Friday, December 31, 2010

Volleyball Coaches and Rest

By Kathy DeBoer

T’was the day before New Year, and all volleyball had come to a close,
Not a coach was recruiting or watching film or planning practice, not even Russ Rose.

Since volleyball is ‘a single semester’ sport, our seasons begin and end in the same academic semester with the female teams ending in the fall and most male teams in the spring. What this means pragmatically is that the vast majority of volleyball coaches in the United States take a break at the end of each calendar year.

The final point of the NCAA DI Women’s National Championship in late December marks the end of a season; the first point of a men’s match or a junior tournament in January marks the beginning of the next. This week, therefore, most of the American volleyball coaching community is at rest.

Not surprisingly, coaches ‘rest’ rather poorly. Those just ending the sprint of the fall eagerly anticipate a few days of unscheduled time, only to find that spending hours watching mediocre bowl games and blowout basketball games is harder than they thought. Those preparing for the spring season grow increasingly impatient with all the down time that might better be spent preparing for competition.

I consider it both a healthy reality check and a disconcerting discovery to be surrounded at Christmas dinner by relatives who think the final four is in March, that athletes are mainly thugs, and advent should trump ESPN. After an afternoon in this wilderness, I’m ready to return to the familiarity of my volleyball phone booth, pull down the shades, and say a hearty ‘bah humbug’ to the virtues of a balanced life.

It is this inability to ‘turn it off’, to ‘down shift’, to ‘ratchet back’ that is our professions’ greatest strength and also our biggest liability. On the positive side, our obsession means we keep pushing each other to get better, to keep up, to compete. On the negative side, the zero-sum culture takes out some pretty good coaches each year, some voluntarily, but most fired. On the up side, we model hard work, relentless effort and constant accountability for our players. On the down side, many of them, especially women, look at our lives and choose to pursue different occupations.

We cannot deny the strength of this liability, nor escape the liability of this strength.

2011: bring it on!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Volleyball as Family

I collect pictures of volleyball-related stuff: some are good shots of a particular skill, some show a tactic in progress, some are humorous poses, expressions, or situations, and some are coaches giving the secret-behind-the-folder signals, encouraging, scolding or studying statistics. But my favorites by far are the pictures of volleyball teams between points.

I have images of college teams, high school teams, women’s teams, men’s teams, junior teams, and international teams. I collect them because these are the pictures that say ‘the thousand words’ which describes our sport.
The essence of volleyball is six people huddling together after every point, whether successful or not, whether winning or losing, whether elated or angry. The behavior is metaphorically similar to the love of one’s family in the culture that dictates we fake it when we don’t feel it.

Likewise, participation in the between-points cluster is not really voluntary; it’s the esprit de corps of volleyball. Regardless if you were responsible for winning the point, losing the point, or not handling the ball during the point. When you are on a volleyball court, you gather and you touch before you go on.

A good friend of mine came to Kansas City for the NCAA DI Women’s National Championship and watched volleyball for the first time. Although he understood little about the strategy of our game, as a veteran sports watcher he immediately noted the uniqueness of this reinforcement pattern.

“All the teams touched each other between points,” he remarked to me on the way home. “Amazingly, it didn’t matter if they won or lost the point. That’s powerful stuff!”

You could argue that teams playing in the national championship are, by definition, the most functional, and therefore highly likely to appear as if they inhale and exhale as a unit. But you miss my friend’s point if you believe that. The most important ‘coming together’ is not in celebration, but after a point lost, an opportunity squandered, a season of underachievement.

You see, learning the rhythm of volleyball is really just practice.

Michigan coach Mark Rosen said it best when commenting on a video created by his team on their last road trip:

“We were not feeling too good as a team heading into the NCAA’s with the way we had been playing and then the loss of Alex Hunt [a star player]. One of our juniors, Courtney Fletcher, is a film/TV major and . . . she sensed we needed something . . . It was fun to see them all working together and enjoying each other’s company at the end of a long [and somewhat disappointing] season. . .”

