Monday, December 12, 2011

A Look Ahead – NCAA Division I National Semifinals and Championship

by Jen Armson-Dyer


Wow. What else can you say? This NCAA Tournament has been one of the most unexpected in quite some time. A look at the final match-ups of the 2011 season, to be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas:

Thursday, Dec. 15

NCAA National Semifinal #1, 7:00 p.m. ET: #9 Seed UCLA (28-6) versus #12 Seed Florida State (28-6). Live, ESPN2.
The Bruins defeated #8 Seed and four-time defending champ Penn State (3-0) before taking out top-seeded Texas in four sets in the Lexington Regional to reach the NCAA Semifinals for the first time since the 2006 season. UCLA claimed the 1984, 1990 and 1991 NCAA National Championships, also reaching the title match in 1981, 1983, 1992 and 1994. This will be the Bruins’ first appearance under head coach Mike Sealy, who also helped guide Hawaii to the National Semifinals in 2009 as an associate head coach.

Rachael Kidder (#11), who was named the Lexington Regional Most Outstanding Player after racking up a match-high 26 kills against the Longhorns, leads UCLA with 4.63 kills per set as Tabi Love (#3) and Kelly Reeves (#2) add in 2.74 and 2.10 kills per set, respectively. Lauren Van Orden (#5) directs the offense with 10.96 assists per set as Lainey Gera (#6) picks up 4.91 digs per set to lead the defense. Mariana Aquino (#12) tops the blocking chart with 105 total blocks, good for 1.11 blocks per set. As a team, UCLA is hitting .250 with 14.40 kills per set. 1.02 service aces per set, 15.71 digs per set and 2.49 blocks per set. By comparison, the Bruins are holding their opponents to hitting .157 with 11.69 kills per set, 0.74 service aces per set, 13.48 digs per set and 2.12 blocks per set.

The Seminoles defeated #5 Seed Purdue in four before outlasting #4 Seed Iowa State in five in the Minneapolis Regional to reach their first-ever NCAA National Semifinal. Florida State, under the direction of Chris Poole, is also the first team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to ever reach the NCAA National Semifinals.

Minneapolis Regional Most Outstanding Player Jekaterina Stepanova (#3), who posted 20 kills on .378 hitting with nine digs against Iowa State, leads Florida State with 3.28 kills per set as Visnja Djurdjevic (#9) and Elise Walch (#23) chip in 2.86 and 2.09 kills per set. Duygu Duzceler (#20) and Sarah Wickstrom (#10) take turns directing the offense with 6.13 and 4.99 assists per set, respectively, as Katie Mosher (#2) tops the defense with 4.67 digs per set. Ashley Neff (#14) leads the team with 1.55 blocks per set as Sareea Freeman (#22) adds in 1.26 blocks per set. As a team, Florida State is hitting .261 with 14.03 kills per set, 0.94 service aces per set, 16.08 digs per set and 2.98 blocks per set. By comparison, the Seminoles are holding their opponents to hitting .186 with 13.35 kills per set, 0.91 service aces per set, 16.21 digs per set and 1.81 blocks per set.

UCLA leads the series with Florida State, 5-0, including 4-0 on a neutral court. The last meeting was a 3-0 Bruin win on Sept. 14, 1996.

National Semifinal #2, 9:00 p.m. ET: #3 Seed Illinois (31-4) versus #7 Seed Southern California (29-4). Live, ESPN2.
The Fighting Illini defeated Ohio State in four before taking out Florida on its home court in four to advance to their third-ever NCAA National Semifinals and the first in 23 years. Illinois reached back to back NCAA Semifinals in 1987 and 1988 under then-head coach Mike Hebert. In 2011 under current head coach Kevin Hambly, the Fighting Illini picked up their first 30-win season since 1992 and earned the highest NCAA seed in program history (3).

