AVCA All-American teams announced

The AVCA has three teams and quite a few players who are competing here are on the first team including Stanford’s Inky Ajanaku and Plummer, Texas’s Nwanebu and White, Minnesota’s Samantha Seliger-Swenson and Sarah Wilhite, and Nebraska’s Justine Wong-Orantes and Kadie Rolfzen.

The AVCA national player of the year will be announced at its luncheon on Friday.

Click here for the entire AVCA list.

VolleyballMag.com will announce its All-American teams (first team, second team and honorable mentions) plus the coach and freshman of the year next week.

Review or not to review

They had it all season. Then in the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament there were no challenges. Coaches couldn’t ask for replay reviews of close plays, like touches, in-out and net calls.

This is the statement the NCAA put forth about it:

“The NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee is excited about the opportunity to have the Challenge Review System (CRS) at the final site for the 2016 DI Women’s Volleyball Championship. The committee worked closely with the volleyball community as the CRS was implemented for the first time this season. The committee also discussed the potential implementation process for use during the championships. 

“Knowing that not all teams and officials in the country currently used the system, the committee voted to gradually implement the CRS, starting with the final site in 2016, regional sites in 2017, and first and second round sites in 2018. The committee will review comprehensive CRS data during its annual meeting in February, and evaluate the proposed timeline for future implementation.”

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