If that is the lesson our sport teaches, that’s powerful stuff!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NCAA Tournament Time – Regional Rundown

By Jen Armson-Dyer

With the unpredictable nature of the Division I women’s regular season, it’s only fitting that the NCAA Tournament follow suit. The three top seeds fell during the second weekend of action and several games were stretched to the limit. Read on for a weekend recap.

Austin, Texas, Regional Bracket
In the opening match of the Austin, Texas, Regional, No. 16 seed Purdue gained momentum throughout the match to sweep No. 1 seed Florida in convincing fashion, 28-26, 25-15, 25-19. Sophomore outside hitter Ariel Turner led all players with 18 kills as redshirt freshman Katie Griffin posted nine and redshirt freshman Catherine Rebarchak added in seven along with a team-high three blocks. Senior setter Jaclyn Hart produced six kills on .556 hitting with 39 assists while sophomore libero Carly Cramer and junior Emily Ehlers provided 16 and 15 digs, respectively. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers led Florida with nine kills. The upset was the first over a top-ranked team for Purdue, and it was the first time that the Boilermakers had advanced to the Regional Finals since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

No. 9 seed Texas had its hands full with No. 8 seed Illinois in a rematch from earlier this year as the Longhorns took out the Fighting Illini in five games (19-25, 26-24, 18-25, 25-14, 15-11) in front of 3,731 fans. Rachael Adams and Juliann Faucette led Texas with 19 kills each as Amber Roberson chipped in 11. Michelle Kocher dished out 46 assists as four Longhorn players reached double-digit digs, led by Kocher with 13. Adams topped the blocking list with five stuffs as Sha’Dare McNeal added in four. For Illinois, Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward provided 17 and 16 kills, respectively. With the win, Texas advanced to the Regional Finals for the fifth straight season.

In the NCAA Regional Final match, Purdue came out of the gates on fire, taking the 19-13 lead in the first game before senior setter Jaclyn Hart went down with an injury. Redshirt freshman setter Rachel Davis replaced Hart and led the team to the victory, 25-18, but Texas used the momentum it gained to take the second game, 25-16 and eventually win in four (18-25, 25-16, 25-15, 27-25) in front of 4,152 fans. Four Longhorn players reached double-digit kills, led by Faucette with 20 and Adams with 13 while Kocher distributed 54 assists. Lauren Dickson topped the defense with 12 digs as Adams led the blocking front with six stuffs. For Purdue, Turner produced 23 kills and 11 digs. With the win, Texas advances to its third consecutive NCAA Semifinal match and its seventh in program history.

Austin Regional All-Tournament Team: Jazmine Orozco, Illinois; Jaclyn Hart, Purdue; Ariel Turner, Purdue; Rachael Adams, Texas; Michelle Kocher, Texas; Juliann Faucette, Texas – Most Outstanding Player.

University Park, Pa., Regional Bracket
No. 12 seed Duke continued its historic run as it defeated Missouri in four games (25-19, 21-25, 25-19, 25-22) in the first Regional Semifinal match at Penn State. Four Blue Devil players reached double-digit kills, led by juniors Amanda Robertson and Sophia Dunworth with 15 each. ACC Player of the Year junior setter Kellie Catanach dished out 55 assists as freshman libero Ali McCurdy led the defense with 19 digs. Catanach and junior middle hitter Christiana Gray both produced five blocks to lead the squad. For Missouri, Paola Ampudia provided 21 kills and 10 digs. With the win, Duke captured its third victory in the same season in the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.

No. 4 seed Penn State swept Oklahoma (25-23, 25-23, 25-15) in front of 3,377 fans as senior opposite Blair Brown pounded 24 kills on .583 hitting while senior middle hitter Arielle Wilson added in nine kills on .571 hitting with a team-high four blocks. Sophomore setter Kristin Carpenter dished out 45 assists and senior libero Alyssa D’Errico led all players with 15 digs. For Oklahoma, Sallie McLaurin recorded 11 kills on .417 hitting.