Gainesville Regional Most Outstanding Player Colleen Ward (#4) collected 23 kills on .500 hitting against the Gators, and ranks second on the team with 3.70 kills per set. Michelle Bartsch (#6) tops the offense with 3.83 kills per set and Erin Johnson (#12) adds in 2.13 kills per set. Annie Luhrsen (#11) directs the offense with 11.12 assists per set as Jennifer Beltran (#3) leads the defense with 4.10 digs per set. Anna Dorn (#5) heads the blocking list with 1.27 blocks per set as Johnson chips in 1.09 blocks per set. As a team, Illinois is hitting .262 with 13.75 kills per set, 1.17 service aces per set, 15.20 digs per set and 2.59 blocks per set. By comparison, the Fighting Illini are holding their opponents to .179 hitting with 12.84 kills per set, 0.99 service aces per set, 15.23 digs per set and 1.84 blocks per set.

The Women of Troy took out host and #10 Seed Hawaii in five before outlasting #15 Seed Pepperdine, also in five, to win the Honolulu Regional advance to their seventh NCAA National Semifinal appearance in the last 12 years. USC is making back-to-back NCAA Semifinal appearances for the first time since three consecutive berths from 2002-04, which included back to back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003. This will be head coach Mick Haley’s 10th NCAA National Semifinal appearance, and his sixth at USC.

Honolulu Regional Most Outstanding Player Alex Jupiter (#7) led the Women of Troy with 17 kills, a career-high 29 digs, a personal-best-tying five aces and four blocks against the Waves, and leads the team for the season with 4.38 kills per set. Katie Fuller (#22) and Lauren Williams (#8) chip in 2.86 and 2.64 kills per game, respectively, as Kendall Bateman (#12) directs the offense with 11.98 assists per set. Natalie Hagglund (#3) picks up 5.09 digs per set to lead the defense while Williams tops the blocking charts with 87 blocks for the year, good for 0.81 blocks per set. As a team, Southern California is hitting .289 with 14.83 kills per set, 1.23 service aces per set, 15.74 digs per set and 2.09 blocks per set. By comparison, the Women of Troy are holding their opponents to hitting .178 with 12.11 kills per set, 0.68 service aces per set, 14.68 digs per set and 2.07 blocks per set.

The series between Illinois and USC is tied at 2-2 and the teams are meeting for the second time in the NCAA Tournament. The Women of Troy downed the Fighting Illini in straight sets  in the 1985 regional semifinal in Kalamazoo, Mich. The last meeting was a five-set Illinois victory in 2004.

National Championship, Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Live, ESPN2.
The winners of each of the two NCAA National Semifinal matches will vie for the title on Saturday night. A glimpse at the history behind the potential match-ups:

UCLA vs. Illinois: The Bruins lead the all-time series with the Fighting Illini 9-0. The last time the teams met was a 3-0 UCLA win in 1994 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

UCLA vs. USC: A storied rivalry in any sport between the schools, the cross-town rivals are relatively close in the series, with UCLA leading 52-46 all-time. The teams split this year during Pac-12 play, with the Women of Troy claiming the first contest 3-0 on Sept. 9 and the Bruins taking the rematch in four on Nov. 25.

Florida State vs. Illinois: The Seminoles lead the series 3-1, with the last meeting a 3-0 Florida State victory over then-No. 8 Illinois in 2009 at the New Mexico State Invitational.

Florida State vs. USC: The Women of Troy won the lone meeting between the two schools in straight sets in 2006.

What are your thoughts? Who is your pick to win it all Saturday night?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Convention Anticipation

by Jonathan Ketterer

After several weeks of no posts, the Friday blog is back and will be discussing a little bit about San Antonio for the upcoming convention. For starters, I have been to the beautiful city three times prior to this week's upcoming trip, and I can say with certainty that it will be a great place for the AVCA to be holding their convention. From the Riverwalk to the Alamo, San Antonio's scenic beauty will be sure to match the beauty of the convention and the matches that will taking place at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Alamodome. Beauty aside though, I'd like to point out a few things about the both the city and the convention that I am personally excited for.
 
