The Conference Of Champions
Oct. 24, 2001
The Pac-10 conference is known as the conference of champions, and in nosport is it more appropriate than volleyball. No other conference cancome close to thePac-10's past success at the NCAA volleyball tournament. Since 1981,Pac-10 teams have won eight national championships and finished as therunner-up nine times. The next best conference? The Big West has wonfive championships with two runners-up while both the WAC and the Big 12have won three championships apiece with five runners-up between them.In 1985 the Pac-10 had three teams in the final four ï¿½ a feat that hasnot been matched by another conference. In addition, on four occasionsthe national championship match came down to Pac-10 foes. The onlyotherconference to do that is the Big 12, when Texas and Nebraska faced offinthe 1995 championship match.
The 90's were the decade that the Pac-10 established dominance in theNCAA tournament. From 1990-1999 the Pac-10 won 6 national titles andfinished second three times. Proof of success is not just the teamsthatwin, but also the number of teams and success of those who are invitedtothe NCAA tournament. Since 1990 the conference has owned a postseasonrecord of 109-46, an incredible winning percentage of .708 and has sentat least five teams to the NCAA tournament in seven of the last eightyears. Although the championships have been won by three schools ï¿½ USC,UCLA and Stanford ï¿½ the Pac-10 is one of only two conferences that hassent each of it's members to at least one NCAA tournament (The Big 10is the other).
So, is it the best volleyball conference in the country? There is somedebate among other conferences, most notably the Big Ten and the Big 12,but year after year the Pac-10 excels to a level higher than otherconferences. Take a look at the non-conference record from this season.
Currently, the Pac-10 conference has a stellar .667 winning percentageagainst non-conference foes in 2001, including 16 wins against rankedopponents. USC, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona are ranked #3, #4, #6 and #7nationally. The Big Ten is the only other conference with more than oneteam in the top ten ï¿½ Wisconsin at #5 and Ohio State #10. Although noother Pac-10 teams are ranked, do not be surprised to see otherconference teams do well in the tournament if invited. Playing thelevelof competition that the Pac-10 offers each night does a great jobpreparing every team for a great run in the tournament.
What happened to make this conference so good in volleyball? Itseemsthat location had a lot to do with it at the beginning. The hotbed forthe sport of volleyball has historically been California, wheregenerations of volleyball players began on the beach. As thisgenerationhad children and the sport became as much a presence indoor as out, moreand more girls grew up playing volleyball from a young age. HailingfromCalifornia and without athletic scholarships available for women theseplayers generally continued their volleyball careers at the in-stateuniversities. By the time Title IX was passed in 1972 and athleticscholarships were available for women a pipeline had already beenestablished leading these volleyball players to schools in California.
When scholarships became available and universities could offerfinancial assistance for student-athletes where else would volleyballcoaches look besides California? This was still the place to find thebest volleyball players and the otherPac-10 schools had the advantage of being located fairly near thisvolleyball player producing state.
Although volleyball has grown incredibly across the nation in the past15years and great players can be found in any state in the nation, not tomention internationally, the Pac-10 still recruits California heavily.There are 73 California natives on 2001Pac-10 rosters, making up nearly 50% of the players in the conference.This number goes way up for the four California schools ï¿½ to nearly 70%of their rosters ï¿½ even with Stanford carrying only five Californiaplayers on its roster of 14. USC, UCLA and Stanford are the only teamsin the conference to win a national title and they have done it largelyon home grown talent.
2001 is yet another year for the Pac-10 to show the level ofplay thatis routine in this conference. The top four teams are competing notonlyfor a Pac-10 championship but all have a legitimate shot at a NationalChampionship. Could there be four Pac-10 teams in the final four? Itwould take some help from the championship committee, as they would needto be seeded in separate regions to prevent them from knocking eachotherout. It would also take some amazing play along the way, but with thePac-10, that is what you get every night.
All eyes will be on the desert as the biggest weekend in therace forthe Pac-10 title is on tap for this weekend in Tucson. Thursday nightUSC plays at Arizona followed by UCLA on Friday and both matches willhelp determine who remains in the hunt for the Conference championship.
Arizona is undefeated at home this season and cannot afford a loss toeither school if they hope to defend their Pac-10 title. USC has yet tolose a Pac-10 match this season and showed they can come from behind towin a long, tough match with last week's five-game defeat of UCLA. UCLAhas to feel good about their level of play right now, and if KristeePorter retains her eligibility in time for the match with Arizona theywill be tough to beat. Who has the advantage? If in doubt, go withhomecourt. Both USC and UCLA will have to play great to beat Arizona athome, but whoever is going to get that Pac-10 crown will have to playgreat down the stretch.