In the NCAA Regional Final match, freshman outside hitter Deja McClendon pounded 20 kills on .347 hitting as Penn State captured the match in four games (25-19, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17) in front of 3,524 fans. Brown and Wilson added in 16 and 12 kills, respectively, as Carpenter provided 45 assists and D’Errico was one of five Lion players in double-digit digs, leading the way with 18. Wilson and Brown formed a wall at the net, recording eight and seven blocks, respectively. For Duke, Dunworth posted 12 kills to lead the squad. With the win, Penn State pushed its consecutive home winning streak to 94 matches and the Nittany Lions have also captured their last 22 NCAA matches within Rec Hall. This will be the ninth trip to the NCAA Semifinals for Penn State, who has captured the last three NCAA titles.

University Park Regional All-Tournament Team: Brianne Barker, Oklahoma; Paola Ampudia, Missouri; Sophia Dunworth, Duke; Kellie Catanach, Duke; Arielle Wilson, Penn State; Kristin Carpenter, Penn State; Blair Brown, Penn State – Most Outstanding Player.

Dayton, Ohio, Regional Bracket
Behind 13 kills from junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter, No. 6 seed Southern California swept Indiana in the first Regional Semifinal at Dayton. Junior middle hitter Lauren Williams posted 10 kills on .444 hitting with four blocks as junior setter Kendall Bateman dished out 35 assists and picked up 10 digs. Freshman libero Natalie Hagglund led the defense with 13 digs. For Indiana, senior middle hitter Ashley Benson collected 13 kills. The win was the 16th sweep of the year for the Women of Troy and pushed the squad to its seven appearance in an NCAA Regional Final in the last 11 seasons.

No. 3 seed Stanford advanced to its third Regional Final in four years with a four-game win over Ohio State (25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-18). Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman led all players with 29 kills, seven digs and a career-high tying three aces while senior Cassidy Lichtman racked up her team-best 17th double-double of the year with 10 kills and 27 assists to go along with seven digs. Sophomore middle hitter Jessica Walker collected a career-high 11 kills on .500 hitting (11-2-18) while sophomore Hannah Benjamin and senior Gabi Ailes each picked up 11 digs. Katie Dull led the Buckeyes with 21 kills.

In the all-Pac 10 Regional Final match, the teams battled into extra points as Southern California claimed the five-game win (20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 26-24, 16-14) to advance to its sixth NCAA National Semifinal appearance in the last 11 seasons. Freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana led the Women of Troy with 25 kills and added in a career-high 14 digs as Jupiter pitched in 23 kills and Williams notched 13 kills to go along with a team-high five blocks. Bateman dished out 64 assists while Hagglund led five USC players in double-digit digs with 16. For Stanford, Klineman led the way with 28 kills, two aces and 10 digs.

Dayton Regional All-Tournament Team: Ashley Benson, Indiana; Katie Dull, Ohio State; Cassidy Lichtman, Stanford; Alix Klineman, Stanford; Alex Jupiter, USC; Kendall Bateman, USC; Falyn Fonoimoana, USC – Most Outstanding Player

Seattle, Wash., Regional Bracket
No. 7 Seed California defeated No. 10 seed Minnesota in three tight games (26-24, 25-23, 25-23) as junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey and freshman outside hitter Adrienne Gehan each collected 10 kills. Senior setter Carli Lloyd dished out 39 assists and a match-high five blocks while sophomore defensive specialist Robin Rostratter picked up a team-high 17 digs. For Minnesota, sophomore Tabi Love collected 15 kills on .433 hitting. The win was the 28th of the season for Cal, which tied the highest single-season win total in program history with the 1982 Golden Bears squad.

In perhaps the most hotly-contested match of the tournament, Washington upset No. 2 seed Nebraska in four games (25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 29-27) in front of 5,624 fans. Seniors Kindra Carlson and Becky Perry both collected 18 kills while junior Bianca Rowland added in 10 to go along with a match-leading eight blocks. Senior setter Jenna Hagglund dished out 48 assists as freshman libero Jenna Orlandini picked up a match-high 27 digs. For Nebraska, Hannah Werth collected a team-high 16 kills to go along with 16 digs.