The Republic of Texas Restaurant

On my prior trips to this Texas city, I have done the obvious tourist tasks of riding a boat down the Riverwalk and seeing the Alamo. I can say that both of these activities are rather unique, and if you find yourself awed by history, I am sure the Alamo won't disappoint. The Riverwalk though, is something I have always found to be an awesome part of the city. Every time that I have gone to San Antonio, I have eaten a dinner on the Riverwalk, and for this trip, I am happy to announce that this streak will not end. One restaurant that is highly reviewed and rather unique to the rest is the Republic of Texas Restaurant. Dining on the river itself is surely an experience to say the least, and while sticking true to the motto that everything is bigger in Texas, they offer a 46 oz. margarita. Another unique restaurant on the Riverwalk is Dick's. Although I have never been there myself, I hear that they simply act jokingly rude and that it is in turn supposed to be a fun atmosphere for those who have a good sense of humor. I also hear that their half pound burgers are delicious and that the restaurant gets a little more active around nighttime.  

As for the Riverwalk itself, boat rides are offered for those who are interested, but if you're more like me, you can appreciate doing an actual walk by the river. As an avid traveler I can say that set ups like this are awesome if you can find a restaurant to match your mood. While it may seem outlandish, I could almost bring myself to compare the Riverwalk to the canals of Amsterdam or a place like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

As for the convention and the events, I can say that there are a few things I'd also recommend to spend some time experiencing. Over the course of the past few months, I got a chance to listen to audio recordings of a classic convention session called Tales from the Locker Room by UCLA Men's Volleyball Coach Al Scates. This year, another addition to the collection will be made, and I strongly advise that attendees of the convention take some time to sit back and hear a few classic, and possibly humorous stories from a long-time advocate of the sport. Another part of this year's convention that has me excited is the Under Armour High School All-America Match and Skills Competition. While I have spent the past week working with the media guide, I can safely say that this match won't disappoint. As a proud native of Kentucky, I was somewhat sad to see that no Louisvillians made this year's rosters, but nevertheless, the teams are stacked with commits to all of the top tier programs of Division I. If you aren't able to attend the match in person, ESPNU will air the match on December 26th at 7PM ET.. From our questionnaire, I might have to say that Team East's Sarah Burrington is one of my favorite players on both squads. Not only is Sarah her high school's kill and block record holder, but she also stated in our questionnaire that she wanted to marry Harry Potter, a clear sign of her genius. As a Potter fan myself, I can appreciate her love for the series. In addition, she also told us that she considered my very own college, the University of Kentucky, among other schools, but ended up signing with Florida State University.

So if you're going to the convention in Texas next week, I suggest you take your time in deciding where to eat when you leave the convention building, because I think that if you hit the right restaurants, the food could surely be something to write home about. Also don't forget to sit down and highlight some of the convention sessions that you may find interesting before you get to Texas (Schedule can be found here), and of course, don't forget about the Under Armour All-Americans, who will be taking the floor at the Alamodome on Friday at 8:00. For those not attending the convention, I hope you can make plans for our future events, notably the Spring Conference in L.A. and the 2012 Convention in Louisville. Since this will be my last time blogging, I would like to thank the entire AVCA organization for allowing me this opportunity to write on a weekly basis for both the members and the readers of this blog. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns, e-mail me at jonathan.ketterer@avca.org. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Look Ahead – NCAA Division I Regional Championship

by Jen Armson-Dyer


After a wild regular-season, the NCAA First and Second Rounds followed suit, with several upsets among the first set of matches. Let’s take a look at the field for this weekend:

Lexington, Ky., Regional
Hosted by the University of Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum

Friday, Dec. 9 at 5:00 p.m. ET – #8 Seed Penn State (25-7) vs. #9 Seed UCLA (26-6). The Nittany Lions defeated Liberty (3-0) and Delaware (3-1) to advance, and are led by Deja McClendon (#18) and Ariel Scott (#1) with 3.55 and 3.54 kills per set, respectively, Ali Longo (#23) with 3.39 digs per set and Katie Slay (#16) with 1.43 blocks per set. Penn State owns a 74-25 record in the NCAA Tournament, with this being its ninth straight trip to the Regional Semifinals. The Bruins defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-0) and San Diego (3-1) to advance, and are led by Rachael Kidder (#11) with 4.56 kills per set, Lainey Gera (#6) with 4.88 digs per set and Mariana Aquino (#12) with 1.11 blocks per set. UCLA has a 76-27 all-time record in NCAA action and leads the series with Penn State 6-4, with the last meeting in 2008.

Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET - #1 Seed Texas (24-4) vs. Kentucky (28-5). The Longhorns downed Texas State (3-0) and Michigan State (3-0) to advance, and are led by Haley Eckerman (#10) with 3.58 kills per set, Sydney Yogi (#15) with 3.41 digs per set and Rachael Adams (#5) with 1.20 blocks per set. Texas is 64-26 all-time in its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Wildcats defeated Dayton (3-2) and No. 16 Seed Texas A&M (3-0) to advance, and are led by Ashley Frazier (#4) with 3.20 kills per set, Stephanie Klefot (#11) with 4.81 digs per set and Becky Pavan (#22) with 1.10 blocks per set. Kentucky advanced to the Regional Semifinals for the second time in three years. Texas leads the all-time series 12-3, with the last meeting in 1995.  

The winners of each of the Regional Semifinal matches will square off on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET live on ESPNU. All three matches will be live on espn3.com.

Minneapolis, Minn., Regional
Hosted by the University of Minnesota at the Sports Pavilion
 
Friday, Dec. 9 at 6:00 p.m. ET – #5 Seed Purdue (29-4) vs. #12 Seed Florida State (26-6). The Boilermakers defeated Morehead State (3-0) and Louisville (3-1) to advance, and are led by Ariel Turner (#8) with 4.87 kills per set, Blair Bashen (#14) with 3.99 digs per set and Kierra Jones (#12) with 1.24 blocks per set. Purdue will be looking for its second straight and third overall NCAA Regional Final appearance. The Seminoles downed Albany (NY)(3-0) and Cincinnati (3-2) to advance, and are led by Jekaterina Stepanova (#3) with 3.27 kills per set, Katie Mosher (#2) with 4.58 digs per set and Ashley Neff (#14) with 1.61 blocks per set. This will be the second-ever NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance for Florida State. The series is tied 3-3, with the last meeting coming in 1997.

Friday, Dec. 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET – #4 Seed Iowa State (24-5) vs. #13 Seed Minnesota (20-11). The Cyclones defeated UW-Milwaukee (3-0) and Miami (FL)(3-0), and are led by Carly Jenson (#1) with 3.88 kills per set, Kristen Hahn (#6) with 5.49 digs per set and Tenisha Matlock (#17) with 1.00 blocks per set. Iowa State is making its fourth Regional Semifinal appearance in six years. The Golden Gophers downed North Dakota State (3-0) and Washington (3-2) to advance, and are led by Ashley Wittman (#13) with 4.51 kills per set, Jessica Granquist (#2) with 4.63 digs per set and Ariana Filho (#11) with 0.90 blocks per set. Minnesota is 34-16 all-time in NCAA Tournament and is 16-1 in NCAA matches at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers lead the all-time series 23-6, with the last meeting in 2009.

The winners of each of the Regional Semifinal matches will square off on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 9:30 p.m. ET live on ESPNU. All three matches will be live on espn3.com.

Gainesville, Fla., Regional
Hosted by the University of Florida at the O’Connell Center
Friday, Dec. 9 at 5:00 p.m. ET – #3 Seed Illinois (29-4) vs. Ohio State (21-14). The Fighting Illini defeated Central Michigan (3-0) and Marquette (3-0) to advance, and are led by Michelle Bartsch (#6) with 3.83 kills per set, Jennifer Beltran (#3) with 4.05 digs per set and Anna Dorn (#5) with 1.29 blocks per set. This is Illinois’ fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. The Buckeyes downed Middle Tennessee State (3-1) and No. 14 Seed Tennessee (3-2) to advance, and are led by Mari Hole (#14) with 4.05 kills per set, Sarah Mignin (#7) with 4.19 digs per set and Kelli Barhorst (#2) with 0.95 blocks per set (123 total blocks). It will be Ohio State’s 13th overall and second straight appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. Illinois leads the series 37-34, including two victories earlier this season during the Big Ten season.

Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET – Florida (26-5) vs. Michigan (22-12). The Gators defeated Missouri (3-1) and No. 6 Seed Northern Iowa (3-1) to advance, and are led by Kristy Jaeckel (#6) with 3.41 kills per set, Taylor Unroe (#55) with 3.70 digs per set and Betsy Smith (#14) with 1.00 blocks per set. This will be Florida’s 20th regional semifinal berth in the last 21 years. The Wolverines defeated Baylor (3-1) and No. 11 Seed Stanford (3-1) to advance, and are led by Alex Hunt (#8) with 3.30 kills per set, Sloane Donhoff (#3) with 4.57 digs per set and Jennifer Cross (#2) with 1.00 blocks per set. This will be Michigan’s fourth NCAA Regional Semifinal appearance in the last five seasons. Florida leads the series 3-0, with the last meeting in 1996.

The winners of each of the Regional Semifinal matches will square off on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7:00 p.m. ET live on ESPNU. All three matches will be live on espn3.com.

Honolulu, Hawaii, Regional
Hosted by the University of Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center
Friday, Dec. 9 at 10:00 p.m. ET – #15 Seed Pepperdine (24-6) vs. Kansas State (22-10). The Waves defeated Missouri State (3-0) and North Carolina (3-0) to advance, and are led by Kim Hill (#13) with 3.89 kills per set, Stevi Robinson (#10) with 3.52 digs per set and Samantha Cash (#16) with 1.21 blocks per set. This will be Pepperdine’s first Regional Semifinal appearance since the 2005 season. The Wildcats bested Wichita State (3-0) and No. 2 Seed Nebraska (3-2) to advance, and are led by Kaitlynn Pelger (#17) with 4.15 kills per set and 1.01 blocks per set (119 total blocks) and Kuulei Kabalis (#15) with 3.75 digs per set. This is Kansas State’s third appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. The series between the two schools is tied 1-1, with the last meeting coming in 2000.

Friday, Dec. 9 at 11:59 p.m. ET – #7 Seed Southern California (27-4) vs. #10 Seed Hawaii (31-3). The Women of Troy defeated Yale (3-0) and Tulsa (3-0) to advance, and are led by Alex Jupiter (#7) with 4.32 kills per set, Natalie Hagglund (#3) with 5.03 digs per set and Lauren Williams (#8) with 0.79 blocks per set. This is USC’s 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and it has an overall NCAA record of 65-24. The Wahine defeated Northern Colorado (3-0) and Colorado State (3-1) to advance, and are led by Kanani Danielson (#5) with 4.13 kills per set and 3.05 digs per set while Brittany Hewitt (#4) posts 1.32 blocks per set. Hawaii is on a 26-match winning streak and this is its 30th overall NCAA appearance. Hawai'i is 5-3 against USC all-time in post-season play and has won the last four post-season meetings in the series. This is the fourth time in the last six years that USC and Hawai'i have faced each other in the NCAA Tournament.

The winners of each of the Regional Semifinal matches will square off on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET live on ESPNU. All three matches will be live on espn3.com.

Looking ahead to San Antonio and the NCAA National Semifinals, the winner of the Lexington Region (Texas/Kentucky/UCLA/Penn State) will face the winner of the Minneapolis Region (Purdue/Florida State/Minnesota/Iowa State) on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The winner of the Gainesville Region (Illinois/Ohio State/Michigan/Florida) will meet the winner of the Honolulu Region (Southern California/Hawaii/Pepperdine/Kansas State) on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 9:00 p.m. ET, also on ESPN2. The NCAA National Championship match will be on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET, live on ESPN2.

What are your thoughts? What is YOUR upset of the weekend?