The volleyball carousel just keeps on spinning. And don’t even try to figure it out.
In this case it was an NCAA season that gave us all we could ask for, from the unpredictable, to the valiant, to the loudest sea of red anyone in athletics could ever imagine.
No matter what seems to happen, from great pre-conference match-ups and the surprises they bring, to the inevitable battles and strange occurrences inside league play, to all those injuries, to an NCAA Tournament bracket that sometimes confounded, when it was all said and done, just like every year, we had a season that enthralled and entertained us right to the end.
And what an end. We all knew from the moment Penn State won it all a year ago that in 2015 the NCAA Championship was in Omaha, just more than 50 miles from Lincoln, home of Nebraska. There’s something about geography …
Last year, it was the Penn State star Micah Hancock winning it all in Oklahoma City, just a few miles from home. This year it was half the Nebraska roster and, well, an entire state, because Nebraska embraces both its team and volleyball like nothing else.
Next year the tournament goes to Columbus, Ohio. Hello, Ohio State. You’re on notice.
And upstart Kansas, the team that almost did? In 2017 we move to Kansas City. Yeah, actually that’s Missouri, but you know the drill.
But back to Saturday, when Nebraska swept Texas, 25-23, 25-23, 25-21, in a match that at times seemed closer than the score showed but overall felt like the Huskers dominated.
A freshman phenom led Nebraska and a senior who is often overshadowed got the last kill. Neither, oddly enough, are from Nebraska.
Big ol’ Mikaela Foecke, a freshman from West Point, Iowa, was a hitting machine, with 19 kills in 39 swings, both match highs. And Kelsey Fien, an honorable-mention All-American in 2014 who gets somewhat forgotten in a lineup that includes the fabulous Rolzens and libero Justine Wong-Orantes and setter Kelly Hunter, got the season-ending kill, the seventh of the night for the senior from Bakersfield, Calif.
And you want to know something scary about Nebraska? Fien is the only senior who logged serious court time for the Huskers, who not only have another great class coming in, but have in the fold a first-team All-American middle who sat out this year. Briana Holman, a transfer from LSU who had to sit the season, might have been the best player in the room Saturday night.
Texas loses a great senior class, including the incomparable outside Amy Neal, middle Molly McCage and libero Kat Brooks. But Texas, too, has another great class coming in and had a star of its own idle Saturday. Ebony Nwanebu, the transfer from USC who two years ago was the national freshman of the year, last played on September 4, shutting down right after because of injuries. But that day, against — wait for it — Nebraska, Nwanebu had 22 kills in 54 swings, both match highs, in a five-set Texas victory. Worth noting is that day Foecke had five kills and Fien three, while Meghan Haggerty, since injured, had 10 kills.
So when you heard both teams say they were completely different than they were in September, they really were.
Just like they’ll be completely different next season, when they play again in the third weekend. Yes, Nebraska, Texas and Florida get together again, this time at Oregon. The carousel keeps spinning.
There so many good teams with so many good young players. Some time in late October we’ll be saying what a grind it is in the Big Ten and the Pac-12, how one or more teams is surprising us from the ACC or SEC, and how Texas still owns the Big 12.
So now what?
Well, from an NCAA women’s angle, there are jobs to be filled at places like N.C. State, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Denver, Tulane and Middle Tennessee. Inevitably there will be some other openings and interesting hires, and those always cause some kind of domino effect.
The NCAA men get going in earnest in January and their game in person is as good as it gets. Sadly, they don’t have the TV exposure the women do and they just can’t get it right from a planning end. The men’s NCAA final six, set for Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, May 3-5-7, is at Penn State, which happens to be same weekend as that gigantic university’s graduation. You want to go? You’re either paying a bazillion dollars for a hotel room or driving about 50 miles in and out.
In the meantime, we’ll appreciate their alphabet-soup season, from the MIVA to the MPSF to the EIVA.
By the way, the NCAA carousel never ends, because the same weekend as the men’s championships is the inaugural beach championships. That event will be held in Gulf Shores, Ala., where you can guarantee a beach party is going to break out.
Here at DVB we’ll be covering those men, watching the beach, keeping an eye on the FIVB and AVP, trying to keep up with all our players overseas, and, oh yeah, it’s an Olympic year coming up. Don’t forget the U.S. women still haven’t qualified and the next try is back in Nebraska, January 7-9 in Lincoln. Think another sea of red. And white and blue.
There are big things ahead for DestinationVolleyball.com, which launched this past August 15.
Four months and countless Swog Blogs and video chats and video interviews later, the future is bright. We will have a big announcement coming in January as we expand our coverage of a sport that never stops.
The carousel keeps spinning and we’re thrilled to be along for the ride.