Making its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Regional Final match, Cal defeated Washington in three games (25-21, 25-20, 25-14) to remain the only team yet to drop an individual set in the NCAA Tournament. Murrey led the Golden Bears with 15 kills as Gehan chipped in 11 as Cal hit .364 as a team. Lloyd dished out 40 assists and Rostratter picked up 16 digs as Lloyd again led the team in blocks with four. For Washington, Carlson picked up 20 kills on .450 hitting (20-2-40). With the win, Cal advances to its second NCAA National Semifinal appearance in the last four seasons.

Seattle Regional All-Tournament Team: Jordan Wilberger, Nebraska; Bianca Rowland, Washington; Kindra Carlson, Washington; Lauren Gibbemeyer, Minnesota; Tarah Murrey, California; Shannon Hawari, California; Carli Lloyd, California – Most Outstanding Player.

The NCAA National Semifinals are slated for Thursday, Dec. 16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. The first match at 7:00 p.m. ET features No. 4 seed Penn State (30-5) against No. 9 seed Texas (27-5) in a rematch of last year’s thrilling NCAA National Championship match in which the Nittany Lions fought back from two games down to claim their third straight NCAA title. No. 6 seed Southern California and No. 7 seed California will meet at 9:00 p.m. ET. This will be the third meeting between the two schools this year, as the Women of Troy captured both of the previous matches, once in five games and once in four games.

The NCAA National Championship match will be played on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET and all three matches will be live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com with Beth Mowins and Karch Kiraly on the call.

NCAA Championship History:
- No. 4 Seed Penn State: The Nittany Lions are making their ninth trip to the National Semifinals. Penn State also advanced in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The Lions have earned four NCAA titles, including the last three straight.

- No. 6 Seed Southern California: The Women of Troy have captured six national championships (1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 2002, 2003) and have advanced to the NCAA National Semifinals six times in the last 11 seasons.

- No. 7 Seed California: The Golden Bears are seeking their first-ever NCAA title and are making their second appearance in the NCAA National Semifinals in school history, with the first coming in 2007 as Cal fell to eventual-champion Penn State in Sacramento, Calif.

- No. 9 Seed Texas: The Longhorns are making their seventh appearance in the NCAA National Semifinals, including their third consecutive trip. Texas has captured two national titles (1981, 1988).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Volleyball and AVCA Awards

By Kathy DeBoer

The AVCA honors 2500 coaches and players each year. 80% (2000) of the award winners are named during one month, mid-November to mid-December, the culmination of the girl’s high school and women’s collegiate seasons.

This may seem like a lot of “atta girls” until you look at the volleyball universe from which these honorees are selected. There are over 400,000 girls playing on high school volleyball teams and over 25,000 women participating in college programs. 35,000 head coaches are charged with meshing those individuals into cohesive teams, and, at least that many assistant coaches, volunteers, and managers contribute to the winnowing process.

Put those 2000 award-winners in the context of half-a-million ‘wannabees’ and suddenly they look pretty elite.

Next week in Kansas City, Missouri at the AVCA Convention we will have two opportunities to celebrate the top performing coaches and players. The Jostens Coaches Honors Luncheon will be on Thursday, December 16. Before lunch, four members will be added to the AVCA Hall of Fame, during the meal Victory Club milestones will be applauded, and afterward the Coaches of the Year from each of our broad and diverse constituency groups will encapsulate their special journey in brief speeches. Look for video clips and highlights.

Friday evening we will gather for the AVCA All America/Player of the Year banquet presented by Zamst. This 1000-attendee gala highlights the best of our best. The affair is full of beautiful women, proud coaches and ear-popping statistics. Former Olympian and The Net Live host, Kevin Barnett, will add short interviews with key players. Again, we look forward to sharing the highlights with you.

