A few post-season thoughts:
• Before playing Penn State for the second Final Four in a row, Head Coach Jerritt Elliott implied that the two teams look to be headed for a long-term rivalry of sorts.
“It’s another opportunity,” Elliott said. “When you look at Penn State’s program and where our program is at and the future recruits that are coming in and the players that we have, this could be a battle that continues for the next couple of years in the Final Four.”
It turns out the two teams have far more in common than they could have ever imagined. They are two of only three teams to win a national championship east of California. Both teams were captained by senior outside hitters who were finishing off illustrious careers as the winningest players in their respective program’s history (Juliann Faucette and Blair Brown). Also, both teams played the year without top returning sophomore outside hitters due to ACL injuries (Bailey Webster and Darcy Dorton).
Both research universities are their state’s flagship institution with large undergraduate enrollments (about 38,000 at both). Texas is ranked 45th by the U.S. News and World Report National Universities rankings, while Penn State is 47th. Both also have large alumni bases (about 450,000 at Texas and 510,000 at Penn State).
Both schools take pride in their football programs and have two well-known coaches (Mack Brown and Joe Paterno), very recognizable brands (Longhorns and Nittany Lions) and two of the six largest stadiums in the country (DKR with a capacity of about 100,100 and Beaver Stadium with a capacity of about 107,300).
They both have also regularly made Princeton Review’s top party school list and usually sit within the top few.
• The winner of the “Most Fans Without a Team at the NCAA Final Four” contest goes to Nebraska. The Cornhusker faithful poured into Kansas City, and it is unclear what team they were cheering for. Lincoln is only about three hours away, so some fans probably decided it was a worthy trek. Others may have just been stuck with non-refundable Final Four tickets and hotel bookings that they made before No. 3-ranked Nebraska was upset by Washington during the Regionals, a match which ended with the two coaches having to be separated.
• Speaking of Nebraska, how good will the Big Ten Conference be next year? By boasting the national champion and thrusting six teams into the Sweet 16, the conference has unofficially wrestled away the Pac-10’s dominance. The addition of the Cornhuskers only takes that a step further. Meanwhile, the Longhorns will need to find a different team to circle their calendars for. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Missouri have all put together solid seasons, but none compete for a national championship on the near-yearly basis that Nebraska did.
• With Faucette gone, the team will look toward a new leader. Who that leader will be could be a little bit more challenging. Junior libero Sydney Yogi was the team’s co-captain and will be back, but she was injured most of the season. Junior setter Michelle Kocher was an assistant co-captain, and with the team likely to go with a two-setter rotation next season, she could emerge as one of the leaders. Other possible candidates include freshman setter Hannah Allison, junior middle blocker Rachael Adams or junior outside hitter Amber Roberson.