Weekly Wrap-Up With Cathy Nelson
Sept. 19, 2007
The 2007 season began August 24th for nine of the ten teams in the Pac-10 and now, nearly a month later, the conference season will finally begin this week. Many things that we Pac-10 volleyball fans have grown accustomed to - the incredibly high winning percentage against non-conference foes, for instance - have not changed. But there are a few things that are new in the Pac-10 this year.
What's New # 1
This season marks the first time in six years that the Conference does not have the defending national champion. The remarkable streak of five straight national championships was halted last season when Nebraska, the No. 1 team all season long, beat Stanford in Omaha to win its third national championship. The Pac-10 did send three teams to the Final Four, with Washington going for the third consecutive year and UCLA getting back after an 11 year absence. Last season marked the second time in the past three years the Pac-10 claimed three spots in the Final Four - and the third time overall - a feat no other conference has come close to duplicating.The good news for the Conference when it comes to the 2007 national championship is that it is moving west - to Sacramento to be exact. It figures to be a much friendlier environment for any Pac-10 team that can make it to the Final Four than Omaha was a year ago. Not to mention warmer. Stanford was already one of the top three programs in the country before the season began, but having the Finals so close to Palo Alto could be a real benefit for the Cardinal. And perhaps could provide an opportunity to turn the tables on Nebraska.
What's New # 2
Setters. Four conference teams have new setters running the show - Washington, California, Arizona and Oregon State. A fifth team - Oregon - has one new setter for their 6-2 offense which makes it one half of the conference teams with new setters. And considering how important the setter position is to a team's success this trend could make for some interesting results.Washington lost the Pac-10 career assist leader Courtney Thompson and Cal lost Samantha Carter, No. 3 on the all-time list. Both have been replaced by freshmen -Jenna Hagglund for the Huskies and Carli Lloyd for the Bears. Although both Hagglund and Lloyd are terrific young setters and were top rated recruits, they cannot possibly begin where Thompson and Carter left off last year. The good news is that both teams have many other returning starters to take some of the pressure off their young setters, but how far these teams will go will depend on how quickly these freshmen develop.So far so good for both teams, as Washington is 11-0 and leading the conference in hitting percentage at .338 while Hagglund averages 13.34 assists per game, good for second in the Conference. However, the Huskies have played a weak schedule up to this point - their only challenging match was at Long Beach State which they won despite dropping the only game they have lost this year. Otherwise, the Huskies have not been challenged yet this year. The may have been good for their young setter to get some confidence, but will it prepare her for the Pac-10 season? We will know this weekend as the Huskies will have their hands full as they head to Oregon for their conference opener.California is 10-1 on the year and, to its credit, has played and beat some good teams, including No. 12 Minnesota and WCC rival Santa Clara. Lloyd has led the team to a .312 hitting percentage - fourth in the conference - and averages over 11 assists per game. Her welcome to the Pac-10 moment will likely come Friday night when the second-ranked Cardinal come to Berkeley. The Golden Bears are looking for just their third victory over Stanford in program history. Lloyd will have a good look at perhaps the best setter in the conference in Stanford's Bryn Kehoe, now a senior but is one of only two freshmen setters ever to lead their team to a national championship (last year Rachel Holloway from Nebraska became the second). That is a feat that Lloyd would certainly love to duplicate.Arizona has not had a top flight setter since Dana Burkholder graduated in 2001. They lost starting setter Stephanie Butkus to graduation after a disappointing 2006 campaign - the Wildcats won only four conference matches and were not in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. They are hoping that highly-regarded freshman Paige Weber from Indianapolis will be the answer. Weber is fourth in the conference in assists and seventh in aces and has led the Wildcats to a 10-2 non-conference record, including Coach Dave Rubio's 300th career win at Arizona. However, they did not play a ranked team in the preseason which will change Thursday when they face No. 5 UCLA in Los Angeles, followed by No. 4 USC on Friday. Welcome to the Pac-10 Miss Weber.Oregon State does return its setter tandem from a year ago in sophomore Camilla Ah-Hoy and senior Ashley Evans. But after a 0-18 conference campaign last season something needed to change, so the Beavers went the transfer route to shore up their setting duties. Junior K.C. Walsh, who played at Loyola Marymount her first two seasons and is the younger sister of former Stanford All-American Kerri Walsh, now has the setting job and has led Oregon State to some impressive non-conference wins. It was apparent immediately that this was a different OSU team as the Beavers beat Colorado State and No. 10 Hawaii in Hawaii, no easy feat. Last weekend they lost back-to-back five-game heartbreakers to Loyola Marymount (Walsh's former team) and Pacific but should be prepared for Pac-10 play. They open at home with Washington State in the Pac-10 televised match of the week - a good opportunity to get a Pac-10 win early in the season and rid themselves of that no-win season from a year ago.The Ducks are off to another great start utilizing the 6-2 offense that worked so well for them a year ago. Gone is half of their setting tandem from a year ago - Heather Madison graduated - and in has stepped freshman Rachel Morris. The good news for Morris, unlike the other new setters in the conference, is she will not be relied upon to completely run the team. Sophomore setter Nevena Djordjevic is back and has a year of Pac-10 experience under her belt which should make the transition easier for Morris. After three weeks of very little competition the Ducks got after it last weekend at Ohio State, losing to Purdue but beating Ohio State convincingly. Morris and the Ducks are ranked No. 24 in the polls as they look to repeat last year's NCAA tournament season.
What's New # 3
A name in the record book. Arizona State's Sydney Donahue will become the all time Pac-10 dig leader this weekend. She not only will break the record of 2071 digs set by USC's Deborah Seilhamer last season but, barring injury, will smash that record. Oddly enough, the Sun Devils will be at USC when Donahue breaks Seilhamer's record. Donahue and Seilhamer had quite a battle last season for the most digs in a season - both broke the old mark of 708 digs set by UCLA great Chrissie Zartman. Seilhamer ended the year with 721 digs but Donahue set the new record of 742 digs. Donahue also set the NCAA three-game match record for digs with 50 against LMU last year which ranks as the top dig performance in a match in the conference. After she breaks the Pac-10 mark she can set her sights on the NCAA mark of 2791 held by Paula Gentil from Minnesota.
I can tell you what is not new - great volleyball from the best conference in the county. There is a lot to look forward to in this Pac-10 season and it all starts now!