Please join us next week, either in person or via our social networks, as the 2010 women’s volleyball season builds to a final climax.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NCAA Tournament Time

By Jen Armson-Dyer


Last weekend marked the beginning of the run for the 2010 NCAA Championship title in Kansas City as the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament were held on the campuses of 16 schools. Through some truly outstanding competition, the field was narrowed down to 16 who will compete this weekend for a berth in the NCAA National Semifinals, held in Kansas City on Dec. 16. Below is a look at what happened next weekend and a preview of what’s to come:

Austin, Texas, Regional Bracket
In Gainesville, Fla., the top-seeded Gators swept South Carolina State in First Round action while Florida State claimed the win over Georgia Southern in four games. Saturday night in the Second Round matchup, Florida overcame a 12-7 deficit and an official’s replay following a disputed call in the fifth game to knot the score at 13-13. The teams traded points twice before a kill by junior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel, her 18th of the match, gave the Gators the 17-15 victory. Junior opposite/setter Kelly Murphy led Florida with 19 kills and 21 assists and became only the 17th player in school history to record more than 1,000 career kills. The Regional Semifinal appearance is the 19th for the Gators in the last 20 years.

In West Lafayette, Ind., 16th-seeded Purdue claimed a four-game victory over Kentucky while Louisville swept Middle Tennessee in First Round action. Saturday night the Boilermakers claimed a tight four-game victory over Louisville. Junior Tiffany Fisher and sophomore Ariel Turner posted 12 and 11 kills, respectively, for Purdue, who also came up big on the defensive end. The Boilermakers out-dug the Cardinals 62-41, led by four players in double-digit digs, including sophomore Carley Cramer. This will be the third NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance in the last six years for Purdue.

In Austin, Texas, the ninth-seeded Longhorns swept Texas-San Antonio and UCLA outlast American in five games on Friday night. On Saturday, Texas senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette pounded 17 kills to lead the squad to a four-game victory over the Bruins. Freshman setter Hannah Allison returned from injury to see her first real action in more than two months to contribute 24 assists and a much-needed spark, according to head coach Jerritt Elliott. With the win the Longhorns advance to their fifth consecutive NCAA Regional Semifinal and the 23rd in program history.

In Champaign, Ill., eighth-seeded Illinois swept Austin Peay and Cincinnati downed Western Kentucky in three games on Friday night. On Saturday night, Illinois avenged an earlier loss to the Bearcats as they claimed the four-game victory. Colleen Ward blitzed the Cincinnati defense with 27 kills, the fourth-most by an Illinois player in an NCAA Tournament match.

The NCAA Regional Semifinal in Austin, Texas, is the only one of the four brackets with all four nationally-seeded teams remaining. On Friday at 6:00 p.m. ET, No. 1 seed Florida takes on No. 16 seed Purdue, and following at 8:00 p.m. ET, No. 8 seed Illinois will face host and No. 9 seed Texas, in a rematch from earlier this year was claimed by the Fighting Illini.

University Park, Pa., Regional Bracket
In University Park, Pa., fourth-seed Penn State swept Niagara in three games while Virginia Tech claimed the three-game victory over Delaware. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions swept Virginia Tech behind senior opposite Blair Brown’s 11 kills. The NCAA Regional appearance is the 22nd time in program history for Penn State, and the 18th in the last 20 seasons. Penn State is 44-3 in NCAA matches at Rec Hall.

In Norman, Okla., Tulsa swept 13th-seed LSU while Oklahoma swept Wichita State in First Round action. On Saturday, Oklahoma outlasted Tulsa in five games as junior outside hitter Caitlin Higgins led five Sooner players in double-digit kills with 18 on .326 hitting. Junior setter Brianne Barker recorded the first triple-double in Oklahoma school history with a career-high 10 kills, 57 assists and 14 digs while freshman middle hitter Sallie McLaurin added in 16 kills and a match-high 10 blocks. This will be the third appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals for Oklahoma and the second under head coach Santiago Restrepo, as it previously advanced in 1988 and 2006.

