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PAC-12 Women’s Volleyball Still Hardcore
Los Angeles, California
By Calvin Morris
If anyone believed that the addition of two teams to the PAC-10 Conference and a name change to the PAC-12 would alter the level of play in women’s volleyball, perish the thought. To paraphrase Bill Shakespeare, “Names don’t mean Jack!” If anything, the new kids on the block, the universities of Colorado and Utah, will improve their game because of the heightened level of competition. Led by Stanford with a nation-leading total of six NCAA women’s volleyball titles the former PAC-10 Conference contained the most nationally competitive women’s volleyball teams of any other Division I conference. True, in the last four years, Penn State, a Big Ten Conference member, won an incredible, unprecedented four consecutive NCAA titles. Before that accomplishment, the most consecutive titles by any school were two. Of the five universities that have won two consecutive NCAA titles, three (Stanford, UCLA and USC) were PAC-10 members. Penn State is the only Big Ten Conference member that has ever won an NCAA title. Another gauge of conference competition is Final Four appearances. Again, Stanford leads with 19 Final Four qualifications, followed by USC (12) and UCLA and Nebraska (9 each).
Knowing this history is key to understanding what occurred when the number-one ranked California Golden Bears and the number-2 ranked Stanford Cardinal traveled to Los Angeles to face the seventh-ranked UCLA Bruins and the twelfth-ranked USC Women of Troy. The fact that both of the higher ranked teams suffered two consecutive losses was neither predictable nor surprising. The visiting team is usually at a disadvantage, except in the case of cross-town rivals like UCLA and USC where travel is minimal and there is only one game to play. Travel was a factor for the northern California teams and there are always two games to be played for visitors when playing conference teams in relatively close proximity. Still, the competitive nature of the elite teams rules out predictability.
The Golden Bears entered USC’s Galen Center with a perfect 13-0 record but, except for a 3-1 victory over the Cardinal earlier in the month, their opponents were lightly regarded. The Women of Troy were inhospitable hosts as they won the match in three close sets: 25-23, 25-20 and 25-22.
UCLA secured a momentum shifting, five-set victory over Stanford 25-18, 25-18, 23-25, 27-29, 15-9. The Bruins won the first two sets by opening with the lead and never relinquished their advantage. The Cardinal was more competitive in the third and fourth sets and managed to stay close and eventually prevail. In the fifth and deciding set UCLA took a 10-9 lead and did not permit Stanford to score again. UCLA junior, Rachel Kidder who posted five kills in the fifth set had a career high 30 kills for the match.
When the Los Angeles teams traded opponents the following day, the results were the same. Stanford succumbed in three close sets to USC: 25-23, 26-24 and 25-23. California managed to win the third set at UCLA’s Wooden Center but UCLA took the match handily: 25-17, 25-20, 19-25 and 25-15.
In short, the competition level between the elite teams in the PAC-12 remains the same as in the former conference – “Volleyball or die.”
Photographs are available for viewing at whatitlooklike.shutterfly.com.