About two months ago, after Penn State lost a set to Iowa (after having won 141 consecutive regular season sets starting in 2007), I compiled the table below (without the 2009 Elite Eight teams, obviously), to provide some context. How many sets did Final Four teams typically lose? The table answers that question (results include NCAA Tournament results), and not surprisingly, the answer overwhelmingly is “not very many.”
One thing stands out: Perfection is very hard to achieve. Only three NCAA Champions (in this admittedly limited sample) have dropped fewer than 10 sets in their Championship season (Penn State with a 114-2 record in 2008, Long Beach State at 108-8 in 1998, and USC at 105-8 in 2003). The most lost sets by a Final Four team? A tie between Minnesota in 2003 (85-49) and Tennessee in 2005 (70-49).
Which brings us to this season’s Elite Eight. Were Michigan, Minnesota, and California (Penn State’s opponent in this afternoon’s Regional Final) — make it to the Final Four, each of them would rank among the top six teams for most losses in a season (and that’s before taking the results of today’s matches into account). Nebraska would rank 12th and Florida State would be tied for 13th or 14th (depending on whether Nebraska beats Texas). An historical oddity: Oddly, if Minnesota’s team makes it this year, Minnesota will have two other teams in the top ten for most sets lost (this year’s team ranks #5, with 37 sets lost, and the 2004 team ranks 9th, with 34 sets lost).
There are many possible explainations for the potentially higher-than-typical number of sets dropped by this year’s Elite Eight teams compared to previous years — most obviously, this is the Elite Eight, not the Final Four. We lean towards another reason: parity. There’s alot of talk that talent is more widely distributed now among more NCAA Women’s Volleyball programs than ever before, and that these talented athletes now benefit from better coaching. If so, then it makes sense that top teams would drop more sets throughout the season.
Regardless of the reasons, here’s the table. A quick note: it’s a sortable table, meaning you can click on the buttons at the top of each column and resort that column (for example, list wins in descending or ascending order). Finally, we know this table is predictive of nothing, we simply were curious. And though we’ve tried to be careful, there may be errors. If you find any, please let us know.
|Year||Team||Conference||NCAA Finish||Wins (Matches)||Losses (Matches)||Wins (Sets)||Losses (Sets)|
|2009||Penn State||Big 10||First||38||0||114||8|
|2008||Penn State||Big Ten||First||38||0||114||2|
|1998||Penn State||Big Ten||Second||34||1||104||6|
|1999||Penn State||Big Ten||First||36||1||110||15|
|2007||Penn State||Big Ten||First||34||2||104||18|
|1998||Long Beach||Big West||First||36||0||108||8|
|1999||Long Beach||Big West||Semi-finals||31||4||95||23|
|2001||Long Beach||Big West||Second||33||1||NA||NA|