In Durham, N.C., Duke swept High Point and Ohio swept Penn in First Round action. On Saturday, the Blue Devils outlasted the Bobcats in five games, despite 26.0 team blocks by Ohio. Junior opposite Amanda Robertson led Duke with 13 kills. The Blue Devils will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Regional semifinals since 1994, and the second in school history.

In Cedar Falls, Iowa, Missouri outlasted No. 5 seed and host Northern Iowa in five games while Northwestern defeated Arizona in four games. On Saturday, Missouri claimed the four-game win over the Wildcats as Lisa Henning delivered a career-high 18 kills for the Tigers. This will be the second-ever appearance for Missouri in the NCAA Regional semifinals, and the first since 2005.

The NCAA Regional Semifinals in University Park, Pa., will feature Missouri versus No. 12 seed Duke at 5:00 p.m. ET, with No. 4 seed Penn State and Oklahoma following at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Dayton, Ohio, Regional Bracket
In Stanford, Calif., third-seeded Stanford swept Albany (N.Y.), while Colorado State outlasted Cal State Fullerton in five games. On Saturday, the Cardinal swept the Rams behind 18 kills from senior outside hitter Alix Klineman, the lone player in the match to reach double-digit kills. The NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance will be the fifth consecutive for Stanford.

In Dayton, Ohio, No. 14 seed Dayton swept Butler while Ohio State took down Lipscomb in four games in First Round action. On Saturday, the Buckeyes outlasted the Flyers in an extended five-game match (16-14 in the fifth), behind a career-high-tying 25 kills by senior outside hitter Katie Dull. Junior middle hitter Kelli Barhorst also tied a personal-best with 16 kills for the Buckeyes, who will be making their 12th appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals.

In Bloomington, Ind., No. 11 seed Tennessee swept Alabama A&M while Indiana outlasted Miami (Fla.) in five games in the First Round. On Saturday, the Hoosiers again worked their home-court magic to defeat the Volunteers in five games. Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Haverly carried the Hoosier squad with 30 kills, 14 digs and five blocks as seniors Ashley Benson and Taylor Wittmer combined for 11 blocks between them. This will be Indiana’s first appearance in school history in the NCAA Regional Semifinals.

In Los Angeles, Calif., No. 3 seed Southern California swept New Mexico while San Diego swept Long Beach State. On Saturday in the Second Round, USC used 23 kills from junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter to defeat San Diego in four games. The Women of Troy have now won 13 of their last 14 matches dating back to Oct. 15, with the Nov. 7 loss to Stanford the only blemish. This will be the eighth appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals for USC in the last 11 seasons.

The NCAA Regional Semifinals in Dayton, Ohio, will feature No. 6 seed Southern California versus Indiana at 4:00 p.m. ET with No. 3 seed Stanford facing off with Ohio State at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Seattle, Wash., Regional Bracket
In Lincoln, Neb., No. 2 seed Nebraska swept Sacred Heart while Auburn swept Missouri State in First Round action. On Friday in the Second Round, the Huskers used 11.0 team blocks and 43 digs to stymie the Tiger offense en route to a three game win. Junior middle hitter Jordan Wilberger posted a match-high eight blocks as freshman opposite Morgan Broekhuis led the Husker offense with eight kills. Nebraska will be making its 27th straight appearance in the NCAA Regional semifinals as it has advanced every year since 1984.

In Seattle, Wash., 15-seed Hawaii swept Portland State while host Washington defeated Michigan in three games. Friday in Second Round action, the Huskies swept the Rainbow Wahine behind 18 kills on .395 hitting from senior outside hitter Kindra Carlson. Senior setter Jenna Hagglund directed the Washington offense to a .328 hitting percentage while the Huskie defense held Hawaii to hitting just .170 for the match. Washington will be making an appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals for the first time since 2008 and the sixth time in the last eight years.

In Minneapolis, Minn., No. 10 seed Minnesota swept North Dakota State while Creighton claimed a five-game victory over Iowa State. In the Second Round, the Golden Gophers swept the Bluejays behind 19 kills and nine digs from freshman outside hitter Ashley Wittman as freshman middle hitter Tori Dixon hit .625 with 12 kills, four digs and four solo blocks. Minnesota has now advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the eighth time since 1999 and for the second straight season.

In Berkeley, Calif., seventh-seed California swept Utah State while North Carolina defeated Mississippi in four games. On Saturday in the Second Round, the Golden Bears swept the Tar Heels, led by senior setter Carli Lloyd’s 11th double-double of the year with 38 assists and 10 digs as she directed the offense to a .376 team hitting percentage (43-8-93). Junior outside hitter Tarrah Murrey led the squad with 16 kills. This will be the fifth straight and sixth overall NCAA Regional appearance for Cal.

The NCAA Regional Semifinals in Seattle, Wash., will feature No. 10 seed Minnesota versus No. 7 California at 8:00 p.m. ET before host Washington and No. 2 seed Nebraska meet at 10:00 p.m. ET.

The winners of each of the NCAA Regional Semifinal matches will meet on Saturday, Dec. 11 for the right to advance to the NCAA National Semifinal. All four NCAA Regional Semifinal matches will be televised on ESPNU, with the Dayton Regional at 4:00 p.m. ET, the University Park Regional at 6:30 p.m. ET, the Austin Regional at 9:00 p.m. ET and the Seattle Regional at 11:30 p.m.

The NCAA National Semifinals are slated for Thursday, Dec. 16 at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. The NCAA National Championship match will be played on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Volleyball and the NCAA Division I Tournament Bracket

By Kathy DeBoer

An NCAA tournament bracket has to pass two tests to be credible: first, the selections and seeds have to pass a numbers test, i.e. they must make sense in terms of win-loss record, RPI, head-to-head, and conference standings, all objective measures that take time and care to calculate, but once computed are straightforward and unbiased; second, the selections and seeds need to pass the eyes test, i.e. they must make sense from the educated observer’s standpoint. The eyes test is subjective in that either there are no numbers to support or refute it, or the numbers lead to different conclusions than the eyes.

The numbers test favors the selection committee administrators who have access to the computer models needed to crank out RPI’s, the white board spread sheets necessary to compare vast amounts of information, and the nation-wide seasonal results, that ultimately lead to the selection, seeding and bracket decisions. The eyes test favors the coaches who have been participants in the fall matches, scrutinized endless video, scoured their own and opponent’s statistics and, therefore have insider, but regionally-myopic knowledge of team’s strengths and weaknesses, and who, also, feel strongly as if they have more skin in the game than the committee as their livelihoods are directly impacted by those administrative selection, seeding and bracket decisions.

Both tests alone will produce an imperfect bracket. RPI numbers can be manipulated; traditional biases color coaches evaluations.

Add the NCAA parameters that non-profit-producing championships must also keep air travel to a minimum, and that seeded teams from the same conference cannot face each other until the regional finals, and an imperfect bracket becomes unintentionally even more flawed.

The bracket produces a volatile standoff each year at NCAA Championship time between the DI volleyball committee and DI coaches. Each group feels dishonored by the other. Administrators believe, correctly, that coaches have little understanding of, and even less appreciation for the parameters within which they must work, nor any gratitude for the time, honest effort, and struggle that went into making what they know is an imperfect, but still their best-effort-given-the-restrictions, bracket. Frustrated coaches accuse administrators of having dishonest agendas; in a blind attempt to explain certain choices or pairings, they hallucinate about conversations that never happened, and manufacture conspiracies laced with regional bias and personal politics. Each group feels the other has trivialized their efforts.

A partial solution may be possible although difficult: increasing attendance enough to ease the air travel straight jacket gives the committee more flexibility. The women’s DI volleyball championship loses about $1 million dollars annually. If we can get attendance of 2500 per night at all first and second round sites that shortfall would largely disappear, and we, administrators and coaches together, would have helped ourselves to more bracket plasticity.

Is it possible both the numbers and the eyes aficionados can support that agenda?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How Can We Justify Intercollegiate Athletics?

By Terry Pettit

I believe that the purpose of a university education is to teach people to learn how to learn and to learn how to take responsibility for their own development. There are other things that take place of course, the memorization of scientific tables, learning how to write a readable essay, the reading of great and not so great literature, the socialization that comes with living in dormitories, fraternities and sororities and the introduction of the arts and music through required attendance at recitals and exhibitions. But all of this to me is secondary to the idea that idea that a college education is one place that we can go to learn different ways we can take accountability for our own development.

For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that you agree with me. If so, what is the purpose of intercollegiate athletics? How can we justify spending millions of dollars on a small percentage of the student population? Some might argue that we can justify football and men’s basketball because they provide entertainment for the university and local communities, and in some cases generate revenue that allows other students to participate in the competitive arena.

If revenue is the primary justification for an athletic department, universities, we would be better off taking the football budget and investing it in Berkshire Hathaway, Apple or Google. If entertainment is the primary goal then we could take the money and have cirque de sol troupes visit the campus quarterly and provide free tickets to every student, faculty member, administrator and donor.

The best justification that I can find for the amount of money that we spend on intercollegiate athletics is to come back to my original premise: if a university education is where we go to learn how to learn, then an athletic department can be a laboratory for that endeavor. Intercollegiate athletics can be not only a cauldron where we learn about ourselves, but where we learn to take responsibility for our own development, where we learn the principals of leadership and teambuilding, and where we learn how to take action based on those principals.

My vision is that coaches have the potential to build a culture that promotes self-actualized leadership, one where student athletes progress from being directed and coached to becoming situational leaders who become passionate about their own development. The first step in the process is to give student athletes a framework for making better decisions.

Hear is a list of values that a coach or athletic department might consider when developing a compass for decisions:

Integrity
A strong work ethic
Teamwork
Tolerance and respect for our teammates, opponents, and others outside our community.
A willingness to be uncomfortable in our pursuit of excellence.

The last value interests me in particular. Given the nature of contemporary culture where many incoming student athletes have had even their smallest problems solved by their parents, we have to begin by changing the mindset that accompanies the people we are coaching. We have to educate both them (and their parents) that if we are doing our job we are going to create a supportive environment but one that continually challenges student athletes to take responsibility for themselves and their personal development.

Our first task is to teach our players how to make better decisions. Imagine that the values that I listed above were like the directions on a compass, and that we teach our athletes to hold each decision that they make up to those values. (You could even make a wristband that each player wore that listed the core values.)

At the end of a tough practice the head coach decides that he will push the team through a series of shuttle runs to develop fitness and mental toughness. The player has a decision to make. Do I glide through the exercise, working hard enough to stay ahead of a few other players so as to not draw attention to myself, or do I push myself as hard as I can. Which decision is consistent with the values and behaviors that my teammates and I have committed to.

Is there integrity in giving less than my best effort? No.
Do I have respect for my teammates if I do not work hard? No.
Am I honoring my commitment to be uncomfortable? No.

It is more likely that team members (and coaches) will hold themselves accountable to difficult tasks if they have already committed to specific behaviors before the challenge is before them.

Does this mean that everyone wearing a wristband will automatically become a great teammate? No. Does it mean that everyone will automatically give his best effort in every drill? No. But even when they do not choose the behavior that is consistent with our sense of purpose, they will be aware of it. Our first goal is awareness. Our next goal is not to be perfect but to be better. What we are trying to do is to move from directing a player into the appropriate behavior to coaching a player who has already committed to specific values and behaviors that give her the best chance to get better.

As coaches we tend to see our most difficult challenges in physical terms: blocking footwork, defensive pursuit, left side attack against a strong block in endgame, etc. . . . but every behavior that we hope to create on the court is preceded by a decision in the brain. Leadership is making decisions based on predetermined values. We have to train leadership as consistently and as passionately as we do transition footwork or any other sophisticated response that leads to success. Leadership cannot develop until we first teach our team members how to follow a commitment to healthy values and behaviors.

Terry Pettit is the author of Talent And The Secret Life of Teams, which can be ordered at
www.terrypettit.com